Nearly a month after what appears to have been a Daily Star scoop, The Independent reports that the English Defence League does indeed intend to become a legitimate political party.
This development comes after the publication of a report by the Searchlight Educational Trust. As discussed on Left Foot Forward last week, this report revealed 52 per cent of the population believe Muslims “create problems in the UK”. Moreover, it demonstrated the existence of “popular support for a sanitised, non-violent and non-racist English nationalist political party”.
As such, there is potential for the EDL to exploit this support and form a popular far-right party akin to Holland’s Freedom Party or the Swiss People’s Party. However, there are many pitfalls associated with articulating a sanitised, non-violent, nationalistic political platform.
The BNP’s attempted re-branding as a non-racist, anti-immigration and anti-Islam party was hamstrung by the party’s overwhelmingly negative image. UKIP, under Lord Pearson, attempted to exploit public concerns about Islam to generate support. However, Lord Pearson’s leadership was far from dynamic, reaching a nadir when he was forced to admit on the BBC that he had not fully read his own party’s manifesto. With Nigel Farage back in charge, the party has refocused on the EU.
To avoid these pitfalls and exploit the current opportunity for a popular far-right party in the UK, the EDL will need a new figurehead suited to this political role. He or she will need to be beyond reproach and have a reputation entirely untainted by allegations of violence or racism. The EDL’s history of both violence and racism will make finding such a person a near impossible task.
Moreover, this new political leader will also need to be respected by the group’s rank and file and have the ability to engage in debate at the highest level without being cowed or revealing an embarrassing lack of knowledge. Of the handful of people across the UK who match these criteria, the most prominent is Douglas Murray, a neo-conservative author who has already distanced himself from the EDL.
The EDL’s current leader, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), suggests they may have already found appropriate political figureheads.
“We’ve been meeting with top political people for a year about this and now we’re getting close. We’ve been sitting down with a couple of lads who are posh-speaking, public school boys, who have been in politics before, and we’re discussing with them where it can go.”
Without new and dynamic leaders who can articulate a populist anti-immigration and anti-Islam platform the EDL is unlikely to enjoy much success or longevity as a political party. If it finds a British Geert Wilders, however, the UK political scene could change permanently.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.