EDL – home grown terrorists

Despite and in the face of the ban on marches, the English Defence League took its circus tour of provincial high streets to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Symbolism abounded – the East End has dealt with this sort of thing before.

The EDL have always had a lot of explaining to do – what they believe, and why, and how they would progress from slogans to action. Their ‘manifesto’, such as they have one, drips with hatred, fear, prejudice and ignorance, handicapped by paranoia. At the start of this year, the group was viewed as the knuckle-dragging wing of the British National Party, to be viewed with distrust and disquiet, protested against, though not given much more attention. National Front, British National Party, English Defence League – eventually, history tells us, all the far-right groups fail. The explanations which are presented crack and fissure under the weight of mis-explanations, omitted details and spin.

And then July 2011 happened.

Anders Behring Breivik, an extremist Christian who had deep-seated distrust against Muslims specifically, immigration policy generally, left-wing policies in the round, massacred members of the political party he blamed for changing his country in ways he would not accept. His name is etched into history – the three words “Anders Behring Breivik” as a symbol of Norway’s darkest days in modern times.

We know the Breivik admired and supported far-right and racist groups across Europe and possibly further overseas. Links between Breivik and our own EDL are sketchy though those which exist utterly condemn the group and destroy their arguments about being “peaceful”. Breivik himself wrote about meeting EDL members; he spoke on their messageboards, he met members in person. His much quoted statement, taken from his manifesto reads:

“I used to have more than 600 EDL members as Facebook friends and have spoken with tens of EDL members and leaders. In fact; I was one of the individuals who supplied them with processed ideological material (including rhetorical strategies) in the very beginning.”

One infamous photograph of Breivik, amongst the thoroughly unsettling profile images that resemble perverse spoofs of L’Oreal adverts, shows him posing with a weapon ready for action. “This is how I will be remembered,” the photograph says. “This is my legacy.”

Such photographs are not exactly uncommon on-line. There are probably hundreds of thousands of images showing teenagers flexing their muscles in front of bathroom mirrors, women pouting in nightclubs, and housewives throttling their kittens.

The “posing with guns” imagery is common too, and can be traced to plenty of ”wannabe” headline providers from across the social and geographical classes. In the UK, the imagery always appears tinged with parody, mockery, as the consequence of our national attitude towards carrying guns makes showing off with them appear ludicrous, unreal. Running counter to this is the imagery from Northern Ireland, where for generations the violence and counter-violence developed into a cottage industry for photographers. Imagery from The Troubles appeared on television and newspapers with all the expected elements – balaclavas, pistols, flags, shotguns, military uniforms, portraits of the fallen and avenged. Attached together, these images and photographs developed into a lurid backdrop for the history of Britain – the running commentary by the armies formed by consequence and necessity.

Whatever your opinion on the specifics of Northern Ireland and its history, the images that conflict produced has provided blueprints for future generations who have the misguided assumption that they, too, can nominate themselves as guardians of their own self-confirmed truth. The EDL and its offshoots are misinformed if they believe they can form their own ‘army’, their own twisted form of ‘loyalism’ to a cause they were not invited to join. The images I remember from my youth, channel flicking through the news headlines, hearing my Dad complain about the “never ending” “problems” in Ireland (as he politely put it), these are the images which have convinced the far-right of 2011 that they represent a long-held British tradition of armed resistance and responsible vigilantism.

Simply put, supporters of the EDL are potential terrorist threats. Like Breivik, they believe only in armed resistance against an enemy – a target they have incorrectly identified and wrongly convicted, but an enemy to them all the same. Their nationalism is as extreme as that of Breivik – the use of Nordic and Gothic typography, their obsession with nationalist images, their subservience to a flag. And their hatred of political parties which they blame for the situation which exists only in their mind – “force feeding Halal meat”, as one EDL member told me in a messageboard; “forcing Islamic laws in Parliament” as another assured me was happening on the comments section to a newsstory. Obsessed, violent, angry, isolated, paranoid – the characteristics we are told must be looked out for, the “if you see anything suspicious” warnings on railway stations.

If we are to accept freedom of expression, as any democracy must, then we must remember that the rule of law exists to keep that freedom sacred and valued. We are told by the mainstream media, with suspicion and cynicism, that we must be aware of the ‘danger’ in immigration, the Muslim family down the road, the Mosque planning application, the use of Urdu in schools.

We should remember not to be ‘race blind’ to the terrorist characteristics of the self-appointed army of tracksuited, shaven haired nationalists, whose iconography, language and behaviour would ordinarily instigate tabloid campaigns and government action. The distinction with the BNP (which should not be banned, not least because they appear to be falling apart all by themselves) should be obvious.

