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Britain's Nazi's in a state of flux

Feature by Tash Shifrin, April 2012

The fascist British National Party is nearing collapse, while the racist English Defence League has been contained by successful anti-fascist mobilisations - but the climate in society means they are very likely to regroup. Tash Shifrin looks at shifting alliances among Britain's far right.

In the first week of May the two wings of fascism - the suit-wearing electoral wing and the boot boys on the streets - will both face a test. The British National Party (BNP) and other fascist organisations will field candidates in the 3 May local elections with the vote for Greater London Assembly members set to be the key battleground.

Two days later the racist and fascist street thugs of the English Defence League (EDL) are set to stage a national demonstration in Luton, the hometown of its leaders and scene of the violent rampage that led to the EDL's formation in 2009.

In Britain in recent years the two faces of fascism have been reflected by separate organisations - with different trajectories.

The BNP's slump has been accompanied by the rise of the EDL. So far anti-fascists have managed to largely contain the EDL over the past 18 months, but not dispatch it into the terminal decline of Nick Griffin's cohorts. More generally the conditions remain favourable for racists and fascists.

Across Europe far right racist and fascist organisations are on the rise. In France, Marine Le Pen's fascist Front National (FN) is expected to make a strong showing in the presidential elections on 22 April, less than a fortnight before polling day here. The FN wants to capitalise on the shootings in Toulouse, with mainstream politicians providing their own chorus of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, giving Le Pen an air of legitimacy. In Bulgaria, Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe fascist gangs are staging violent pogroms against Roma people as well as stirring up racism against Muslims.

In Britain lengthening dole queues and increasing poverty and bitterness keep the climate ripe for racist scapegoating, only encouraged by David Cameron's denunciation of multiculturalism and Britain's Muslims. In addition to Islamophobia, there has been an increase in open racism against black people, both following last summer's riots and in areas such as football.

Breeding ground

The economic crisis has produced workers' resistance across Europe. But polarisation pulls both ways - the far right has also found a fertile breeding ground. A range of organisations is seeking to feed on this and grow, from the anti-Muslim racist populism of Geert Wilders' PVV in the Netherlands to Le Pen's fascist FN, and hardcore, Hitler-style outfits like Hungary's Jobbik, with its huge uniformed militia.

The EDL has links across Europe too. It is backed by a group of viciously anti-Muslim ideologues who call themselves "counterjihadists".

They include "Alan Lake", now exposed as Alan Ayling, the former director of an investment fund who lives in a plush Barbican flat, and a shadowy, apparently well funded US-based group, the Centre for Vigilant Freedom (also known as the International Civil Liberties Alliance).

This network of US and European strategists plays a key role behind the scenes in the EDL and creates a meeting point for different currents on the far right, offering the potential for new realignments and cross-fertilisation. As Socialist Review goes to press, anti-fascists in Denmark are planning a demonstration against the counter-jihadists' get-together on 31 March, a gathering of the EDL's European "Defence League" clones.

Fascist and racist organisations in Britain are in a state of flux as the BNP collapses. Activists and supporters are drifting between the BNP, the new British Freedom Party (BFP), the EDL and its splinter "Infidels" group. These twists and turns mean anti-fascists need to keep their eyes on the ball.

Fortunately, the collapse of the BNP is almost complete. They have been booted out of former strongholds in Barking and Dagenham and Stoke-on-Trent after sustained campaigns by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and other activists. The party has crumbled into bitter warring splinters, with leader Nick Griffin embroiled in financial crisis and scandal.

Only a handful of its councillors remain, with the BNP able to secure just two seats from the 260 candidates it stood in 2011. If the BNP fails to retain the Greater London Assembly (GLA) seat taken by Richard Barnbrook in 2008 it will be left with only its two MEPs, Griffin and longtime Nazi Andrew Brons, who are openly at war with each other. The 3 May elections are an opportunity to make sure BNP candidates, including GLA hopeful Carlos Cortiglia, come nowhere and to hammer the last nails into the BNP coffin.

Some former BNP members have also slipped into parties such as the English Democrats, while the election is also the first test of the British Freedom Party, the fascist party formed by former leading BNP members that has announced an alliance with the EDL. The alliance was heavily backed by the "counterjihadists", with one of their leading figures, Paul Weston, installed as BFP leader. Weston is a former United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) candidate who argues that war between "native Europeans" and Muslims is "inevitable" unless Europe "wakes up to the danger it is in and expels all its Muslims".

