There’s a poisonous thread that links Boris Johnson, UKIP and fascists, and we ignore it at our peril

'Bookmarks' invaders
Tom Coburg

Far-right tendencies take on a variety of forms, from fringe fascist to mainstream conservative, and everything in between. In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the lauding of a neo-fascist as a champion of free speech, the invasion of a left-wing bookshop in London by the far right, and a former government minister risking an escalation in hate crime to promote his political ambitions.

In their different ways, each plays a part in preparing the public for political change, particularly in the ever-febrile atmosphere of a likely bankrupted hard-Brexit Britain.

1) Bookmarks

On Saturday 4 August, a group of people carrying pro-Trump placards invaded Bookmarks, a well known left-wing bookshop in central London, where they scattered and ripped books and generally caused havoc:

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The attackers reportedly told Bookmarks staff:

We know where you are, I hope you burn down, we’re going to come back again.’

Michael Bradley of Stand up to Racism commented:

this is a sinister development that indicates the growing confidence of the far right who feel they can attack a bookshop in central London in broad daylight

But perhaps what was significant here is that the group couldn’t resist videoing themselves doing this:

Consequently, the culprits were easily identified. Some were members of UKIP (and one was a former leadership candidate).

UKIP’s far-right nationalism has gained some credibility over the years, thanks partly to the role of mainstream and corporate media. Labour MP David Lammy agrees:

Bookmarks manager David Gilchrist has said:

In response to the Nazi book burnings, the American author and activist Helen Keller wrote: “You may burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas those books contain have passed through millions of channels and will go on.”

UKIP subsequently suspended former leadership candidate Elizabeth Jones, as well as Luke Nash-Jones and Martin Costello, pending an investigation. However, UKIP has associations with some very dubious characters. So the trio’s crime as far as UKIP is concerned was most likely not what they did but that they were identified, thanks to their vanity. (Note: Jones was later reinstated by UKIP, which decided she hadn’t entered the bookshop but was merely passing by).

2) Stephen Yaxley-Lennon

English Defence League leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka ‘Tommy Robinson’, was jailed for contempt of court. But after protests by his supporters, the court decided due process had not been followed and he was released.

Significantly, Steve Bannon, one-time guru to US President Donald Trump, advocated Yaxley-Lennon’s release from prison. That intervention was all about repositioning ‘Robinson’ as a hero of free speech.

3) Boris Johnson

Former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson argued [paywall] that the burqa worn by some Muslim women should not be banned. But in the same article he referred to women wearing burqas or niqabs as looking like ‘letter boxes’ or ‘bank robbers”.

Typical Boris humour, some might say. But then others may argue that his use of language could encourage hate crimes against Muslims generally. But Johnson no doubt saw an opportunity to ‘test the market’ here, to further his leadership ambitions. And it’s interesting that UKIP founder Nigel Farage said that since making his comments on Muslim women’s dress Johnson was “more likely to be Tory party leader”.

Manipulation

Johnson is a master at manipulating public opinion, as shown by the Brexit campaign he helped front, which could be characterised as the real ‘Project Fear’.

But there is a danger that as the sanctification of ‘Robinson’, the demonisation of Muslims and the open attack on bookshops become normalised, Britain gradually moves ever more rightwards. And a Brexit Britain, replete with nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments, will likely encourage that rightwards move further.

Opposition

The politics of Johnson and his supporters within Conservative ranks will no doubt be opposed by more mainstream Tories. But the politics of the far right – whether that’s the EDL or UKIP – may need to be opposed at a more basic level too, as suggested by Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell:

The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) succeeded in galvanising a broad-based movement against racism, though it was Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) that took on the job of physically seeing off the fascists wherever they appeared.

The AFA was initiated mostly by anarchists in 1986. It was in response to an attack, late one Saturday afternoon, on the News From Nowhere bookshop in Liverpool. A relaunched AFA in the 1990s consisted of mostly Red Action, anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement (DAM) and Workers’ Power activists. The DAM (renamed Solidarity Federation) was also pivotal to many of the northern AFA groups.

Anarchists were central to Antifa, the successor to AFA. Though not all went well, as one activist explained:

As a group, we underestimated the level of intelligence the police had on us, and the resources they had to monitor political activists. Despite us having what we thought of as a good security culture, some members were being closely watched – and even followed – by police in early 2009, and one member of the group – Mark Kennedy – was a serving police officer. The amount of intelligence they had gathered on us was made obvious when they raided dozens of addresses across the country simultaneously. One person had moved house only a few days before being arrested, and the police got him at his new address.

In recent years, Anti-Fascist Network has played a role in challenging the far right. But bookshops remain a soft target. Indeed, in February 2013, Britain’s oldest anarchist bookshop (founded by Russian exile anarchist Piotr Kropotkin) was fire-bombed.

At our peril

Meanwhile, Steve Bannon – Trump’s long-time close ally – is busy helping to establish a new European-based organisation of the so called ‘alt-right’, named “the Movement”. And in the UK, he is equally busy making clear his support for Johnson and ultra-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.

It’s the politics of the 1930s again: create confusion (fake news), exploit people’s fears (via social media, propaganda etc), while offering strong leadership as a panacea.

We ignore these developments at our peril.

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Support Bookmarks on Saturday 11 August, 2pm.

Read our other articles about the rise of far-right politics.

Featured image via Youtube

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