We cannot afford to be complacent about the far-right

UKIP is not a far right party, but that doesn't mean its voters don't hold far right sympathies.

UKIP is not a far right party, but that doesn’t mean its voters don’t hold far right sympathies

Anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate published a report yesterday stating that ‘The British far right ends 2014 in its worst state for almost 20 years’.

They base this conclusion on the fact that the two main far right groups, the BNP and the EDL, have suffered embarrassing leadership crises over the past few years that have caused them to splinter.

They point out that rallies and marches organised by the remnants of these groups and others like them in response to ISIS atrocities and the Rotherham sex abuse scandal were poorly attended, and indicate a lack of support for Islamophobic rhetoric.

But this isn’t a simple happy ending. The rise of UKIP, and the emergence of tiny but growing extreme right groups such as National Action,shows that the sentiment that saw Nick Griffin elected to the European parliament in 2009 has not gone away.

It is simply finding new outlets to express itself – whether in the less controversial form of UKIP, or in more militant groups that promise tougher changes than the collapsed BNP and EDL can currently offer.

UKIP is not a far right party, but that doesn’t mean its voters don’t hold far right sympathies. With the choice of a failing BNP and a strong UKIP, it is not surprising that people with strong anti-immigration views are willing to compromise with a party that has more power if less vehemence.

Ukip is part of the group Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), which includes representatives from the Danish People’s Party, the True Finns Party, the Dutch SGP and the infamous Italian Lega Nord.

These groups all describe themselves as ‘Eurosceptic’, but are best known for views which have little to do with Europe and more to do with Muslims and Africans.

YouGov found that almost two-thirds of UKIP voters don’t mention Europe when they are asked what they feel are the most important issues facing Britain. UKIP’s founding objective has been eclipsed by its stance on immigration by its own supporters.

Most people do not like to think of themselves as racists. They usually have a list of legitimate grievances that have led them to hold prejudiced views, rather than simply a rabid hatred of people who are different.

Nevertheless, the end result is the same, and UKIP offers a voting option with less stigma attached to it than groups like the EDL which have become synonymous with violence. Furthermore, UKIP is a party with a chance.

Hope Not Hate’s report describes the conditions for racism this year in the UK as ‘favourable’ – a child sex abuse scandal in a town that was formerly a BNP stronghold, with mainly Pakistani Muslim perpetrators – but says that the far right has failed to capitalise on this.

But the Paris massacres have shown that current events are still being used to recruit people to the anti immigration cause; Nigel Farage spoke on LBC last week saying:

“We in Britain – and I’ve seen some evidence in other European countries of it too – have pursued a really rather gross policy of multiculturalism and by that, what I mean, is that we’ve encouraged people who have come from different cultures to remain within those cultures and not to integrate fully within our communities.”

The choice of language is watered down, but the tactic is the same: incite fear, unite people against minorities.

We cannot afford to be complacent about extremist views, whichever form they take. Changes in mood can be sudden and unpredictable; according to a poll by YouGov UKIP supporters in Feb 2014 comprised just over half a million former Lib Dems and 400,000 who voted for Labour last time.

Research by the Guardian found that BNP and UKIP supporters tended to come from a similar demographic; older, white working class voters who have few or no educational qualifications, and share the sense that ordinary people are being betrayed by politicians.

The report also highlights the rise of antisemitism, a problem which has received little coverage over the past few years, and shows how clandestinely hate movements can grow.

Hope Not Hate also admits that the size of a far right following does not necessarily decrease the risk they pose, pointing out the recent trend for uncoordinated ‘lone wolf’ attacks’.

In Germany this week, tens of thousands of people joined an ‘anti-Islamisation’ rally with the far right group PEGIDA. In the wake of the Paris murders, with fear and suspicion rife, we need to be more vigilant than ever about the recruitment tactics of the far right.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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