We were told to be vigilant against possible acts of terror on British soil by Irish dissidents for generations. Our media asks us to treat Muslims as outsiders who could be priming bombs and suicide vests as we speak. But what of the EDL? Yes, they’re idiots and football hooligans and bored married men wanting to revisit their former youthful glories – but look at the images below, taken from Hope Not Hate’s collection, and wonder if the link between Anders Behring Breivik could turn into something more serious, more horrific.

If the threat exists whereby members of the EDL or their offshoots go from photographs to shooting spree, what steps do we take now? Against all terrorist threats on this island of ours, we have to be prepared.






Britain First, elections second

Some months ago, Richard Desmond’s Daily Star splashed across its pages the super-soaraway exclusive that the tracksuited clowns of the English Defence League would be announcing their launch as a political party.

If you follow your far-right fringe parties, you’ll know that the English Defence League (EDL) are a touring party of hooligans and anti-everythings, who don’t care about issues so much as -isms, and mostly negative, prejudiced -isms at that. Every one of the provincial town marches descends into violence and arrests, including the chant of “You’re Not English Anymore” at anybody who dares question their shallow logic. Here in Preston, which hosted the assembled masses of EDL members in early summer, fireworks were thrown through the windows of takeaways.

The political party which the EDL is most closely associated with is not Nick Griffin’s British National Party (BNP), a group they regard as being traitors and state plans, but rather the less well known Britain First Party (BFP). This microsect has obscure beginnings – if you search the Register of Political Parties for all entities including the word “First”, you won’t find them. There’s “BPP – Putting Britons First”, and “British Jobs First”, and even “England First Party”. You’ll even find that the BNP have registered “Because We Care” as an official ballot paper alternative to having “BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY” next to a candidate’s name, though maybe that’s by the by.

Links between BFP and EDL are not easy to find. Links exist, though, and are hinted at across every line of a three-page email sent to supporters – and, as it happens, the email proves very useful for fans of the development of the anti-everything nutjob brigades in what is surely the “post Griffin age”.

The email ends with requests for money and funding; it begins with denouncing electoral politics with all the fervour of a libertarian on heat. “Virtually the only difference between a campaigning organisation and a formal political party,” it says, “is that the latter places all emphasis on fighting media-rigged ‘elections’ (most of which end in embarrassing failure), whilst our movement will focus on campaigning in all its forms to highlight the many injustices suffered by our people.”

It could not be clearer what jibes are being thrust here. Griffin’s BNP has been an electoral flan-in-a-cupboard for years, collapsing in former heartland areas such as Barking & Dagenham, and failing to make a breakthrough in any recent general election. At local level elections, the BNP barely register at all, hurtling into obscurity. No candidate for the BNP, not least Griffin himself, made any serious dent in the electoral chances of the far-right at the 2010 election.

The next paragraph sticks the boot into Griffin once more – “…[N]ationalists need to move away from pretending we are going to romp home to power in this country, and that our leaders will soon be in Downing Street”.

They go on to say “This failed approach channels our energy, willpower and determination into an ineffectual ‘dead end’ that usually ends in failure and disappointment…”

In a surge of hyperbole, it continues, “If you want to get native cultural parades reinstated, if you want to hold corrupt politicians to account, if you want to campaign against the encroachment of Islam into your neighbourhood, if you want to form community groups and take charge in your patch, and if you want to be part of a professional baggage-free organisation that will grow to great size and depth {sic}, then Britain First is for you.”

Putting to one side the definition of “native cultural parades” – morris dancing? flogging suspected witches? – this paragraph should ensure any links between them and the EDL are formally agreed as clearly existing. This “non manifesto manifesto” approach typifies the new approach by the far-right; they are politics for those sick of politicians. They will approach anyone who has shown, or has the propensity to show, exhaustion with the establishment model. Students? London rioters? Long-term unemployed? The vulnerable who believe that non-politician politicians offer the only true chance for change?

Despite what we, on the left and centre-left of politics hope and believe, the far-right remain a real, true, and stubborn force. The EDL marches are well attended, though just as high numbers oppose and often in-fighting does most of the good work for us. Their threat remains very high – we cannot dismiss their marches as mere side-show comedy acts. Where there is a threat, there must be a counterstrike.

Though the BNP are collapsing into themselves, what comes from them must be kept under scrutiny too – what is Andrew Brons BNP doing with the newly registered Freedom Democrats? How strong is the English Democrats Party, and what links do they have with the BNP? How serious an electoral threat is the far-right, and is there a strong enough opposition from within the mainstream parties and the traditionally election averse harder Left?

