Today's EDL protest march in Brighton was met with an overwhelming counter-protest by anti-fascist groups.
What do we do about far-right, neo-fascist groups, campaigning to bring down our democracy and our society from the inside?
It seems a particularly pertinent question at the moment, for a number of reasons. Firstly the leader of the France’s Front National, Marine Le Pen, looks to have achieved around a fifth of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election. Secondly, a “March for England” held by EDL supporters in Brighton was met by an overwhelming counter-protest by anti-fascist groups. And thirdly, though a little out of date now, Ken Livingstone dramatically quit the BBC’s London Mayoral debate in protest at the inclusion of the BNP candidate, leading to all of the other candidates apart from independent candidate Siobhan Benita to follow him.
The BNP themselves are, really, a dying force in this country. Sadly, this form of racist far-right politics isn’t. The EDL still seems to be able to draw people from the outskirts of society to its flag. Partly I think that this is due to the difficult times, and the attractiveness of finding a scapegoat.
There is a long-standing tradition of “no platform” policies when it comes to fascist parties and candidates, with the NUS as I recall being particularly tenacious when it comes to theirs. I understand the reasoning behind it: that to accept and debate with such policies is to legitimise them.
I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable around this. For example, when Nick Griffin appeared on the BBC’s flagship political debate program Question Time, anti-fascist protesters caused havoc outside the studio. At the time I was embarrassed about this, and on reflection I still am. As it was, Griffin was soundly bested in the debate.
Did the protesters outside not think that he would be? Did they think that if given a platform he would work a Hitler-esque hypnotism and have us all Nazi saluting as he goose-stepped into Downing Street? I think that shows a lack of faith in our own arguments.
The thing is that the ideology that the far-right espouses is intellectually bankrupt. That the true British people (read “white”) are superior to [insert convenient category of “different” people here] is clearly nonsense. It will always attract a limited number of supporters, because there will always be those who want someone to blame for their bad luck, and think they see someone who they can pick on.
The EDL came to Maidenhead last year. It wasn’t apocalyptic, it wasn’t a great disaster, but it was a massive inconvenience. It was deliberately timed to coincide with a major family and community event, for maximum disruption, and it was staffed by people bused in from outside the area. It was met by a counter-protest by local Islamic groups, which was counter-productive to be honest. It was clear that nobody but the occasional nutter supported the march.
One of the things I resent is the corollary of Unite Against Fascism and the like, that if we don’t actively declare ourselves against these morons we must be for them. I’d argue that the opposite is true, and that this mentality belies the fact that they command only a bare minority of support.
In the local elections, I’m not standing against a BNP candidate, or anyone from the National Front, English Democrats, or any variation thereupon. I wasn’t last year, either. What would I do if I was? I couldn’t say for absolute certain until it happened, but honestly I think I trust my own beliefs, ideology and arguments enough to take them on directly.