According to a report by anti-racism campaigners, Hope Not Hate, the UK's far-right scene is currently at their weakest for nearly two decades. This decline has emerged as the two main far right movements/political parties, the English Defence League and British National Party, have experienced severe difficulties in recent years.
The EDL saw their public support dwindle amid a loss of leadership after founding member Tommy Robinson quit in October 2013 and splinter groups began to form. The BNP became all but politically extinct after the May 2014 elections. This included leader Nick Griffin losing his European Parliament seat, and subsequently being excommunicated from the party after 15 years in charge. The rise of the radical right party UKIP has also played a role, with some far right activists losing faith in their traditional confrontational methods, and instead opting for a political approach.
So with the far right reportedly currently fragmenting and in regression, a niggling question keeps surfacing- why doesn't it feel like the far right in Britain are in decline?
It's becoming more common to see far right organisations filling up column inches and social media space. Britain First is quickly becoming the rising far right organisation in the UK. Undertaking activities like 'Christian Patrols' in heavily Muslim populated areas of London, and invading mosques throughout the UK, has garnered them plenty of media headlines. A recent documentary on Channel 4, 'Angry, White and Proud', accumulated keen public interest throughout Twitter, as well as generating an extra 1 million views for Channel 4. It's quite clear that the public are fascinated by the far right, and far right organisations have continued to stay square in the public's eyesight.
Social media has opened up an entire new frontier for some far right groups. An online presence is something that any organisation can maintain and grow, unlike sustaining actual boots on the ground, where only die-hard members attend rallies regularly. Online messages provide a wider reach, for example if a tweet about a small far right demonstration gets retweeted around the world, it can multiply the effect of the march.
Britain First is a prime example of a far right group taking advantage of social media, boasting (as of March 2015) an impressive 685,337 Facebook likes. That is more than the main three political parties combined.
However, a strong media presence only provides half an answer; street level engagement, even if it's a handful of people demonstrating, can strike fear and raise tension in communities. We have seen this action a few weeks ago, as PEGIDA UK undertook their first UK march in Newcastle. UK far right activists are attempting to latch onto the PEGIDA brand in order to hijack its success in Europe and mobilise UK support.
Far right groups can multiply their impact through aggressively playing off current affairs. In the aftermath of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby, Britain First released a video threatening to place Islamist cleric, Anjem Choudary under citizen's arrest if the Metropolitan Police did not. Similarly, the group carried out a protest inside the headquarters of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council with a banner saying "Justice for victims of Muslim grooming", after the child abuse case became public.
It's these actions that cement the far right in the public imagination, and that make us question whether they are at their weakest. Simply put, if as researchers have argued the far right in the UK are in decline but no one feels that they are, then can the far right truly be at their weakest for nearly 20 years?
There is no doubt that the decline of the BNP and the EDL is a positive development for the UK, however we shouldn't be popping the champagne just yet. There is still a lot of work to be done. We can only hope that current crop of rising far right groups such as Britain First and PEGIDA UK are just experiencing the traditional 5 minutes of fame. If we continue to respond to such organisations with preventive and intervening measures, then hopefully by this time next year we may not be reading that the far right are on the rise again.