Introduction Britain is experiencing dramatic social changes, accelerated by the decision to leave the European Union (Brexit) following a referendum in 2016 and the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. These changes are taking place at a time when Britain has experienced over a decade of declining living standards following the 2008 financial crisis, partly as a …
Britain is experiencing dramatic social changes, accelerated by the decision to leave the European Union (Brexit) following a referendum in 2016 and the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. These changes are taking place at a time when Britain has experienced over a decade of declining living standards following the 2008 financial crisis, partly as a result of the UK’s ongoing post-imperial decline.
Over a decade of the Conservative government has continued the roughly forty years of neo-liberal hegemony over the political and economic systems. Britain’s manufacturing industry has almost disappeared with the country importing nearly as many goods and services as it exports. Deindustralisation is so advanced in Britain that it has actually started to go into reverse, with some manufacturing jobs returning to the UK.
As a result of Britain’s post-war labour shortages, which were filled by workers from across its empire, Britain has some of the most racially diverse cities in the world. While the number of people in mixed-race relationships continues to grow, public attitudes to immigration are largely hostile and were seen as one of the key factors behind the Brexit vote. Large sections of the population have been led to believe that the loss of jobs, falling wages and dismantling of the welfare state are because of immigrants.
Britain continues to occupy six counties in the north of Ireland, although it is believed this occupation will end at some point in the next few decades, following an agreement which will end British rule if a majority vote for it in a referendum. Within Britain, there have been repeated calls for Scottish and Welsh independence, which mean the breakup of the United Kingdom is a possibility, particularly after the death of the current Queen.
While nationalism, militarism and hostility to immigrants are rife, Britain is also one of the most socially progressive countries in the world, with many forms of oppressive behaviour criminalised. This tension over cultural attitudes is highlighted by the current arguments over trans rights, with some prominent British feminists adopting transphobic positions in response to a growing number of young people identifying as trans.
The current government’s frequent attacks on human rights are vocally opposed by large sections of the population who do not feel represented by those in power.
Status of the far-right in the country
Britain’s far-right has always existed on the fringes and is experiencing its own period of change following the success of the Brexit vote, which has led to the retirement of Nigel Farage, and demise of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, known as Tommy Robinson.
The current risk of far-right violence is relatively low, although lone wolves are capable of deadly force and football hooligans have carried out attacks on high profile left-wing figures in recent years. There is a stream of teenage neo-Nazis, who have been radicalised online, being jailed. Terrorism legislation is being used extensively against the far-right following the murder of Jo Cox.
Yaxley-Lennon’s experiences as a YouTuber and social media user helped move the far-right over to a ‘network’ model, where collective organisations have started to disappear and individuals’ level of influence rises and falls.
One organisation bucking this is Patriotic Alternative (PA), an attempt to unite British fascists by former BNP youth leader Mark Collett. Collett has used YouTube to build an audience he has helped to radicalise, which he has started to involve in real life activities, such as hikes and litter picking exercises. There are now estimated to be hundreds of fascists active in PA, making it the largest fascist organisation in Britain.
There is a split between ‘civic nationalist’ Yaxley-Lennon supporters and Collett’s who are ‘ethno nationalist’. Collett’s party has also started to be attacked by former members and opponents on the right, such as former BNP leader Nick Griffin.
The numbers attending far-right protests have plummeted since the start of the coronavirus pandemic although anti-lockdown/vaccine protests have attracted numerous individuals associated with the British far-right. The main target groups for the far-right are asylum seekers, migrants, Muslims and Jews. Homophobic and transphobic violence is relatively common although not from the organised far-right.
Status of antifascists in the country
Anti-fascists in Britain have been slow to adapt to changes on the far-right and are predominantly active online or in subcultural niches. The emergence of EDL at the start of the last decade saw a return to mass anti-fascist counter-protests, something which had been largely unnecessary during the preceeding decade. Protesting far-right events is now a commonly used tactic, even when not entirely necessary. This has made it difficult for anti-fascists to respond to Patriotic Alternative’s growth, where they hold events in secret which are only advertised to people who have been previously vetted.
Through the coronavirus pandemic a lot of anti-fascist activity has ceased, with many of the people who would normally have organised protests against far-right groups instead taking to the streets to support Black Lives Matter protests, or active in their communities through ‘mutual aid’ groups. A lot of anti-fascists have supported migrants. Anti-fascist groups have attempted to maintain a street presence by stickering and postering but generally anti-fascism has been put on the back-burner by many on the left.
The past decade has seen the rise of the security state and the growth of counter-extremism lobbying groups who have had the resources to scrutinise the growing far-right online ecosystem. State repression of militant anti-fascists and the prevalence of CCTV cameras in major cities have deterred new generations from the forms of militancy which previous generations have used. The growth of online sleuthing and adoption of ‘doxxing’ as a tactic, largely imported from the US, has meant that much anti-fascism is now carried out online, where the risks of facing far-right violence or being repressed by the state are considerably lower.
