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THE international growth of far-right forces at government and street level has emboldened their British counterparts.
Last June saw the largest far-right demonstration seen in Britain for years — supposedly around free speech and in defence of “Tommy Robinson,” aka EDL founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. The march’s unexpected size and fury shocked many anti-fascists.
A second 10,000-plus march for Robinson last year saw Ukip join key far-right ideologues internationally such as Geert Wilders from the Netherlands, For Britain’s Anne Marie Waters, plus former Breitbart London editor Raheem Kassam. Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon sent support.
Far-right actions continue. A recent weekend witnessed the far-right “Yellow Vest UK” organisation in violent confrontations with police in central London. Six have been charged. They include known EDL thugs like David Coppin. Also present was John Jones, longstanding nazi, who recently supported Holocaust denier Alison Chabloz.
For several weeks, these fake yellow vest individuals from far-right splinter groups have targeted anti-racists in Manchester. The vests’ dependence on anxiety over Brexit, Islamophobia in the UK and their reliance on their leadership figure James Goddard is critical.
57 varieties of “causes” predominate. Anti-Islam agendas inform them alongside the “Justice for the 3,” concerning a tragic case of three youngsters killed by a hit and run driver, which they claim to have been a terror attack.
In north-east England and Leeds, known fascists are central to Yellow Vest UK. This includes thugs who were around the banned nazi group, National Action. In Newcastle, ex-EDL hooligans predominate. Ukip leader Batten, at a DFLA march in Sunderland last year, happily posed for selfies with various far-right hooligans, when the latter weren’t busy harassing journalists.
The emergence of the tiny, and deeply Islamophobic, Yellow Vest UK group has temporarily, in Robinson’s recent absence from the streets, seen the most frenetic far-right activity. These vile specimens are ideologically disparate. Goddard, perhaps the most prominent figure, has long posted anti-Muslim hate on social media. He looked to join fascist Britain First before it split. Notoriously, he harassed MPs and journalists at Westminster. Others such as Lee Scheres work with Goddard. Scheres co-ordinates a “Redwatch” style online hit list of many on the left. Despite requests, Facebook won’t take it down.
Goddard and others’ threats and behaviour have (finally) resulted in arrests — and Goddard now faces numerous charges, for instance, religiously aggravated harassment. Goddard had threatened journalists in Manchester, which led to his arrest days later. His pathetic online apology did him no favours.
Yellow Vest UK sees international global elites as attacking them, not just being ignorant of their worries. But rather than follow this to socialist conclusions, they follow right-wing conspiracy theories. Soros is viewed as an arch villain, spinning “globalist” themes (code for anti-semitism, which features in powerful figures’ rhetoric such as that of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Hatred of the mainstream media, or “MSM,” fits this pattern. Trump invariably is seen as a champion against “the globalists,” and awarded warrior-like status.
The Yellow Vest UK movement initially said they were not “far right, just right” — despite wearing EDL apparel. Their intentions were clear though, when they intimidated and racially abused RMT pickets in Leeds. They threatened similar elsewhere but were rebuffed by strong anti-fascist mobilisations. Manchester has seen not just far right provocations on the streets, but hateful graffiti on a trainee solicitor’s door and the old “NF” (National Front) logo.
The far right yellow pests’ actions are in keeping with many of their fascist traditions. They attacked a People’s Assembly rally, and anti racists in Leeds and Newcastle. One, Danny Tommo, will be recalled by readers as a convicted failed kidnapper, Daniel Thomas. Thomas helps organise Robinson’s events and has worked alongside Batten.
There are some new characters in Yellow Vest UK but many have fascist pasts — such as Chris Hilton. Hilton is a former BNP candidate from Bolton. DFLA and former EDL members regularly form part of the vests’ activities. They make no pretence to be other than what they are.
Far-right yellow vests are dangerous but any far-right upturn led by the likes of Robinson would show them for the minnows they are. In Leeds, Lee Scheres called a demo, claiming “Leeds would be shut down.” The seven goons who answered his call saw the little Hitler humbled by anti-fascists and arrested for his pains. No wonder Batten and Robinson keep their distance from them.
Yellow Vest UK do not hold meetings, have no coherent vision and are not currently growing. Arrests may see them remain on the fringes. Some may grow disenchanted — and here, real danger lies. The killer of Jo Cox had long been around far-right circles. His trajectory away from organised fascism led to the most appalling crime.
Support for Ukip is high among such people and Batten has clearly taken the party to the extreme right. As the Financial Times said, “Ukip’s transformation into a far-right party is complete.” Batten’s use of Robinson as an adviser was the last straw for many “Kippers”, not least Nigel Farage, and many former Conservatives have left the party too.
However unlike elsewhere in Europe, electorally, the far right here is weak. Street mobilisations led by Robinson and Batten have not, as yet, fed into parliamentary advantage for the far right, though the new Brexit party, backed by Farage, may change this.
Robinson is set to rail against the BBC at the Salford media centre today, as ever, playing the victim: Robinson claims to have been set up by the Panorama programme.
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) are mobilising to oppose Robinson. MPs, trade unionists and Dan Hett, whose brother Martyn was killed in the Manchester Arena bomb in 2017, are all signatories to a local statement opposing Robinson.
Anti-fascists should be confident that we can turn the tide. Key objective and subjective factors continue to block the right’s progress. Anti-fascists’ experience in defeating the BNP, after their electoral turn, and the EDL on the streets, stands us in good stead. A critical reason why – until now at least – the far right have been sidelined is decades of consistent, dedicated opposition. Where the BNP once had MEPs and over 50 councillors, they are now a shell. The once-mighty EDL too, is now essentially defunct.
Clearly Robinson is the central hope for the British far right – so the need to undercut Robinson through mass mobilisation remains essential. This and fighting for the biggest possible turnout on the UN anti-racism day demonstration on March 16 can challenge the racism he and the vests feed off. It can also undercut fascists at the hearts of both formations who seek to strengthen both the street movement and electoral breakthroughs, through which they aim to advance.
Paul Sillett is national campaigner for Unite Against Fascism.
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