Nationalism across Britain has always suffered from its own malaise – its message confused, its audience violent and often criminal, its policies bizarre, self-defeating, ridiculous. It is to Britain’s credit that no national parliament has elected a member of the far-right, and that opinion polls consistently wallop their grouplets with derisory totals of support.

That does not mean we should remain complacent. The BFP email is confident, assured, and professional. It is also laced with danger. No ballot box for us, no establishment games, only direct action and street-by-street reconnections. It’s the recipe for success which mainstream parties count as their strongest asset. If the BFP are serious – they aim to stand candidates in Westminster by-elections to take advantage of the free Royal Mail mailshot available to all candidates – there is a period which opens today, right now, during which they could be persuading the disenfranchised or apathetic that only BFP candidates can offer an alternative to the same-old politicians.

The BNP is fading. Let us try and extinguish the next flickering lights of fascism. On the streets, at the ballot box, and in the here-and-now forever.

paradigm of enemies/friends

Almost every morning, Nick Griffin sends me an email. Styled “Chairman Nick Griffin” – maybe other titles for far right leaders didn’t work through the focus groups – these emails are usually donation requests or tirades against various equality groups and broadcasters. The most recent email, pushing the British National Party’s ‘troops out of Afghanistan’ policy, asks for £7,500 to help “expand” the policy for next year’s elections in Wales and Scotland. Any “generous gift” has to be submitted to the Party within the next seven days…

Griffin dragged the BNP from no-hope sloganeers to the European Parliament, and yet the Party finds itself today with all the splits and internal strife of a Student Union council. The only electorally successful far-right party this country has known has been rolling downhill like a cartoon avalanche, with all the high-profile expulsions and suspiciously organised party leadership elections characteristic of Cold War communist rulers.

The BNP had high hopes for this year’s General Election, with Griffin’s candidacy in Barking receiving the same early online bookies odds as Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion to win; Lucas did so, Griffin finished third. By the end of the week, all the BNP councillors on the Borough Council of Barking and Dagenham had been defeated, LBBD now consists of 51 Labour Councillors.

The General Election result was a complete disaster for the BNP, a failure to capitalise on the sense of apathy towards the mainstream parties, a ‘barn door with a banjo’ approach which Griffin has struggled to smooth over since. Council by-elections following the election – more adequate a guide to peoples opinions than YouGov polls – show a continued collapse in BNP support. Voter loyalty to the BNP brand is hemorrhaging at a time when their only specialist subjects of immigration and asylum remain contentious subjects. Invited onto BBC Question Time, Griffin was woeful, his prepared rants cut down and curtailed, his backpedaling became breathless, embarrassing, desperate. His credibility shot-to-pieces – by a Polish Spitfire? – Griffin has spend the subsequent months trying to piece together any remaining strips of credibility with the success of wallpapering with cling film.

Whilst the BNP undergo their internal Streit im Führerbunker it can not have been missed that the High Streets of many provincial towns have become meeting places for the English Defence League. The EDL are a throwback to a different kind of far-right protest group, where the BNP started out when electoral participation was considered the activity of ‘the establishment’ – a trait the far-right and far-left share. EDL supporters and their behaviour should fill older readers with nostalgia – the shaven haired drunken small town vandalism of yore was mistakenly believed to have faded out with SodaStream and dial-up internet connections. Chanting “You’re not English anymore” at anyone who dares question the ‘logic’ of the EDL is my current Favourite Punchline Of The Year.

Unfortunately, the EDL appears to have captured the imagination of the Professionally Disgruntled, more so whilst the Hamley/Gormenghast malaise infects the BNP. Consequently it has become far more difficult to measure and predict the next steps of the far-right – though it is easy to recognise the next steps, they’re usually very heavy and within knock-off Nikes. EDL supporters don’t do public meetings or electoral candidacies or reasoned debate. They prefer the 1980s Hooligan approach – turn up drunk, kick up merry Hell, scrap between themselves, leave on the next cheap coach home. There is no accountability for their actions, no justification for spreading untruths or subscribing to hyperbolic Islamophobia. Rather than “defending” England, the EDL promote an image of ignorance which is utterly alien to what it means to be English.

And this is why the BNP, with or without Griffin, needs our support.

Electoral democracy is the ‘tip’ of the activist iceberg. As any good Marxist will tell you, there’s only so much people can do within the constraints of democracy. From the ground up, that’s where you find people wanting action and results in their lives. But nobody can leave electoral politics to one side, it is within the fabric of our lives. BNP candidates within electoral politics provides a target for debate and discussion, however shallow and misinformed. If the trouble within the BNP splits the party into smaller, irrelevant splinter groups – look at the Left for what happens here from their perspective – the alternative is “debate by EDL”.