Fascism was first imported to Britain from Italy and it became popular with aristocrats concerned about the impact the Russian revolution could have on British society. The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was the first fascist organisation to gain mainstream recognition, attracting the support of the Daily Mail newspaper. The Olympia rally in 1934 which saw BUF stewards attack heckling anti-fascists alerted the country to the threat of fascist violence. In 1936, the BUF were routed on the streets when they tried to march through East London in the ‘Battle of Cable Street’. When the second world war broke out the BUF were proscribed and leading members interned. Following the war, efforts to refound the BUF as the Union Movement were severely hindered by the 43 Group, returning Jewish servicemen who had witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust.
Migration to Britain from its colonies to fill post-war labour shortages and subsequent collapse of the empire helped to revive British fascist organisations, providing them with communities to target and a narrative of imperial decline. But this also laid the foundations for an anti-racist movement which has had a significant impact on British life. The ‘Battle of Lewisham’ in 1977 saw a march by the National Front (NF), then the hegemonic British fascist party which was responsible for violence towards the left and minorities across the country, be smashed by anti-fascists and Black youth.
The violence of the NF prompted the formation of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), which subsequently smashed the British National Party (BNP) off the streets, prompting a shift in strategy towards electoralism and away from street protests. This shift in strategy also saw the BNP start to hide their anti-Semitism and shift the focus of their propaganda to demonising asylum seekers and Muslims. They attempted to exploit racial divisions in Northern former-mill towns which had large Asian communities and high levels of unemployment. This strategy led to the BNP gaining nearly a million votes in 2009.
When the BNP collapsed the English Defence League (EDL) emerged and started to organise protests against Muslims. The fragmentation of the EDL saw groups splinter from it and align themselves with neo-Nazi groups such as National Action and the NF. This coalition of counter-jihad and white nationalist groups organised a series of protests against migrants in the coastal town of Dover, starting in 2015, which turned violent on serveral occasions, leading to a number of far-right activists being jailed.
The Brexit referendum of 2016 was seen by many as a plebiscite on attitudes to immigration, with nearly the entire British far-right, with the notable exception of Yaxley-Lennon, throwing themselves in campaigning for ‘Leave’. The subsequent constitutional battles as Britain started to leave the EU then became a focus for far-right activity, with the pro-EU establishment being described as ‘globalists’. The coronavirus pandemic has become the focus of most far-right activity in the past year.
Britain has had a significant cultural impact on the global far-right from exporting the neo-Nazi skinhead subculture, football hooliganism and the subsequent crossover of the two with Combat 18. Concerts are held across Europe to mark the anniversary of the death of former Skrewdriver lead singer Ian Stuart Donaldson and far-right hooligans acknowledge English hooligans as being the progenitors of organised football violence.
The British far-right has extensive connections to far-right and fascist groups in former colonies, particularly those where white people settled. While Britain’s far-right punches above its weight in the Anglosphere because of language, it has stronger connections with the American far-right than it does with the Canadian or Australian far-right.
Content produced by the British far-right is consumed internationally, with figures like Nigel Farage or Stephen Yaxley-Lennon becoming known in America. Farage was invited to meet with former President Donald Trump while he was in office.
While Yaxley-Lennon has received a lot of support from Americans, including substantial donations from the Middle Eastern Forum, he is also banned from the USA for entering the country with a false passport. For several years Yaxley-Lennon was employed by Canadian hard right YouTube channel Rebel Media to produce content for them, which saw Yaxley-Lennon jet around Europe, where he promoted several Identitarian projects and befriended Austrian Identitarian leader Martin Sellner. Yaxley-Lennon is close friends with German Pegida founder Lutz Bachmann, who he holidays with regularly.
PA leader Mark Collett has a close relationship with former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke and regularly appears on his internet radio show. Collett has developed relationships with the New York-based The Right Stuff podcast network and has appeared on their UK-based podcast extensively to promote PA and its activities.
As one of the two megacities in Western Europe, London is home to several international far-right groups. The French Rassemblement Nationale have a group based in London, there is also a group linked to the Italian CasaPound organisation. Polish neo-Nazis have developed networks across the UK with multiple groups of Poles attending neo-Nazi protests in the north of England in recent years.
For nearly every tendency within the British far-right they have developed relationships with equivalent tendencies in European and international movements. The British National Party was active in the European Parliament, leader Nick Griffin was connected to French fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen. Griffin is also a close associate of Italian Forza Nuova leader Roberto Fiore. National Action (NA) was connected to global neo-Nazi terrorist tendency through Ironmarch.org forum which founder Benjamin Raymond adminitsrted. While a leading figure in NA, Raymond travelled to Germany and Lithuania, but is now in jai for possessing documents linked to terrorism.
Far-right activists from across Europe and North America are regularly invited to address events in the UK, although some of the more prominent, such as Richard Spencer and Martin Sellner, have found themselves banned from entering the UK by the Home Office.
Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system has kept far-right and fascist groups on the fringes of the parliamentary political landscape. In the past twenty years, where there have been electoral successes for fascist parties in formal politics, it has been at a local level, where fascist parties have been able to develop sufficient levels of organisation to get elected, or at a European level, where a proportional representation system is used.
Early British fascists included some Lords in Britain’s second unelected chamber, the House of Lords, but an open fascist has never been elected to the House of Commons. The first-past-the-post system has meant the right-wing of the Conservative Party has had connections with the British far-right which go back decades. The Monday Club was linked to the Conservatives until 2001 and was opposed to non-white immigration to Britain and supported apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia. Some former officers of the Monday Club are now associated with the Traditional Britain Group (TBG), a far-right group which hosts conferences and dinners attended by fascists and neo-Nazis.
The current Leader of the House of Commons, Conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, spoke at a TBG dinner in May 2013 although subsequently disavowed the group’s views. Another leading Conservative politician, Michael Gove, currently serving as a secretary of state, was revealed to own books by French New Right author Guillaume Faye, published by Arktos Media, whose UK operation is headed up by Gregory Lauder-Frost, a former Monday Club officer, who is the founder of TBG.Some far-right groups which engage in the electoral system have a presence on parish councils (the lowest possible level of local government) and there are a handful of former British National Party (BNP) councillors at slightly higher levels of local government. For Britain, a far-right group led by Anne Marie Waters, has one district councillor (a former BNP councillor) and ten parish councillors. In the most recent local elections a former BNP activist was elected to a county council. The BNP was the most successful British fascist party in electoral terms, nearly one million people voted for the BNP when they won two seats in the European Parliament in 2009, with 9.8% and 8% of the vote. In the most recent local elections held in 2020, a much depleted BNP only contested three council seats.
One peer in the House of Lords, former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Lord Pearson, is loosely associated with the far-right. Lord Pearson entertained Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) on the parliamentary estate in 2018 and employs Peter McIlvenna who is the national organiser for far-right group Hearts of Oak.
Mail Online is the biggest UK newspaper website and run by the Daily Mail, the newspaper which in 1934 published an article by it’s aristocrat owner headlined ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’. The Mail stopped supporting the British Union of Fascists (BUF) the same year following violence at the BUF’s Olympia rally, but it still publishes articles targeting oppressed and minority groups. Several major newspapers, including the Murdoch-owned The Sun, created a media landscape which is hostile to migrants and played a part in the British National Party’s electoral success in the 2000s.
The Spectator magazine, which is owned by the owners of the Daily Telegraph and was once edited by the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has published articles supporting fascist parties and far-right groups. The popularity of right-wing newspapers like the Daily Mail and The Sun, and magazines like the Spectator, has made it difficult for explicitly far-right or fascist publications to survive, although several exist.
Candour is published by the A.K. Chesterton Trust, although it is only produced 10 times and does not have a circulation of note. Heritage & Destiny journal is published six times a year and has more of an impact on British fascists, occasionally organising events.
Over the past decade, the British far-right has embraced the internet and self-publishing online videos. Some British fascists currently have YouTube channels with tens of thousands of subscribers. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) has over 340,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel. Patriotic Alternative leader Mark Collett had over 100,000 subscribers on the platform before he was banned from YouTube.
Now a lot of far-right content is produced and shared on Telegram or alt-tech platforms.
Far-right and fascist groups in Britain are predominantly self-funded, relying on regular donations from members for income. The leadership of fascist party Patriotic Alternative (PA) have adeptly used regular livestreams to generate an income and PA have started to set up small businesses to support their fascist activism, such as a tea reseller or a home-made soap company. This has inspired another far-right group to start selling coffee and there are more small businesses being launched at the moment.
Several far-right activists were early adopters of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin who appear to have benefited from the growth in their value. Bitcoin and speculating on cryptocurrencies have become regular topics of conversation among far-right activists.
At its peak, the British National Party (BNP) put a lot of effort into encouraging members to leave legacies to the party in their wills. There has been speculation this made millions for the party and was one of the reasons it still exists as a largely inactive entity. One former BNP financial backer, Jim Dowson claims to have acted as an advisor to 150 companies around the world and made his money from business services. Dowson claims to have supplied bulletproof vests and communications equipment to Kosovo.
Prominent far-right figures such as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) have attracted some foreign funding, such as the American thinktank Middle East Forum. A Which claims to have spent about $60,000 (£47,000) on Yaxley-Lennon’s legal fees and demonstrations in London. American billionaire, Robert Shillman, financed a fellowship which helped pay for Yaxley-Lennon to be employed by hard-right Canadian YouTube channel, Rebel Media, on a salary of about £5,000 a month.
Yaxley-Lennon and Britain First leader Paul Golding have both visited Russia in what appear to have been unsuccessful attempts to get Russian funding.