The protest against Trump’s visit to the UK could be a springboard for a new campaign to stop the same politics that Trump espouses from taking greater root in Britain.The big protests being held in different parts of the country to free ‘Tommy Robinson’ (or to give him his real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), rightly jailed for blatant contempt of court, have been a major jolt to the left, parts of which have viewed the demise of UKIP electorally with far too much complacent pleasure.
The DFLA might seem to have come out of nowhere, but of course, they have been there all along. UKIP might have been marginalized as a result of its success in the Brexit vote, the way the electoral system makes serious breakthroughs by small parties more or less impossible, and its own internal squabbles, but its ideas are far from dead.
In the first place, the Tories moved sharply to the right in order to capture its votes. But secondly, and more importantly in many ways, a whole chunk of former UKIP supporters didn’t go towards either the Tories or Labour. They are there for the picking by forces much further to the right. The clearer it becomes that Brexit is going to be a messy disaster, the louder grows the narrative of a ‘betrayal of Brexit’ by some of the major figures who agitated for it, and this also feeds into the mix.
As Andrew Burgin says, the groundwork for this movement has been laid both by a decade of cuts to public services, falling real wages and attacks on benefit claimants, and by the racism and xenophobia of the tabloid press (especially its Islamophobia) and the UKIP campaigns, culminating in the Leave campaign itself. It draws on all these strands and on the anti-political correctness, ‘freedom of speech’ tropes that are so familiar to us all. It has to be acknowledged that some parts of the labour movement and even of the left have made extremely unwise concessions to this by attacking ‘identity politics’ and by arguing that people’s ‘legitimate concerns’ about immigration must be taken seriously. To make such concessions simply reinforces the ideas that immigrants are a problem and that oppressed people don’t form part of the ‘real’ working class.
In many ways, the profile of this movement appears to be similar to that of Trump’s supporters: a mixture of hardcore fascists and white supremacists and a broader base of people animated most consistently by racism and the belief that they are losing out to people of colour and and immigrants (and to some extent, women) who are taking jobs and welfare benefits ahead of them and their children. So, in place of Make America Great Again, you have Taking Back Control. Photos of the June 9th protest in London show an overwhelmingly white, male crowd, with many England and Union Jack flags. The DFLA (a spilt from the FLA) seems to encompass the neo-fascists of the EDL with UKIP supporters and the like. UKIP’s current leader, MEP Gerard Batten, was speaking along with far right Dutch Islamophobic politician Geert Wilders. Steve Bannon sent a message of support, all underlining the international connections of the movement.
The counter-demonstration was small and confined to the far left. The only positive from this was that the police came into conflict with the protesters rather than the normal pattern of police protecting the far right and attacking and arresting anti-fascists. But that’s not much of a positive: it’s a far cry from the tiny BNP or EDL ‘marches’ we had become used to, with a huge police presence around disconsolate- looking fascists unable to move anywhere because the anti-fascist forces far outnumbered them. There is clearly a need for a response which goes well beyond the usual suspects. But what?
The approach that worked well in the 1970s and 80s – no platforming the NF/BNP, counter-demos to challenge their attempt to take control of the streets and intimidate immigrant communities – and the insistence on their Nazi character, which all helped to split the hardcore fascists from their wider racist base, may hold some lessons for today but isn’t going to be the key. They do need to be confronted physically by sheer weight of numbers. There is also nothing wrong with catching some of these people doing Nazi salutes or singing the old songs, and publicising that widely, since it will lead some people to dissociate themselves, but it won’t be enough.
The protest against Trump’s visit could be a springboard for a new campaign to stop the same politics that Trump espouses from taking greater root in Britain. It would not just be Stop Trump but Stop Trump’s Ideas (a better slogan would definitely be required!) The Trump protests should bring out many of the Corbyn supporters who were galvanized by his leadership campaigns and his election campaign last year but who are not often on the streets in between and present an opportunity to draw some of them into a new attempt to push back the right.
There has been widespread anger and horror at the succession of revelations about the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’, from Windrush to stories of people being denied cancer treatment or GP services and LGBTQ asylum claimants deported to the countries they escaped to face terrifying fates. It should be possible to harness that anger too and make it part of a broader pro-immigration argument. We need not simply to counter the DFLA and similar groups on the streets but mount a massive, wholehearted defence of the diversity of our communities. We should make NO concessions on this score at all. There has been far too much of that already with people being made to feel that they should tone down their views because of the need to reconnect with ‘the white working class.’
The idea that the ‘genuine’ working class is essentially white is nonsense, a kind of Hovis ad fantasy of the 1950s. In reality, it’s made up of every colour, gender, sexual identity and orientation and only by affirming that can we unleash the solidarity and strength of our side.
These are some thoughts, but only as a basis for wide discussion. We all need to think urgently about this and toss in all the ideas we can.