As ever with most things life, “be careful what you wish for”. Debate the occasional BNP councillor or deal with onslaught of bottles thrown by shaven haired drunk yobs with their faces covered by scarves? Deal with the BNP through public meetings, or suffer the violent rampages of the EDL’s ‘street justice’ ?

Battling and defeating the BNP should be the priority of anyone who considers themselves a democrat. There is nothing British about the BNP.

However, the demise of the Party has many negative consequences. They may have the credibility of a bunch of pub bores, but at least we know who they are and where to find them. Griffin could well be trying to herd cats at the moment, but the alternative is far-right mob rule and lynching justice.

So support the existence of the BNP. Keep enemies closer. The real threat – to Griffin and the BNP and to the wider strength of British democratic debate – is from the rabble who form and fester beyond them.

Lives of Others

Nick Griffin MP, anyone?

Already further down the rabbit hole than previous General Elections, this year appears to be glaring out towards us from somewhere beyond the looking glass. It’s the least predictable, most unusual campaign for generations.

And it could get awfully more weird…

The British National Party are standing candidates in more seats than at any previous election including here in Lancashire a candidate called Rosalind Gauci, who becomes the first candidate for the BNP in South Ribble since that seat’s formation. “Did she marry into the Gauci’s?” I have been asked by curious folk. I could not possibly comment.

The BNP manifesto is full of quotes no mainstream news channel would dare broadcast for fear of reprisals. Bring British is, “to belong to a special chain of unique people who have the natural law right to remain a majority in their ancestral homeland“, says their policy document. It gives the impression of these British Isles lifting from the oceans some three or four hundred years ago without a single brown or black face among the population. Or indeed the Welsh, or anyone with a passing knowledge of Gaelic. As most broad minded individuals note, the economic wellbeing of this nation is on dodgy ground enough without the sudden mass expulsion of every working immigrant or third-generation British Asian to their “home country”.

However – and this point is more true today than usual – the national opinion poll ratings showing the BNP flatlining on 3% or 4% does nothing to hide the possible (probable?) success of their leader Nick Griffin in Barking. His party is the official opposition on the Barking & Dagenham council; his main opponent is Margaret Hodge, a woman with a tarnished reputation. The mood of the country, if it is any guide to this specific seat, is of a rock solid Labour vote turning away from their party; no more certain bloc votes of the working class, for whom “New Labour” turned out to be an affront to their morals and expectations.

Griffin must be defeated. His presence in the House of Commons would be a dark day for this country’s democracy, however salient a lesson he may present to the commentariat already bruised by his MEP victory last year. For Barking he would be a disaster, encouraging division where none currently exists. It would do no good for voters to assume that a UKIP or LibDem vote would defeat him. The only person able to defeat him here is Hodge; a vote for Labour in Barking is the best advice anyone there can take.

Why Griffin is treated as a genuine threat in Barking is worth acres of analysis. All mainstream parties have failed to deal with immigration, job security, the alleged democratic deficit in England compared with Scotland and Wales. These are not points to be whispered or tip-toed around; exactly that kind of misunderstood, mishandled ‘liberalism’ has enhanced the BNP into the current, unwarranted, status of credible party.

It is worth noting that Griffin is the only possible BNP victory anywhere in the country; all other 300-odd candidates will struggle to save their deposits. A far-right Party whose Leader goes for the winnable seats? I could not possibly comment.

A few hundred miles away in deepest Buckinghamshire is the Speaker John Bercow, in a typically British struggle against former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. In the seat of Buckingham “convention” means sitting Speakers do not face any mainstream opposition. Hence Farage turning up, who knows how to attract media attention if not exactly reason to his arguments. Anyone who has witnessed his “speeches” in Brussels will acknowledge that Farage has brains and political savvy…but the 10-year old “YouTube Been Framed” clips on Russel Howard’s Good News have more lasting effect.

You may recall my attempt to cover the UKIP manifesto launch some weeks ago. The Party has not exactly made much of a serious dent in the election since. UKIP, like their distant cousins in the BNP, suffer from being a one-man band, with hundreds of foot-soldiers standing with shallow pockets and no chance of victory (or for that matter, support from the party command).

UKIP are as deluded about their place in the country’s affections as most “major minor” parties. The fact that they came second in the European Elections misses the point; the General election is not voted on in the same way: and in 2005 they managed just over 603,000 votes across the country, finishing fourth overall, just about 4 million short of the third placed LibDems.

