Friday, June 14, 2013

Far Right UK Parties - Worth worrying about?

I was busy minding my own business reading round the various internet sites, and I happened to be reading Daily Kos, when I came across this diary about Far Right extremist politics in this country.  Now I have discovered that this diary is an American's viewpoint on our Far Right politics, and it makes some sense, and is mostly pretty accurate, but for the authoratative viewpoint on UK Far Right politics, you have to ask someone who actually lives in the UK and writes about the political scene, amongst other things, and round here, well, that would be me.

It was a fascinating piece of writing, but the one thing that shines out from it to my eyes, is the fact that because the Republican Party in the US has veered to the extreme right in more recent years, there's always a lot more fear about right-wing extremism in the US than there is in the UK.  In some ways, it reminds me of the fear over Commmunism that we saw in the US back in the 1950s, with the McCarthy witchhunts.  The EDL, BNP and the National Front along with UKIP are the current incarnations of far-right wing politics in this country, a history that pre-dates the Second World War.

In fact, we go all the way back to 1902, and to an organisation called the British Brothers League.  The league was formed as a response to waves of immigration from Eastern Europe which had been going on since 1880.  It's weird, a lot of the debate on immigration now is over immigration from, once again, Eastern Europe.  History does have a way of repeating itself.

Initially, the League was only interested in keeping "Destitute Foreigners" out of England.  Later on, that slowly changed to the more familair refrains of anti-semitism.  Although the league claimed to have 45,000 members, no membership fees were ever taken.  It was mainly a London based organisation, and although it disbanded in 1923, it left a legacy of far-right support that would be used by Oswald Mosley later on.

The next organisation to come out of the woodwork, was an organisation known as The Britons.  Formed in 1919, by now we have the classic anti-semitic, anti-immigrant extreme right wing organisation.  The organisation published extremist propoganda under the label of The Judaic Publishing Company, and later The Britons Publishing Society.  The organisation was dormant during World War 2, though it continued to exist until the late 1940s.

1923 may have seen the disbanding of the British Brothers League, but another organisation was ready to take it's place.  This one was known as British Fascisti, later on The British Fascists.  Despite their name, their inital motivation was more fear of left wing politics, than actual fascism.  There is historical evidence to back this.  Back in 1922, the Conservative Party had won an election under Andrew Bonar Law, who was already an ill man at this time, having previously stood down as Conservative Party leader the previous year, despite the fact that David Lloyd George, a National Liberal, had been the Prime Minister until the 1922 election.

Labour, a relatively new political force at the time, having been formed in 1900, were now starting to have an electoral impact.  They'd won 142 seats in that election, up from the meagre 57 seats they'd won in the 1918 election.  Labour, under Ramsay MacDpnald, had become the official opposition for the first time in their history, overtaking The Liberal Party under Herbert Henry Asquith, a different Liberal party to the National Liberal Party, who had splintered from The Liberal Party, who had been in coalition with the Conservatives. Some on the right wing say the growth of Labour as a threat, hence why British Fascisti was created. 

Strangely enough as well, The British Fascisti were heavily influenced by the Boy Scout movement, as many of the initial members of the British Fascisti had been Boy Scouts in their childhood, and wanted to "...uphold the same lofty ideas of brotherhood, service and duty...".  It seems an unlikely mixture for creating what would be a breeding ground for one of the most famous fascists outside of Oswald Mosley.  The man who later became Lord Haw Haw, William Joyce, was a member of the British Fascisti, after having been attacked, he claimed, by a Jewish communist whilst stewarding a Conservative Party meeting in 1924.  He would later leave The British Fascists to join Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in 1932.

The British Fascists were declared bankrupt in 1934.  By this time, The BUF had established itself and was the major force of fascism in the UK.  However, on the political scale, they were miniscule compared to the mainstream parties of the time, Conservatives, Labour, Liberals and National Liberals.  Even amongst the extreme right, the BUF might have been the most well known, but there were other organisations espousing various ideas of fascism, and fighting between rival groups, was not uncommon.  The Imperial Fascist League, which had formed in 1929, had a rivalry with the BUF.  Although the British Fascists, the BUF and the IFL had discussed mergers, they could never agree to work together, and merge their limited memberships.

Ultimately, this early history of Fascism in the UK is as instructive as it is interesting.  There is an almost tribal mentality to these organisations.  Some people did move between organisations but generally, most stayed loyal, almost to a fault, with the organisation they joined.  The same is also true today.  The BNP, the EDL and the National Front may be the extreme right parties and organisations that most are familiar with, but there are and have been a number of minor far right parties and organisations, including The British Freedom Party, Britain First, The British Democratic Party, British People's Party, The Christian Council of Britain, England First Party, the White Nationalist Party, the Nationalist Alliance, and many other organisations, some of which have been and are organisations that splintered off from the BNP.

