Who are Britain’s ‘Angry White People’?

Hsiao-Hung Pai’s new book unflinchingly explores what the far right tells us about British politics and society

Image: Gavin Lynn

Why are so many people turning to far right politics? Angry White People: Coming face-to-face with the British far right attempts to answer this question.

An, unflinching piece of investigative journalism, Hsiao-Hung Pai’s book examines what lies at the heart of far-right movements and puts anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiment under a microscope.

Pai delves into some of the working class communities abandoned to economic decline; where groups like the English Defence League (EDL) seem to flourish.

angry white peopleAs the British National Party hurtles into obscurity, she tracks the comparative success of the EDL over a two-year period, sketching a comprehensive account of its activities and the people who keep it going.

One of the places she spends most of her time is Luton, the town once described as the EDL ‘hotbed’. While there she unearths the anti-Islam narrative drives much of the EDL’s literature.

But Pai also meets people scared and upset at the lack of opportunities for them and their children; who resent the way they were been abandoned by mainstream political parties – particularly the Labour Party.

Two big problems that come up time and again: low wages and the dearth of services for young people. These are concerns, she suggests, that often fuel disillusionment with the political elite.

But Paid also finds an unmistakable racist element in the EDL’s, and more broadly the far right’s, thinking.

One of the worries voiced by EDL supporters throughout the book is the threat of the outsider to English identity. Exactly what constitutes English, though, is unclear.

Pai manages to meet the organisation’s founder Tommy Robinson on a number of occasions; over the course of the book he ends up in prison and then leaves the toxic political movement he founded – although without abandoning his anti-Muslim views.

He is determined, for instance, that child sex abuse is ‘a Muslim problem’. To support this prejudice, he ignores widespread child sex abuse among establishment figures, many of whom were or are white Briton.

Pai questions him about the Englishness he believes he’s defending and finds someone longing for an identity that’s only really definable in opposition to an imagined, often Muslim, ‘other’.

But while spending time with former and current EDL activists, she shows that the white working classes are far from a homogenous mass.

Perhaps one of the most interesting people who feature in the book is former EDL member Darren. He explains how he came to the realisation that immigration was not the problem in British society and why he decided to leave a group that so often turned to racism.

Pai also takes a nuanced look at the people behind the anti-fascist movement. She shines a light on the gritted determination of activists who stand up to groups like the EDL.

One young woman she meets stands out – nineteen-year-old Tahsin is a British Muslim who contrary to common misconceptions wears the veil as an act of rebellion. This directly challenges the narrative peddled by politicians like David Cameron that all Muslim women are oppressed and in need of saving.

Pai makes the space for Tahsin to speak for herself; identities so often portrayed as flat become three-dimensional.

But if Angry White People is a portrait of the British far right, it’s also a clear comment on mainstream politics.

One of the take-home messages of this book is the success of the far-right’s racist message beyond its own movement: aspects of anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiment have been folded into contemporary political discourse.

Indeed, many EDL supporters use their vote to back UKIP, a party that not only reflects many of sentiments voiced by the far-right but push the political conversation onto xenophobic ground.

At a time when far-right politics are sweeping across Europe and beyond, this book provides an important insight into not only the likely driving forces behind such movements but also the effect they have on the mainstream.

Maya Goodfellow writes for Media Diversified, The Independent and LabourList.

Angry White People: Coming face-to-face with the British far right’ is published by Zed Books.

13 Responses to “Who are Britain’s ‘Angry White People’?”

  1. NHSGP

    The problem with the analysis is your insistence its far right. That’s revisionism designed to try and tar Tories with being racist, and that its nothing to do with the left.

    But when you look at the BNP manifesto as an example, https://www.bnp.org.uk/manifesto, you’ll discover its just the Labour party manifesto with some racism thrown in.

    The BNP, the EDL are just racist socialists, and that’s a problem for Labour. Labour has completely lost Scotland, and it will lose England too.

    Pat Glass and Emily Thornbury are prime examples. If they don’t like the English flag why don’t they go and live in another country? That’s the standard left wing argument to people not liking a particular policy.

    Why don’t Labour Scottish candidates go round abusing those with the Saltaire on their cars, doors, etc.

    The move to racist socialist parties is as a result of the failure of socialism. It’s impoverished the poor, literally. The working class has each handed over tens, hundreds of thousands of pounds of value to the welfare state for their pension. The welfare state spent all the money leaving no assets, just massive debts. 10 trillion off the books for pensions alone.

