Britain's far-right in disarray as Tories eye Blackshirt vote

Britain's far-right in disarray as Tories eye Blackshirt vote
Comment: A fist-fight in the European Parliament leaves a leading anti-immigration politician in hospital, while the UK government steers course towards a profoundly illiberal future for Britain, writes James Brownsell.
10 min read
06 Oct, 2016

It is usually the last week of October that is saved for celebrations of ghouls and ghosts and spirits from beyond the grave.

But Halloween has come early this year in Britain, and our demons and vampires stalk the nation's streets and conference halls, even in broad daylight.

Ideas that many thought had been long dead and buried have this week been resurrected. State-sponsored xenophobia; an island nation turning inward as bureaucrats silently tick boxes to divide society between the pure indigenous and the parasitic foreign.

But we'll return to the Conservative Party conference a little later.

Diane James may not be a name that many outside Britain have ever come across before. In fairness, she's hardly a household name even in this sceptred isle.

The former private healthcare consultant and Member of the European Parliament was/wasn't/was nearly the leader of UKIP, Britain's leading anti-Europe, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-Semitic, anti-everything personality cult and crucible of fear, hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia and outright absurdism masquerading as a political party.

She was elected in a farce that made even the Labour Party look organised, with UKIP's conspiracist "alt-right" wing, replete with odious online abuse, trying to abolish the party's executive committee over its decision to exclude another leadership candidate, Steven Woolfe.

But elected, she was. And just 18 days later, resigned, she did. Except it's now unclear whether she was ever actually leader at all. It has emerged that, on handing over her papers notifying the UK's Electoral Commission of the party's new leader, James signed the words Vi Coactus - a Latin term meaning "Under duress".

"Under duress"? What on earth could this mean? Was it a self-deprecating nod to her own modesty? Or a secret cry for help?

Either way, it was enough for the Electoral Commission to delay processing the paperwork while they looked into it. Nigel Farage, the chain-smoking, pint-swilling bane of British internationalists, officially - apparently - remained leader all along.

Maybe it was the fact that the Conservative Party has this week stolen UKIP's traditional political territory, rebranding itself into the mainstream voice of the jackboot

Maybe it was the party's internal divisions that drove her out. Maybe it was the suddenness of being thrust into the spotlight as a new public hate figure. Maybe it was that this band of old letches "wasn't ready" for a woman to be leading it. Maybe it was the fact that the single issue around which the party had been formed - a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union - was now in the past.

Maybe it was the fact that the Conservative Party has this week stolen UKIP's traditional political territory, rebranding itself into the mainstream voice of the jackboot.

Papers, please: A selection of this week's headlines

Either way, UKIP now has to have another leadership election within 90 days.

And Steven Woolfe, thought by many to be Farage's heir-in-waiting and undoubtedly a would-be front-runner (if he gets his forms emailed in to UKIP by the deadline this time round), was this morning admitted to hospital after collapsing at the European Parliament building.

Party officials initially said he was suddenly taken ill. Others reported an "intra-UKIP fracas". It would seem Woolfe and Mike Hookem MEP had an actual fist-fight during a meeting intended to "clear the air" about Woolfe's potential defection to the Conservative Party. These are the elected public representatives of their movement, duking it out like a pair of street thugs. These are people who think this is an appropriate way to deal with political disputes.

At time of writing, Woolfe was recovering in a Strasbourg hospital, having recovered consciousness, a CT scan showing no sign of a brain clot. Luckily for him, the European Union provides healthcare for all citizens of member states.

But UKIP does not hold a monopoly on it being a bad week for the established far-right.

Britain First, that bastion of liberalism and common sense, has been off the radar recently, but is likely to be back in the spotlight as preparations for the trial of Thomas Mair get underway.

Mair is accused of murdering pro-EU MP Jo Cox, who spoke up for Syrian refugees and their families, in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. While Britain First has distanced themselves from him, the attack brought into focus the violent rhetoric that came to characterise the referendum debate.

Britain First's leader, Paul Golding, said whomever responsible for the murder should "get what they deserved". Golding has previously said that opponents such as leftists were "traitors", and should face "good old British justice at the end of a rope". Charming fellow.

Britain First has repeatedly denied Thomas Mair was a card-carrying member.

Mair refused this week to enter a plea in the case being heard at the Old Bailey. A plea of "not guilty" was therefore recorded, and the trial continues.

At his first hearing, Mair told the court: "My name is 'Death To Traitors, Freedom For Britain'." His alleged links to far-right groups will no doubt be probed as the case develops.

The far-right in the British political landscape is becoming increasingly crowded, however.

The theme of this week's Brexit-heavy Conservative party conference - incidentally held in a Birmingham conference centre built by EU funding - was "A Country That Works For Everyone". But it might as well have been "Send The Buggers Back".

The first of the ridiculousness came with the announcement that the British armed forces were going to be "freed" from the constraints placed upon them by the European Convention on Human Rights, because who needs human rights anyway, eh? Let's not mention Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist who suffered at least 93 injuries before his death in custody of British Army troops.

Nor should we mention any of the other hundreds of outstanding claims being investigated by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team deemed necessary after the ECHR ruled that "detention as practised in Iraq" was illegal.

That detention by British troops is alleged to have included stress positions, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, and the denial of food or water, beatings, threats, hooding, exposure to noise and general degrading treatment.