Whilst the BNP and the National Front have been the most successful in terms of electoral success, both are so far behind the mainstream parties, that their successes are rather limited really, in the grand scheme of things.  So, is there anything to worry about in regards to the EDL, the BNP and the National Front?  It's very unlikely that there is anything to worry about.  Most of these organisations do not garner much in the way of support outside of their base, and they are so far away from where the majority of the British public politically reside, the political centre, where ultimately elections are won, that the likelyhood of any group getting the necessary votes to get more than token representation in anything beyond local council level, is so small as to render it almost impossible. 

This is down to the way our electoral system works.  First Past The Post is a simple, most votes wins system.  One person, one vote, just a single cross on a piece of paper, and the candidate that gets the most votes wins.  No requirement to get more than 50% of the votes cast in a single constituency, and no complex ranking of candidates by order of preference.  Smaller parties like UKIP, The Greens, even the Liberal Democrats at one stage, complained that the system kept smaller parties out.  And whilst the system does keep some minor parties out, the flipside of that, is that it also tends to keep the BNP and National Front out as well, because to win in any constituency, you need a large concentration of support for your party within that constituency.  One of the reasons the Greens rarely win seats, is because their support is thinly spread across the country, where as pockets of BNP support have sprung up in certain areas, and that's why the BNP has won some council seats in the past, although in the last local elections in May, the BNP lost all the seats they were defending.

And Fox News lending support to the EDL isn't as big a deal in this country as it might seem.  Fox News reaches over 3 million people each week in the USA, around about 1% of the population overall, and is the most watched cable news channel in the US.  Fox News Channel is also shown in the UK.  However, they reach no more than 200,000 people each week in the UK, far less than 1% of the 60 million people that live in the UK.  In terms of people watching news channels in the UK, BBC News leads the way with over 9 million watching each week, Sky News comes next with over 5 million watching each week, and editorially, although owned by the same company that owns Fox News, Sky News is far less right wing that Fox News, mainly due to neutrality regulations that are in place for all broadasters broadcasting from the UK.  Outside of the two main news channels in the UK, Fox News is watched by less people than watch Al Jazeera, or Russia Today, or even EuroNews.  Fox News active support of the EDL is actually causing viewers of Fox News in the UK to change channels.

There is one other reason why it is unlikely that we will see Fascism rise up, and it comes from history and the UK's response to the force that wasthe countries known as "The Communist States".

Communism really first came to prominience in the 19th century with the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848, a document written by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.  Their "communism" was a form of socialism that sought to end capitalism, and the systems that they believed were exploting workers.  It was this basic idea that brought down the Czars in Russia in 1917, and formed the basis for the Communist state that was The Soviet Union until the 1990s.

Communist Parties began forming all over the world.  1920 saw the formation of the British version of the Communist Party.  The US response was best categorised by what happened in the 1950s, and the phenomenon that was McCarthyism.  Joseph McCarthy was a Wisconsin Republican Senator, who led a Senate commitee into the infiltration of American Communist Party agents into the Government.  His over-zealous interrogations of suspects, and demagogue-like attitude, led to him making wild, unsubstatiated accusations against people who were not guilty of any such misdemeanours.  Such McCarthyism is still used today by the Republican Party to call people unpatriotic, or question the morality of an opponent in a political debate.

But in Britian, instead of being scared by '...reds under the bed...', the British establishment gave it little credence or indeed thought it much of a threat, despite the fact that in 1945, 2 Communist Party candiates had been elected as MPs.  Both lost their seats in 1950, and the party began a slow, gradual decline eventually dissolving in 1991, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  A splinter group left the main party in 1988, and formed a new Communist Party which still exists today in the UK, however, the membership has never gotten to the 1000 mark.

So, when it comes down to the likes of the British National Party, the English Defence League and the National Front, they are small parts of a small movement, that is significantly splintered between over 15 different organisations already.  These various splinters are like individual tribes, struggling to work together for a common cause, because one tribe feels that another's slightly different viewpoint on something means they are less true to the cause or less pure. 

Two quotes for me sum up my feelings on this, and I have added particular emphasis to the parts that speak most on this subject..  First comes from the Inaugural Address of President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1933...

"...This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance..."

...and the second comes from Edward R Murrow from his See It Now programme in 1954, talking about McCarthyism...

"...We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men..."

(Cross posted on my Daily Kos diary

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