The EDL is on the march. On Saturday August 13th they are coming to my home town of Telford. Why? Easy, it is because they want to stir up trouble and racial tension and divide our community. The apparent growing popularity of the EDL raises all sorts of questions about how progressive politics deals with the rise of the far-right in Britain. When Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that we need to do "whatever we can to root it out (racial hatred) from whatever quarter it comes." He was right of course. The question is how is this best achieved?
One way is to address some of the underlying causes that have resulted in many traditional Labour supporters taking refuge in the policies of the far-right. As people like Jon Cruddas have pointed out, one reason for the growing support for the EDL has been its ability to respond to and exploit genuine local grievances. The EDL is often successful in our so called 'forgotten' white areas, areas where many traditional Labour supporters say that they feel alienated from modern political discourse and have long been of the view that no one in the Labour party is listening to them let alone concerned about them. I think it is true to argue that all too often there is a lack of what might be described as a "safe space" for ordinary working people to air their feelings - they often struggle to find the language to say what they want without being thought of or even accused of being a racist. It is also true to say that the EDL often finds support in a context of significant problems: high unemployment, deprivation, lack of educational achievement, high crime rates, drugs, and people of different ethnic backgrounds living apparently separate lives which encourages the growth of myths and rumour. One of the EDL leaflets distributed at a march in Dudley last year stated, "Are you concerned about the growth of Islam in Britain? Help Defend Our Christian Culture."
I believe that the growth of the EDL is evidence of a new challenge in British politics. In the past the battle ground (sometimes literally) of left vs right politics centred on our inner-cities - this is no longer the case. The EDL has begun to develop a network of suburban supporters, people who are openly willing to admit not only to supporting a racist and bigoted movement but to doing so with pride and patriotic fervour.
So just exactly how should the progressive centre deal with the rise - however small and incremental - of the far right? Some areas, notably Oldham, have shown that a resolute and unrelenting local campaign led by the council, local MPs, religious and voluntary groups, businesses and the local media can help blunt the EDL's message of despair and alienation. What is certain is that the advance of the EDL can be stopped -- as the experience of some parts of the country has already shown -- but it requires a united, cross-party, multi-racial, multi-faith effort, and most importantly an effective political strategy. The EDL is a fascist movement and it is incumbent on any broad anti-fascist movement in this country to unite and lead the great majority of society who feel repulsed by the rise of such groups. The aim must be to defeat them before they come anywhere near influencing the national political agenda let alone achieving political power. This cannot be done without taking on, and defeating, their political arguments.
What Britain needs is a new coalition of the willing. This broadest possible coalition against the EDL must be constructed nationally, regionally and locally. It needs to involve trade unions, black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, faith groups, lesbian and gay groups and every other community threatened by the rise of the far right. The truth is, outrage always fails in the end - it poisons rationality, repels the moderate and frightens the balanced.
Raging against the likes of the EDL is an understandable emotion but is fall short of being a credible policy or a convincing strategy.