The outspoken former Conservative minister Lord Tebbit has insisted there is no evidence the English Defence League is "far right", sparking new debate on the place of the anti-Muslim street group on the political spectrum.
Lord Tebbit has challenged the founder of an anti-Islamophobia monitoring group to prove the group adheres to far-right principles, and says calling the group "right-wing" is an attempt to smear mainstream conservatives.
The former Conservative Party chair took issue with the description of the EDL in an independent report produced by Teesside University on the Far Right and the promotion of anti-Muslim prejudice, commissioned by Tell MAMA.
In an email, seen by The Huffington Post UK, he told Fiyaz Mughal, director of Tell MAMA:
"It is no good telling me that they are nasty. Pol Pot, Stalin, Kim, Castro and Mao were nasty, but they were not 'right wing'."
Lord Tebbit told HuffPost UK: "Pol Pot wasn't in favour of immigration, Stalin was authoritarian. I have no idea what the EDL's view on state ownership or supply-side economics are.
"The labelling of the EDL as right-wing is just an attempt to associate these thugs with those of us in this country who hold right-wing views.
"They are certainly authoritarian in nature, but I actually associate them with some of the aspects of communism."
In the email exchange, Tell MAMA's Mughal, provided numerous links to media organisations describing the group as 'far right', and replied:
"Indeed, there are very nasty individuals and groups that are extreme left wing, Islamist in nature etc and therefore extremes of different political ideologies are a problem, not just Far Right.
"However, we, on the basis of a very large volume of academic and other evidence say that the EDL are Far Right."
"Thank you for your email.. [containing] the list of people and organisations who describe EDL as a far right organisation. However, my email was addressed to you and to the organisation which you represent.
"Kindly tell me which of the policies of the EDL are 'extreme right wing' in your view."
In another reply, Tebbit said Mughal is:
"unable to give me any justification for your claim that the EDL is an extreme right wing organisation other than that someone else said that it was."I have as you so kindly suggested 'taken time' to follow up the references you sent me.
"Sadly, I can find no reference in any of them to views which are extreme right wing unless one is under the illusion that all extreme nationalists or all anti-Islamists are by definition extreme right wing.
"I am left therefore with no option but to ask you what it is that you think are the extreme right wing politics of the EDL?"
Tebbit has argued previously that the British National Party are also left-wing. He wrote in a blog for the Telegraph: "It is a national socialist party. Take a look at its 2005 election manifesto. You won't find much about reducing the power of the state and increasing that of the individual.
"To be kind to the BNP, one might call it a corporatist party. To put it more roughly, one might say that it is a fascist party, a Left-wing authoritarian party."
Mughal admitted that "we do not disagree, though there are a number of traits that are unique to Far Right groups which also include some characteristics that may cross over between Far Right and Far Left groups."
The group has laid out its case for the EDL as "far right" in a blog to be published on the Tell MAMA website. It identifies the hallmarks of a right-wing ideology as social inequality, a belief in authoritarianism, a rejection of fundamental equality and hyper-nationalism, characteristics that Tebbit says are not inherently those of the right.
"To suggest that the EDL would promote social equality for Muslims is like suggesting that Mussolini would open his arms to the Socialist Workers Party of Great Britain," Mughal said.
"Does anyone in their right minds believe that if the EDL ever came to power that there would be a protection of equality for all?
"What is clear is that the EDL and its leadership do not believe in the power of the ballot box and are heavily critical of Government, reject the authority of Government, believe that there is a Government ‘liberal’ conspiracy around immigration and that the Government are against the ‘working class’ man or woman."
The EDL itself has rejected the definition of far-right, though not of 'right-wing'. In a post on its website from May, the group accuses the media of being "lazy" for calling it "far right" which implicitly links the EDL with neo-Nazism. The EDL argue that the Nazis were far-left.