The alliance between the BFP and EDL gives the fascists their traditional two-pronged attack, bringing together an electoral "new BNP" with the EDL boot boys behind it. The BFP says it will stand candidates in May, but "not many". It wants to use the experience for a larger push in 2013-14. But the EDL is a greater threat, still recovering from the setbacks inflicted by anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigners.

Anti-fascist alliance

UAF's 440-strong annual conference in February brought together some of the Muslim organisations, trade unionists and activists with experience in holding back the EDL in towns and cities around the country. The breadth of the conference reflected stronger alliances in the anti-fascist movement, and the positive feeling was reinforced by the attendance of speakers from Show Racism the Red Card and a stall from Searchlight magazine. Searchlight's renewed orientation on anti-fascist work following its split from Hope Not Hate is another welcome development. Speakers highlighted September's mobilisation in Tower Hamlets, when thousands of anti-EDL demonstrators ensured the EDL's 600-strong demo could not set foot in the borough. This was a key victory and a great example of the broad-based campaign that is needed against the EDL.

The success of Tower Hamlets could be seen in poor turnouts for the EDL's next national demos. Just 300 EDL supporters turned out in Birmingham at the end of October. EDL numbers in Leicester in February were also low - an aerial photo showed around 450. They were substantially outnumbered by 700 local people - black, white and Asian - who joined UAF's counter-demo, and hundreds more who gathered to protect the mosque in Leicester's Highfields area. But the EDL came back happy from Leicester. Disgracefully, police had allowed them to march through the multiracial city centre - and put 2,200 officers on the streets to make sure the EDL had a good day.

National broadcasters have given the EDL - and BNP - a fresh boost with extensive coverage. This included an appalling hour-long documentary that the EDL openly planned for and used as a recruitment opportunity. Such helping hands have made it easier for the EDL to regroup since Tower Hamlets. The renewed threat has been shown in worrying moves at a local level by official EDL organisations and by ad hoc alliances of EDL thugs and activists from the linked "Casuals United" hooligan network and the "Infidels" splinter, particularly in the North West.

In Hyde, Greater Manchester, the EDL seized on an alleged attack on 17 year old Daniel Stringer-Prince, who suffered a fractured skull, to stage a racist demo - against the wishes of the young man's family. With far less fanfare than the build-up to the EDL's "big one" in Tower Hamlets, the EDL put the same number of racists - 600 - on the streets in Hyde, mostly mobilised from Greater Manchester and the North West.

Only the day before, 200 youths - some shouting "EDL" - went on the rampage in Rochdale, attacking an Asian-owned takeaway before police moved in. The EDL used the trial of a group of men charged with the sexual abuse of underage girls in Rochdale to slur all Muslims as child abusers and stir up racist violence. The EDL has also staged demonstrations outside the trial of Rochdale defendants in Liverpool, part of a squalid but concerted attempt in the North West and elsewhere to exploit and racialise public fears about grooming and child abuse. These developments mean the march against the EDL in Luton, called by UAF for 5 May, comes at a critical time. The EDL pulled together 2,500 to 3,000 supporters in Luton in February 2011 - one of its largest mobilisations. It regards Luton as its home town, and it is here that it will seek to lift and rally its troops again.

"Tommy Robinson" has hinted that the 5 May demo will be used to give the BFP a wider profile, telling Reuters news agency that the EDL would launch a new "Freedom Party" on the day. The BFP is small, but its EDL links allowed it to seize the initiative in the race to inherit the BNP's wandering exiles. If Griffin's mob is declared dead after polling day, the BFP wants to up its claim in Luton. A large anti-fascist mobilisation against the EDL in Luton would hit hard, demoralising them on what they consider home ground.

Final nail in the coffin

But the election cannot be ignored either. The BNP is focusing all its remaining resources on regaining its seat on the GLA, and the result is not a foregone conclusion. In 2008 the BNP's Barnbrook gained 130,714 votes in the GLA list election, taking a seat with 5.33 percent of the vote. But in 2004, when the BNP took a much smaller 90,365 votes, it only narrowly failed to gain a seat - low turnout meant the BNP gained 4.8 percent, only slightly below the magic 5 percent needed to win a seat. Last December, Barnbrook issued a plaintive prediction on his blog, telling any fascists who care to listen that "on present showings there will be NO nationalist representation on the Greater London Assembly next summer". In May anti-fascists could make Barnbrook's fears a reality and nail the lid on the BNP's coffin. A massive turnout in Luton could also deliver a severe blow to the EDL.

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) have produced a round up of where fascist candidates are standing in the local elections on 3 May which can be viewed here here


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