Then came the revelation that "foreign" doctors would be sent home once sufficient numbers of "homegrown" medics had been trained.

Those dastardly foreigners, coming over here and caring for us when we need help. How dare they save the lives of our sick? How dare they wipe the backsides of our incontinent elderly? They're taking our jobs. They're taking our money.

"A change has got to come," the prime minister said in her speech. Four times. We agree. But Mrs May is no Marvin Gaye.

Companies should be made to list foreign workers, her Home Secretary said, to name and shame those who "refuse" to employ decent hardworking White British people. What's next? We might as make those pesky European types wear badges with twelve little yellow stars emblazoned upon them.

The state drawing distinctions between "members of the nation" as the foundation and support of greatness, and those who live here simply as earners of their livelihood - this isn't the language of the 21st century. This is the language of Mein Kampf.

For what it is worth, while I am managing editor here at The New Arab, we will not be publishing lists of "foreign workers". If it comes to it, Mrs May, I and thousands of other employers across the land will see you in court. Or perhaps jail. Either way, we will refuse.

We all know you won't actually go through with this. That it's just a bit of red meat to throw to some beered-up blues at conference hungry for something to get their teeth into.

But this is dangerous rhetoric all the same. Mrs May, I know you, personally, won't be the one beating up the Bangladeshi shopkeeper locking up his store. But making divisive comments like these contribute to building a culture where narrow-minded bigots are empowered.

Do you want neo-Nazis? Because this is how you get neo-Nazis.

Already, schools are collecting the details of where a child was born. If a child is eligible to receive schooling in Britain, what possible use could it be to collect this information - if not, to borrow a phrase from Harry Potter, to somehow distinguish or segregate between pure-blood families and halfbloods?

And just to put children at ease, paramilitary cadet forces will be established in dozens of state schools.

'A change has got to come,' the prime minister said... We agree. But Mrs May is no Marvin Gaye

Good grief. This sounds like an idea that Donald Trump would push. At least most of the world has recognised that dangerous clown for what he is - a bigoted racist, sexist, homophobic, loud-mouthed bully; a half-wit billionaire candy-floss toupee sat upon an orange-caked buffoon.

For the past few decades, Britain's role on the world stage has been to provide some form of intellectual fig leaf to cover the dangling nastiness of whatever latest adventure of military imperialism Washington has dreamed up.

Perhaps this is what Mrs May is preparing for. To be The Donald's right hand. To provide a veneer of international endorsement for his idea of steroid-fuelled capitalism.

I first caught The Apprentice in its first season on air. I was in my final year at university, and was suckered in by the O-Jays' theme tune (which, incidentally, has one of the fruitiest bass lines in the history of ever), but I was captivated by the show, this unfettered display of maniacal greed. With Trump helming his stage-set boardroom, sitting smugly with his self-satisfied gurn, as his underlings desperately turned on one another, fighting for a scrap from his conference table.

Surely one needs no further indictment of the state of 21st century capitalism?

Trump has got to where he has in this election cycle by railing against "the establishment". But for Trump, who was given a $1 million loan by his father, to campaign against the elite is absurd as it is for the British prime minister. Yet that is what she does.

Read more
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- What would Brexit mean for refugees?

"May savages liberal elite" cried the distinctly illiberal Daily Mail on Wednesday. And perhaps she did. But she did not do so for the benefit of "ordinary hard-working people". She savaged the liberal elite for the benefit of the conservative corporate elite.

"British jobs for British workers" read another Wednesday headline, paraphrasing Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Presumably these British workers working British jobs will be enriching British company owners who will be registering their British profits in tax havens in British Overseas Territories. Yet the prime minister has the sheer gall to speak of patriotism, and to keep a straight face while she does it.

Yet what is worse is those in the media who swallow the lines of May's spin doctors. That she aims to combine the market interventionism of the soft left - while pretending to listen to the concerns of isolated communities in former mining towns who have been led to believe that immigrants, rather than Conservatives, are the root cause of their unemployment - with populist calls for the reining-in of fat-cat tax dodgers, to build a "centrist" platform.

The tightening of borders. The demonisation of foreign workers. The turning away of refugees. The banging of the drums of patriotism. Law and Order. Decency. Fairness. For people like us.

This does not sound like the centre ground to me. On the economy, she may be moving left. Socially, she is moving further right. This doesn't result in an ideology that meets in the middle. She has not combined ideas of the left with ideas of the right to come to moderation. She has combined Nationalism with Socialism.

Moseley's Blackshirt fascists were stopped in their tracks
by the community of East London [Getty]

And that's always worked out well.

It was this week, eighty years ago, that the Battle of Cable Street was fought.

Thousands of East Londoners came out on to the streets to halt the march of Oswald Moseley's band of Blackshirt fascists through a Jewish neighbourhood.

It was 1936, and Nazism was on the rise in Britain. The working classes had been hit hardest by the financial crash, a serious recession and a crisis in public finances. Xenophobia had been growing across Europe as political and business leaders looked for scapegoats.

But Jewish groups came together with Irish immigrants, communists, anarchists and ordinary locals to confront the fascist thugs. To say with one voice "They shall not pass."

Mrs May, if that happened again today, on whose side would you be? I think we all know the answer.

It's not 1936, but the Blackshirts are on the march again. They are at our very gates.

They shall not pass.


James Brownsell is Managing Editor of The New Arab. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesBrownsell