Britain’s far right in 2016: fractured, unpredictable, dispirited … and violent

The Guardian reports: After years of austerity, and at a time of rising concern about immigration and uncertainty about the future direction of the UK, the political and economic conditions appear to be ideal for the far right. Across Europe – particularly in France, Denmark and the Netherlands – it is animated and resurgent, scenting electoral success just over the horizon.

In the UK, however, the extreme right is fractured, leaderless, confused and dispirited. It is also highly unpredictable and, on occasion, violent. Rather than one party or group – such as the British National party (BNP) or the English Defence League (EDL) – dominating the stage, a couple of dozen smaller groups vie for attention.

Some continue to contest local elections, but the growing popularity of Ukip in recent years has presented former supporters of the BNP and other far-right parties with an opportunity to vote for an anti-immigration party that is not considered disreputable.

Other groups favour so-called direct action, such as picketing mosques, invading halal abattoirs and harassing staff at Muslim-owned restaurants. Others still prefer to stage rallies and marches, bringing them into conflict with anti-fascist campaigners and, frequently, the police.

Each confrontation ensures that future events attract more people seeking violence. A handful of groups have started organising martial arts training and survivalist boot camps, and recent months have seen an increase in hate crimes. There has, in the words of the Met police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, been a “horrible spike” in such crime.

In many respects, racial nationalism in Britain in 2016 resembles that of the late 1990s, before the BNP was reorganised by its then leader, Nick Griffin. After taking control of the party in 1999, Griffin rid it of what he called “the three Hs: hobbyism, hard talk and Hitler”. Members focused more on a new enemy – Muslims and Islam. Activists swapped their boots for suits, grew their hair a little and began winning council elections. In 2009 the party won two European parliament seats.

Now the far right is back where it was almost 20 years ago, a series of micro-groups struggling to be seen and heard. Many of these groups have members in West Yorkshire, where Jo Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, lived, although it appears he was not a member of any of them.

Paul Meszaros, the county’s coordinator for the anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, says: “The far-right scene in West Yorkshire is no different to the rest of the country at the moment, which is unusual, because it used to be the BNP’s capital.”

Many veterans of the right are unsurprised by the waning of their fortunes, saying success has always been cyclical. At some point in the future, they predict, they will again be something of an electoral force.

Jim Lewthwaite, a former member of the National Front and a former BNP councillor in Bradford, says: “We’re going back to the same cyclical position as we were before 2001. The right is totally fragmented and on its back, waiting for something to happen.

“But remember how fast it went when it did take off? If things did happen, if Ukip were to fold, or if significant fragments of Ukip were to say we want a tougher line, and there were somebody leading it in our direction, or someone on our side that they trusted … we wouldn’t have to rebuild the organisation a second time.

“There are experienced people out there who are simply taking a back seat. They haven’t ceased to be nationalists, they don’t need to be reconvinced. They have concluded that nothing is happening right now, so there’s no point in doing anything. But if something caught on, and it started snowballing, they would get involved.”

The “things” that could happen, and which Lewthwaite and others believe could lead to the far right becoming an energised and coherent force in British politics, include, of course, serious Islamist terrorist attacks. [Continue reading…]

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