Farage could win, of course, proving that national opinion polls mask such one-off results thanks to the unique way the nation elects its MPs. Bercow is neither a traditional shire Tory, nor the kind of MP who can walk away from the expenses scandal with his reputation unscathed. Farage – who shakes off claims about his £2million Euro expenses without being awfully convincing – could attract enough protest votes and traditional C/conservatives under the current circumstances. One MP from UKIP will not drag the country out of the EU (not a single UKIP MEP has managed that yet, despite that being thier only policy), but again, what a sign to the ‘establishment’ if the Speaker was defeated in his own back yard.

The third likely win from the “others” in this election – no, not Esther Rantzen in Luton South – is the Green Party in Brighton Pavilion. Caroline Lucas – now the sole leader of her Party following years of inexplicable “duel leadership” – has steered the Greens from mavericks to mainstream, proving that they are more than just environmental mouth-pieces.

Her victory in Brighton – now favourite with some bookies – would be more of a significant blow than either Farage or Griffin. No, her presence would not herald a sudden reversal in environmental policy in Westminster. No, one Green MP would not alter the course of the country. However, unlike BNP and UKIP, no mainstream media coverage has ever frothed at the mouth whenever their name is mentioned. No breathless coverage a la Griffin whenever Lucas appears on Question Time.

Are the Greens more likely to be elected elsewhere, unlike the one-man-bands of the “others” ? It’s not likely at all, such is the problem of having so little resources, so much faith in the once in a lifetime chance of our electoral processes. Green policies are not without their faults – the total cost to ordinary people has not been worked out at all. It is refreshing to think that our perverse, unfair voting system could yet suffer a minor flesh wound.

It is worth noting that this 2010 election has broken all records – more candidates than ever before, more registered Parties, more “independents”. Despite everything thrown at the election from the duck houses of Westminster, democracy in this country appears more alive and compelling than ever. The Leaders Debates have changed the face of the election campaigns for ever. Now all this event needs is some guests. There is no truth in the lazy observation “they’re all the same”. Voting in 2010 really isn’t an optional extra among the hours of your lazy Thursday, I would be awfully pleased if you went out and did so…

London fascist week

Nick Griffin must think all his birthdays have come at once.

From the first dawn of new year 2009, the mainstream media and blogosphere have united in giving the British National Party the one thing they crave; massive and widespread coverage. For around six months the topic was “How we can stop the BNP being elected to Brussels”. When the North West of England, and Yorkshire & Humber elected one BNP member each, the former being Griffin himself, a brief flurry of discussion later has lead to a new target: the BBC, in allowing Griffin to appear on Question Time, is now in the firing range.

Deluded rent-a-quote Peter Hain, MP for Neath and Welsh Secretary – so in other words, Minister For Having Nothing To Do With How the BBC Conducts Itself – has been ranting like a wind-up toy for weeks about nothing else. He called the BNP “illegal”, which must come as some shock to the Electoral Commission whose Register of Political Parties includes them just as they do almost every other group wishing to stand in elections. In Mr Hain’s imaginarium, the BNP probably do not exist. Or else, perhaps, they do; Griffin is only one below the Archbishop of Canterbury in order of precedence, and Question Time is a CGI-laden one-off event broadcast across all frequencies and watched by literally everyone.

The BBC are completely within their rights to ask Griffin to appear on Question Time, just as they are completely within their rights not to ask a card-carrying member of the Monster Raving Loony Party: much to the annoyance of people like Hain, Nick Griffin has gone and achieved the sort of democratic mandate every trick in the book was supposed to deny. “No Platform” has resulted in dozens of councillors, a GLA member, and 2 MEPs. The one thing which could have stopped the tide of BNP success – face-to-face discussion – was dismissed as being something akin to collusion or agreement.

Allowing Griffin to appear in all his pudgy wonky-eyed glory will “prove the lie” on the strength of his party and their policies. Jack Straw represents Blackburn, so should know a thing or two about the realities of racial relations in a multi-ethnic town. Bonnie Greer has her own perspective on the difficulties – and consequences – of racism far beyond our shores. On any subject other than race – and there’s quite a few news stories circulating at the moment – Griffin will struggle. Anyone who has seen UKIP leader Nigel Farage shoehorn Europe into every single answer he’s asked to provide know how tiring it becomes hearing the subject heave-hoed up the hill each and every time.

Griffin will hang himself with his own words. It’s not as though his other interviews and appearances have ever been successful in reinventing his reputation. Those who wish to deny his voice on QT forget just how many blogs and YouTube appearances the man is getting even as I type. Let democracy and the democratic process actually happen, on a respected and popular television programme, and then react.

There are a lot of extremists on the left-wing who forget that the “spectrum of politics” can so easily be displayed not as a straight-line, but as a circle…