    Then the left has the gall to complain about wealth inequality, when its socialist policies that have caused it.

    Now if you gone down the capitalist route, where people were forced to save, and the state regulated costs, stopped taxing the funds etc, people would have been better off. With wealth, they wouldn’t have gone done the racist route.

    But then there is the Gerrymandering. Get in lots of migrants, and make sure they are poor. Then they vote Labour and you stay in power. The side effect was to shaft the working poor. Wage cuts, competition is imposed by Labour on the weakest of society. So they look for an alternative.


  2. Dougal Hare

    Re. the above comment, since when has there been a socialist government in the UK since 1951 ?

  3. Imran Khan

    I will have to read the book although I am not hopeful of it being any better than Chavs by Owen Jones. What has happened is that the Labour Party has become divorced from its core traditional basis of support, the working class which in the majority of cases around the country was white and concentrated in the industrial areas. Staring from the mid seventies several things began to happen simultaneously. The industrial bases of the party declined as manufacturing, mining, ship building, docks and a range of other industries began to close and mass immigration became a reality and a political and social issue.

    The most exhaustive treatment of these issues has been undertaken by David Goodhart in The British Dream which remains the nearest things to what has happened and is happening yet produced. He and a few other writers Hitchens, Liddle etc, have correctly identified a backlash against the demonization of the white working class which has been going on for more than forty years through a variety race equality acts and organisations that were supposed to create a level playing field but in fact tipped it against white people, didn’t do very much for the average ethnic minority individual but created a class of race relations experts who were paid to invent ever more types and classes of racism.

    The culture and the class that had built the nation and defeated Hitler was now despised by the left/liberal race industry establishment as knuckle dragging fascists to be mocked and treated with contempt. Luckily the more prescient of those in the establishment saw the rise of the BNP as a consequence of this and first the CRE was abolished and more and more political and social commentators began to attack political correctness and for the first time in a couple of generations the phrase white working class began to be used.

    The basic problem that nearly all commentators have had with this issue is that they have lauded all immigration as good and more than good. British society was being enriched by immigration and multi culturalism which of course meant that prior to mass immigration after the end of the second world war it was impoverished! In a nutshell what several generations of liberal/Marxist commentators have done has been to despise and abuse the white working class and they are then amazed at the reaction to the likes of Emily Thornberry when she snears at white van man with the flag of St George on the front of his house.

  4. Alex Wilson

    Sorry, but NHSGP’s comment is so completely fallacious, it’s very hard not to burst out laughing.

    But, I’ll try.

    Socialism hasn’t failed. You are objectively incorrect. Socialism is an economic model based on worker cooperation i.e. an economy built on worker cooperatives and public owned services. If socialism has failed, why is it that more people now work in cooperatives worldwide (over one billion people) than in multinationals? Why is it that there are well over 30,000 cooperatives in the US alone? Why is it that most of the industrialised world has public owned services which are both far more efficient and cheaper than private healthcare systems?

    EDL are not, to paraphrase, ‘Labour with some racism thrown in’. Now, you are being absurd. EDL supporters may very well support the idea of worker owned or publicly owned enterprises and services, but their primary ideology is hatred and xenophobia. Many liberals/progressives share some of the ideals of libertarians, as they favour freedoms and liberty over authoritarianism. But, do you think many liberals/progressives support neo-liberalism?

    Socialism hasn’t caused wealth inequality (what planet are you living on?). Capitalism has caused the acute wealth inequality we see today, as capitalism’s end goal is to pool as much wealth and power into as few people’s hands as possible. Capitalism is designed to create monopolies and oligarchies, because it rewards psychopaths and is anti-democratic.

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    One young woman she meets stands out – nineteen-year-old Tahsin is a British Muslim who contrary to common misconceptions wears the veil as an act of rebellion. This directly challenges the narrative peddled by politicians like David Cameron that all Muslim women are oppressed and in need of saving.

    Curious that one woman saying that proves so much, but hundreds and thousands of women forced into involuntary marriages, or victims of honour killings, not to mention hundreds of teenage girls involved in things like Rotherham, prove nothing at all.

    I suppose how much weight we are to put on a piece of evidence depends on how politically correct the conclusions it supports happen to be.

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