Everything is happening so fast in politics right now that sometimes a moment of pause and reset is needed. A time to just consider what’s happening.
And then it dawns on you. The far-right are everywhere. Steve Bannon appearing on Good Morning Britain. Nigel Farage giving him airtime on LBC to express his vile views. Donald Trump in the White House. And where’s Tommy Robinson? He’s in jail but his supporters are rallying. Katie Hopkins is rambling somewhere but garnering views for it.
The far-right appear like a network of loosely connected pieces frequently converging when there is an overlap in interests. They are nationalists but above all supporters of white supremacy. Steve Bannon championed Tommy Robinson in the same way Trump retweeted Britain First. A Trump ambassador lobbied for Robinson. Across the western world white nationalist politics is rising like a deadly tidal wave. They find undercurrents of discontentment with social reality and twist it into hate and fear of the other. Immigrants, refugees and Muslims.
Right now in Britain and elsewhere that discontentment is rising. The feeling of discontent has been manipulated for a while now. The erosion of working-class jobs along with sense of community identity and solidarity has left many disenfranchised with society. An outlet for blame has always been migrants. The unknown variable. Always seen as the causation of bad change and the beneficiaries of good ones. Tommy Robinson’s imprisonment sparked outrage, through the #FreeTommy movement and disfigured protests that were easily dwarfed by the more progressive counter-marches. It would be easy to draw comfort in that, at the far-right’s limited pulling power. But it’s growing. Every day it grows. In countries like Sweden, Germany, France and Italy there are concerns about migration that left unchecked become fuel for the far-right. Brexit unleashed a maelstrom of toxicity upon minorities and right now the far-right are playing a simple game of insisting their right to free speech is being denied and the concerns of old blue-collar communities silenced. They seek to forge a status of being the country’s true patriots, willing to defend and represent those who are genuinely British or American.
What’s happening to our society? Only a few years ago we were laughing at the swift disintegration of the British National Party, hastened by Nick Griffin’s shambolic appearance on the BBC. We had our first black US President. How did we come from there to here?
Perhaps that is part of the problem. We don’t know how to defeat the far-right and that involves a sprawling mess of methods that don’t always work. Giving them a platform to expose them before everyone is understandable. They are now too embedded into mainstream societies to just be ignored. Pushing them underground isn’t working necessarily. When that happens, we lose track of how many followers they gain and when they resurface into the centre of society, we ask how we got here.
But a line sometimes needs to be drawn. They are people who incite hate and violence, often through their dehumanisation of the people they seek to remove from their society. What was to be gained from having Bannon appear on national programmes and then subjecting them to a routine interview as if their views aren’t something genuinely dangerous? What did we achieve with that by continuously giving Tommy Robinson a microphone to magnify his voice across society? A discourse of hate has been normalised by treating it as acceptable speech that is as ordinary as other ideologies. This is often false equivalencies that treat topics of completely different natures as the same and therefore worthy of debates and discussion.
Some would argue that fascism is no worse than communism, particularly in light of Novara Media’s editors being proudly communists. Why are they more entitled to a national platform than Tommy Robinson? Violence is ingrained within fascism. It treats outside elements as cancerous to its society, one which can only be governed through strict authoritarianism and on basis of racial purity, doing whatever is required to maintain that. Violence is a facet of fascism rather than an unfortunate consequence unlike communism where it’s a result of the human condition, rather than the ideology itself. To all intents and purposes, communism is wrong and leads to nothing but conflict because of how authoritarian and violent its pioneers become in order to enact the process. But fascism, spouted by likes of Hopkins and Trump, begins with the purpose of violence and conflict. After all, how else do you treat the minorities you regard as moral threats?
The only reliable method of driving back fascists has always been physical presence. When National Front and others terrorised the Bangladeshi East End community, culminating in the murder of a young Bangladeshi man called Altab Ali, it resulted in the East End community’s youth organising to fight back. Fascists are always on the fringes of society, and therefore never have the numbers. Some will from this argue that it’s wrong to punch Nazis and they deserve their platform as much as others. They don’t, just as Isis supporters don’t.
But the other side of this is that the far-right are often making advances on issues where the left holds its silence. Whether this is the Rotherham child abuse scandal, the recent terrorist incidents or other cultural incidents, there is a tendency for the far-right to proactively seek and shape an issue because the left has feared affecting minorities. Had the left addressed the issue of grooming gangs, it could have presented a factually correct narrative of the issue being specific to a subset of south Asians, not reflective of wider Pakistani or Muslim communities, majority of whom were appalled by this. It wasn’t. And instead, Tommy Robinson picked this up and suddenly it became a Muslim problem.
These are desperately difficult times where social liberalism is taking a relentless battering. The far-right seem everywhere. And we seem unsure of how to stop them.