UNLIKE the fascism of the interwar years, the Teesside University historian Paul Stocker argues in his latest book, “English Uprising Brexit And The Mainstreaming Of The Far-Right” that the re-emergence of the extreme populist right is a cultural rather than just an economic phenomenon.
Basing his thesis on opinion poll evidence, Stocker blames the tabloid press and some politicians for fuelling working-class racism, ranging from Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech to Mrs Thatcher’s ‘swamping’ statement in 1979.
In 1967 the NF, a racialist party of the extreme right, was founded. Its main belief system was a redefinition of the ‘real’ British community in terms of colour. By 1992 it fell into decline and was eclipsed by the British National Party branded by Conservative peer Lord Heseltine as a “fascist” organisation.
Until 2011 the BNP was the lead player on the extreme right and enjoyed success in council elections especially in the deprived outer-boroughs of London.
By 2009 both Nick Griffin and Harrogate College Lecturer Andrew Brons, one-time chair of the NF and Harrogate College Lecturer in A-Level law and government, and politics, were elected to the European Parliament for the first time.
By 2012 the rapid rise of UKIP, although not a fascist party, represented the ‘’further mainstreaming’’ of ideas popularised by the BNP. As Nigel Farage, UKIP’s former leader boasted: “We have taken a third of the BNP vote and I’m quite proud of that”.
Britain First and the English Defence League (EDL) are now the fastest growing groups in the new far right according to the charity Hope Not Hate.
National Action is another extreme far right-right group. Founded by two university students three years ago National Action is a self-defined Neo-Nazi group with about 200 members. Although small in number the group has a disproportionate reach and influence on social media outlets.
In 2016 it championed the far-right terrorist Thomas Mair, who was convicted of the murder of Jo Cox MP, and borrowed its rallying call in court: “Britain First, death to traitors and freedom for Britain” as it slogan.
In December 2016 the home secretary Amber Rudd banned the group and described it as a domestic terrorist organisation.
Should we be worried in further education?
Although racist attitudes and values were prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century, Britain is by and large a tolerant multicultural society.
Research by Hope Not Hate notes that we have become more, not less tolerant since 2011. Overtly racist opinions, as measured by surveys, have dropped significantly in the last two decades.
Of-course, there are genuine concerns about migration, which was a key factor in the vote for Brexit. But as Rob Ford and David Goodwin point out in ‘Revolt on the Right’ these concerns were caused by economic, cultural and demographic factors rather than hostility to East European ethnic groups.
For the author David Goodhart in his 2017 book ‘The Road To Somewhere’, the country is split between the older, traditional, white working class and geographically fixed ‘Somewheres’ and mobile, middle class university educated ‘Anywheres’. The Brexit vote was in essence a drive by the somewheres to ‘take back control’ from the anywheres!
As Goodhart writes: “Immigration was seen as providing cultural and economic enrichment for the haves, while the have-nots saw economic competition and a perceived cultural threat.”
There can be no room for complacency however. Since 2009, Newcastle has witnessed a number of far-right protests, led by the organisations such as the EDL, Pegida, National Action, the NF and North-Eastern Infidels, which at their peak attracted 1500 demonstrators.
In Gateshead anti-Semitic hate crime is at an all-time high according to a new report by The Community Security Trust. In 2016/17 hate crime in the city rose by 68% compared to the previous year with racial and faith related offences making up 82% of all hate crimes according to the 2017 Safe Newcastle report.
Likewise, a Sunday Times report last month noted that far–right extremists are gaining a foothold in some English universities like Durham and in some larger FE colleges.
A You Gov survey conducted in July revealed that 24% of those polled would consider backing a far-right Brexit Islamophobic party in a future general election. Work done by the academic Matthew Goodwin suggests that only a quarter of those born in the 1980s believe it’s essential to live in a democracy compared to 7 out of 10 of those born in the 1930s.
Five in 10 north of England referrals to Prevent, the government’s anti-extremism programme, are for individuals believed to be at risk of far-right terrorism.
The revived radical right party UKIP has become increasingly racialized. The fall -out from Brexit could spawn the growth of a new far right national socialist movement, such as ‘For Britain’, led by people like Anne Marie Waters, the unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL, now serving a prison sentence.
It’s for these reasons that the DfE unveiled its Fundamental British Values initiative back in 2016 followed by the Home Office launch of the ‘Building A Stronger Britain Together’ programme, part of the state’s counter-extremism strategy, to address concerns about the potential growth of far-right groups and “Islamo-fascism” in local communities and in the Post-16 sector.
Although most colleges and training providers have integrated FBVs into their institutional structures, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman argues that too often they are being taught in a ‘’piecemeal’’ and ad hoc way.
For a minority of youngsters their sense of “disenchantment” can easily be exploited by extremists of both the far right and far left who “promise a better tomorrow by scapegoating and blaming minorities today”.
Clearly FE has a key role in challenging and exposing extremism in the classroom, online and outside in the wider community. That’s why it’s important that further and adult education providers re-emphasise the shared values of democracy, tolerance, respect and the rule of law through the formal and “hidden” curriculum.
Dr Stocker and his colleagues are correct to challenge an explicit economic explanation for the growth of new far right populism. But as other experts point out, the core lesson from “inter-war Britain” is that this “nativist populism” only comes alive when government fails to address the anxieties of the “dispossessed” living in “left-behind” and “left-out” post-industrial towns and coastal communities both in the North and elsewhere.
As former Government adviser, Alan Milburn, concluded in his latest social mobility report, “State of the Nation” a failure to stem industrial decline, tackle stagnant wages and educational under-achievement, debt and a sense of “political alienation” could fuel support for a fascist solution through far-right movements or hard-left totalitarian groups in some parts of our divided and fractured post-Brexit region.
Councillor Stephen Lambert is Executive director of Education4Democracy
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