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. Alex Wilson

    Sorry, ad, that’s fallacious.

    For HER SPECIFICALLY, wearing a hijab is positive. If you’re going to go round telling women what not to do, you’re as bad as those you claim to oppose.

  2. wg

    @Alex Wilson,

    Liberal/Progressives are neo-liberals – they invariably agree with open borders and large scale immigration; these two principles are manna from heaven for the capitalists that you claim to dislike.

    The resulting free-for-all and race to the bottom hurts the most vulnerable. And what of democracy and community in this Brave New World? Both would disappear as democracy is based on community.

    It is wonderful having high-minded ideals, but it is always the people at the bottom that suffer the most.

  3. Ted

    Would like to receiver comment on the book until I have read it, agree it raises some very important issues, but the Far Right were much stronger in numbers in the 1970’s and 80’s the National front was much more popular than the BNP ever was. Where have these supporters gone now? As to the economic policies of the Far Right they are mixed in with a degree of racism and populist policies, some which are the same as Labour or other political parties. When ever I have on a few occasions asked right wing supporters about economic policy most are very vague and suggest employment policy would be based upon where you were born. One or two have spoken about a Facist type of control economy, with no Trade Unions or shareholders.

    The white van man written about above actually turned out to be a Tory voter, so not a good example of a Labour voter who has deserted to the Far Right. There has always been a high number of white working class who vote Tory, indeed many Tory MPs might only hold their seats due to the working class Tory. Labour had a chance in 1997 to re-engage with the working class and failed to take the opportunity perhaps because of the tabloid media influence, strongly enough read by the very same people Labour should appeal to. None of this explains why the voters decided we needed a Tory Government in 2015, which was a silly answer to a stupid question.

  4. Imran Khan

    Alex Wilson. Socialism is the NKVD, Eastern Europe under Communism, Venezuela now, Cuba since 1959, starvation, terror war and mass murder. No thanks.

  5. Alex Wilson

    Actually, socialism has literally nothing to do with planned economies or a lack of markets. That is some straight up Cold War propaganda you’ve gobbled up.

    Liberals/progressives are not neo-liberals. Neo-liberalism has very little to do with left or right.

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