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IN THE early summer of 2009, Nick Griffin, then leader of the fascist British National Party, was elected Member of the European Parliament. He had received 8 per cent of the vote share in the North West region, where less than 32 per cent of the electorate had turned out to cast their ballot.
A major rise the BNP’s profile immediately followed, with appearances across the mainstream media including Question Time and Channel 4 News, where he claimed, “There is no such thing as a black Welshman. You can have a black Briton; you can’t have a black Welshman. Welsh is about people who live in Wales since the end of the last ice age.”
Ten years later, the far-right Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (calling himself Tommy Robinson) is standing in the same seat.
An ex-member of the BNP himself, he founded the English Defence League and attempted to launch an English version of Germany’s anti-Muslim Pegida. He now stands at the head of a resurgent and violent far-right linked to fascists across the globe such as Generation Identity and wealthy US backers like Steve Bannon, who has openly embraced him as the British section of his international far-right project.
As well as attacking some of the most vulnerable in society, Tommy Robinson and his supporters have made a habit of going after the labour movement. From the early days of the EDL to the present, attacks on picket lines, bookshops, trade union buildings, anti-racist rallies and individual trade unionists have been a key part of his far-right street movement, with their most vitriolic attacks aimed at Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott.
Tommy Robinson becoming an MEP would be a dagger through the heart of every anti-racist. His violent supporters would feel ever more emboldened to attack Muslims, trades unionists, MPs and anyone who stands against them. Robinson would use his platform and money to further inflame Islamophobia and bigotry, and the far right internationally, from Le Pen to Salvini, would rejoice in the new status of their British counterparts.
Now, in the age of Donald Trump and after years of austerity, any gains by the far-right will be extremely difficult to overturn. If the rest of the world is anything to go by, such an electoral breakthrough would only be the start.
As well as Robinson, Ukip, his main domestic allies in the far-right street movement he is trying to build, are contesting every seat in the country.
Their candidates include Carl Benjamin, a notorious alt-right YouTube personality who made his name by casually speculating whether or not he would want to rape the Labour MP Jess Phillips, Mark Meechan, owner of a criminal record for making YouTube videos mocking the Holocaust, and their leader Gerrard Batten — the key figure in driving Ukip further to Islamophobia and the far right.
Even Ukip’s former leader Nigel Farage has condemned the party for its “lurch towards extremism” for working with Robinson and the DFLA on anti-Muslim street protests.
Under Farage, Ukip was an Islamophobic, anti-migrant party attracting support from the right-wing of the Tories. Under Gerrard Batten they have become a far-right party in the mould of many across Europe who have combined racist street mobilisations with electoral campaigns, some of which have propelled them to power.
But nobody should forget Farage’s role in whipping up the racism from which the likes of Tommy Robinson have fed. His “Breaking Point” poster, rightly reported to the police for incitement to racial hatred, was the low point of a hideous campaign which included the demand that people living with HIV should not be allowed to migrate to Britain. If his new party comes first on May 23, as polls are predicting, it will only solidify Farage as a Trump-like figure in British politics.
Across the country, people have been taking to the streets to oppose racists wherever they campaign. The overwhelming response to Robinson, Benjamin and Farage being drenched with milkshakes shows the level of support across Britain for taking on the far-right, and the potential to mobilise people to use their vote if only to stop them.
In the European elections of May 23, voting will matter. Many will think: why bother? We’ll be out of the EU, eventually. Some say the elections should be boycotted and we shouldn’t vote. But this would only play into the hands of the far right. The real prospect of Tommy Robinson gaining the status and profile of MEP is a call to arms for anti-fascists everywhere.
Like Nick Griffin 10 years ago, Robinson only needs around 8 per cent of the vote to be an MEP. That means the lower the turnout, the higher the likelihood of him passing the threshold, with a similar situation facing Ukip candidates across the country.
The key task for those who want the far-right stopped must be to say: use your vote in the European elections, and convince friends, family and colleagues to do likewise. Not to do so would be a mistake to regret for years to come.
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