Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The far-right is mobilised, politics has to change

The rise of the far-right has shown no signs of slowing, warns Matthew McGregor

Kids as young as 13 are being drawn into far-right circles online, radicalised and encouraged into a path of violence.

That is the sobering analysis of the new State of Hate report published by HOPE not hate. We publish the most comprehensive look at the state of organised hatred each year, and 2019’s report is stark: the far-right in Britain is mobilised, having an impact online, on the streets, and is increasingly violent.

The surge of hate is not coming from nowhere. While the State of Hate looks at the groups and players on the far-right, we have spent a lot of time looking at what is driving all this – and it comes down to two big drivers.

Firstly, trust in politics is collapsing, giving the far-right space to prey on people’s anger and frustration. Our polling has found that 68 per cent of people now feel that no party represents them. More than half of people think the United Kingdom’s political system is broken, and only a third of people think it is working for people like them. This is a crisis, and the far‑right is seeking to weaponise this disillusion for their own ends. It is no accident that the rhetoric from the far-right is focused on ‘the elite’ and complains of an ‘end to free speech’. They know that there is a deeper pool of support for this sort of populism than for their real racist agenda.

Secondly, the spike in far-right support is being driven by very challenging views about multiculturalism and integration. In many ways, anti-Muslim sentiment has now replaced anti-immigrant hostility. Nearly a third of people believe the lie that there are ‘no-go areas’ in Britain, where ‘sharia law’ dominates and non-Muslims cannot go. Almost half of Conservative voters believe this lie is true. Over a third – 35 per cent – of voters think that Islam is incompatible with the British way of life. These are frightening numbers.

These underlying factors explain why Stephen Lennon (also known as ‘Tommy Robinson’) has achieved the notoriety that he has. His ability to mobilise people makes him the biggest name on the far‑right since Oswald Mosley. A staggering 55 per cent of voters have heard of Lennon – giving him a higher profile than many frontline politicians. A huge proportion of people reported having seen one of his online videos. While only four per cent of people say they have a ‘very positive’ view of Lennon, his ability to impact society cannot be ignored.

Lennon is the most high profile of the ‘DIY fascists’, a panoply of far-right anti-establishment conspiracy theorists making noise online without the backing of a formal organisation. James Goddard and his fellow ‘yellow vests’ got a great deal of attention with their harassment of members of parliament and journalists. This is a completely different challenge than the electoral threats from the British National party in the past.

The fact that the ‘traditional’ far-right has withered away should not give us false hope, given the rise of these DIY fascists. And there is also a growing risk from violent extremists, who are getting more extreme.

‘It is almost like Hitler isn’t extreme enough for them anymore,’ as my colleague Matthew Collins put it in the papers last month. ‘It’s a death cult,’ he told a newspaper. ‘They want to be noticed, to be feared, to be respected. A lot of them will grow out of it but some of them won’t.’

We saw with the foiling of a plot to kill a Labour MP that these violent Nazis are not just mumbling to each other on chatrooms – they are serious, and they are dangerous.

It is vital that the authorities react to these new challenges, and fast. MPs are not currently receiving the support and protection they need. While the move to give MI5 more responsibility for the monitoring of violent far-right groups last year was welcome, more needs to be done to disrupt their planning.

But it will not be enough for the authorities to do a better job of tracking and undermining the far-right. Politics has to change to resolve the underlining drivers of disillusion in the political system.

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Matthew McGregor is head of campaigns at HOPE not hate. You can access the State of Hate 2019 report here

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