Despite the toxic climate of Islamaphobia and the anti-immigrant sentiments that loom heavily over many countries in Europe, thankfully, there is still yet to be a far right movement of any substance in the United Kingdom.
My first encounter with a group of English Defence League (EDL) ‘activists’ was whilst journeying home on the tube. At first I was concerned with the antics and attitudes of these individuals. However, I quickly realised that they were no more than inebriated racists, who could not even form a coherent sentence, let alone a homogenous political movement. Although not a political party, more a pressure group, they filled a void as the British National Party (BNP) paled into insignificance. Despite their best attempts at the 2014 European Elections, they produced a hate filled, and ridiculous promotion video. However, the EDL has faced a similar decline, with little substantial action on their anti-Islamic quest and minimal impact on the political scene. When talking about the far right in the UK, it is necessary to mention the National Front, a party formed in the 1960’s of which Nick Griffin, former leader of the BNP, was a prominent member. It was the UK’s fourth largest party in the 1970’s, but these days their membership number dwindles at around 400.There is also Britain First to consider. However yet again, this party has failed to garner any noteworthy support amongst the general population, and it looks unlikely that any of these movements will be making an appearance on the mainstream political landscape any time soon.
It is interesting to compare the prominence of far right parties across Europe, with Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, which is seemingly flourishing and capitalising on the anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic feelings in the country. In a recent poll regarding local elections, ‘Le Front National’ led the polls with 30% of the vote. Also rather worryingly, in Germany the far right, anti-Islamification movement ‘Pegida’ is gaining momentum with regular demonstrations , drawing a large number of supporters. In January as many as 25,000 came to protest with Pegida in Dresden. Looking back on 20th century European history, with particular reference to Germany, we saw far right, nationalist movements leading to disastrous consequences, so why do people think that it is acceptable to support far right ideas today? Perhaps some people have particularly short memories, or they have not truly looked into the parties and movements that they are supporting. Any extreme nationalist movement is something that can breed hatred, and contempt for others and cause minority groups to suffer. This is something that should be avoided at all costs.
If the far right has managed to achieve electoral progress in other European countries, and accumulated popular support, why has this far-right fever not taken over the UK? Perhaps it is simply the fact that there is no charismatic, intelligent leader to bring these extremists under one umbrella movement. Maybe it is the fragmented nature of the far right movements that have come into being, with the National Front fraught with divisions, and the BNP suffering the same fate. Luckily for the UK, the far right message has yet to be normalised by a mainstream party, as was the case with Nicolas Sarkozy in France during his 2007 election campaign. This is not to say that the UK is a society free of racism and extremism, as that is clearly not the case. However, judging by the inability of far right movements to gain any real success at general elections, for the moment, we are safe. As strange as it is to thank UKIP for anything, perhaps we must, as they may have filled the far right gap, and are perhaps as far right a party as the UK will be able to stand. Although it must be said that they are not strictly seen as a far right party, the fractious nature of the party has exposed that a number of their representatives are highly racist individuals, and their anti- immigration policy has far right undertones.
The UK’s aversion to extremism was exemplified recently, when we saw a strong display of the UK Unite standing up to the far right in Newcastle. Pegida’s UK cohort, in conjunction with the floundering EDL staged a rally. This was swiftly drowned out by an overwhelmingly larger number of opposition protestors, more specifically they were outnumbered by 3000 to 400. This sends a clear message to the far right, it is not wanted, needed or welcomed in the UK, and long may this continue.
By Rosalind Brennan, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.