By Martin Smith | 11 February 2014
The European elections are just three months away. From Hungary to the Netherlands and from Greece to France, fascist and racist populist parties are making all the running.
Britain is not likely to see gains for fascist parties.
Yet it was a different picture four years ago: the British National Party (BNP) had two MEPs and over 60 councillors and English Defence League (EDL) were on the streets in big numbers. Today that is not the case.
Matthew Goodwin’s latest article published in the New Statesman argues that the collapse of the BNP and EDL is because a more “competent” force – the UK Independence Party (UKIP), has replaced them.
Goodwin argues that there are three schools of thought that explain the BNP and EDL’s fall from grace.
The first is that since 2009, British public demand for ideas associated with the far-right has withered. The second is that the British far-right simply failed to capitalise on the crisis, offering a toxic brand that was “beyond the pale” for most people in Britain.
But it is the third argument – which he promotes – that I want to take up. He states, “Since 2010, the toxic extreme right in British politics has been easily outflanked by UK Independence Party (UKIP).” In fact he goes even further, stating that UKIP has presented the BNP with an insurmountable challenge. It is this premise I feel needs to be challenged.
Even the most cursory study of the fall of the BNP and the rise of UKIP show this claim to be untrue.
The BNP suffered its first catastrophic electoral blow in 2010, when it lost all 12 of its councillors in Barking and Dagenham. Then a year later it was wiped out in Stoke-on-Trent. It was those electoral defeats that brought about the splits in the BNP and the massive haemorrhaging of members and support.
Electorally UKIP played no role in undermining the BNP vote – in fact it was nowhere to be seen.
UKIP made its first electoral breakthrough in parliamentary elections in March 2011, coming second in the Barnsley by-election with 12.2% of the vote. In November 2012, UKIP came second in Rotherham and in Middlesbrough, with 21.6% and 11.8% of the vote respectively. In the same month it also came third in Croydon polling 5.7%.
This was followed by the Eastleigh by-election in February 2013 where UKIP came second with 27.8%.
Then in May last year, UKIP took a 25% share of the vote in the county council elections giving it 147 county councillors in its first serious push into local government.
In other words UKIP’s rise came after the decline of the BNP and not before.
To understand why the BNP collapsed you have to look elsewhere for an explanation.
It wasn’t clever rhetoric by UKIP leader Nigel Farage, or a slicker electoral machine that defeated the BNP. It was the anti-fascist movement. It was organisations like Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism, Searchlight, Hope Not Hate and local trade unionists and Labour Party members who sent them packing.
In campaigns mostly ignored by the media, thousands of activists tirelessly knocked on doors, addressed community meetings and put on local events, that challenged the racist lies promoted by the BNP and exposed them as fascists.
You don’t have to take my word on this: ask the Labour MP for Barking, Margaret Hodge.
Likewise the EDL did not collapse because Nigel Farage undercut Tommy Robinson’s base. I believe you can pinpoint the decline of the EDL to two specific dates.
The first was 3 September 2011 when thousands of black, white and Asian people blocked the EDL from marching through the east London borough of Tower Hamlets and the second was 1 September 2012 when a sea of humanity ensured the EDL did not pass in neighbouring Walthamstow.
These protests and dozens of smaller ones broke the back of this street movement. As the old saying goes, you can’t have a street movement that doesn’t control the streets.
Goodwin and his ilk always downplay or ignore the actions of activists and ordinary people. That was true of the opposition to Mosley in the 1930s, those who campaigned against the National Front in the 1970s and antifascists today.
The fact is that the objective conditions for the growth of fascism in Britain today are similar to other European countries. But it’s time to acknowledge the one significant subjective difference: the presence of an antifascist movement in Britain since the 1970s – a movement that has not been afraid to label the National Front, BNP and EDL as fascist, to deny them a platform and oppose them every time they take to the streets.
Lastly I want to take issue with Goodwin when he says UKIP is not a right-wing extremist party. He boldly states, “Neither Farage nor his party advocate an ethnic conception of nationalism, the overthrow of liberal democracy or conspiratorial anti-Semitism (the three features that are commonly thought to define right-wing extremism).”
Well if you used those criteria, the EDL could not be labelled a right wing extremist organisation let alone a fascist one.
It is true that UKIP is not a fascist party. But it is a right wing racist party and should be labelled so.
UKIP is similar to Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands and Italy’s Northern League. In other words it builds its political support on anti-immigration and anti-Muslim racism as well as opposition to Europe. Farage has called for a ban on the burqa and, like the far right in France, UKIP is homophobic.
It is important that we label UKIP racist. If we do not stand up to UKIP’s racism and expose its anti-working class policies, not only will it continue to make big electoral gains but it will pull British politics further to the right.