From the National Front, to UKIP… and now the Tories

David Lawrence - 16 05 17

In 2013 HOPE not hate exposed UKIP’s then-Thurrock Chairman, Robert Ray, as a former organiser for the whites-only National Front (NF).

Ray stood as the Newham (east London) candidate for the far-right NF in 1977, a time when the policies of the explicitly racist party included the deportation of non-whites from the UK.

Ray, who was involved with the NF for three-and-a-half years, has claimed not to have been aware of the NF’s stance on race and told HOPE not hate that he had left to join the Conservatives after becoming disillusioned with the NF leadership under John Tyndall (who later became the leader of the British National Party).

Ray then went on to join UKIP in 2011 and a year later was elected as the party’s first councillor in Thurrock. Ray was even hired by UKIP’s current general election candidate for Thurrock, Tim Aker, to run his office after Aker was elected as an MEP in 2014.

However, his views appeared to have changed little in the decades since his NF days, telling HOPE not hate in 2013 that he stood by everything written on his NF flyer, reiterating his belief that immigrants still established ghetto areas in the UK.

Robert Ray’s National Front election flyer

Ray was dropped from his post as UKIP’s Thurrock chairman following an infamous drink driving incident in 2015.

“Do you know who I am?” Ray asked the police as he was arrested in his car, caught driving home from a UKIP fundraiser at twice the legal limit. Ray was given a 19-month driving ban, and was temporarily suspended from party activity.

Ray has now been welcomed back into the Conservative Party. Last Saturday Ray, who is well-known locally, was pictured alongside Jackie Doyle-Price, Thurrock’s Tory candidate, campaigning in the area.

Robert Ray (pictured far right) campaiging with Conservative candidate Jackie Doyle-Price in Thurrock

Shifting Landscape

Ray’s political journey is an interesting case study and tells us something about the shifting ground of UK politics.

The Conservative Party effectively neutered the electoral threat posed by the National Front in the 1979 general election by adopting much its hard-line anti-immigration rhetoric. Margaret Thatcher infamously began speaking of the UK being “swamped” by immigrant cultures, and voters left the NF in droves.

An interesting, if imperfect, parallel lies in the normalisation of UKIP’s prejudicial politics in the wake of Brexit.

Theresa May is appealing to the Leave vote by promising to deliver economic prosperity and a sharp reduction in immigration through a ‘hard Brexit’. She has essentially adopted top lines from UKIP’s 2015 manifesto, and in doing so has helped to shift hardline views around immigration, multiculturalism and Islam from the fringes of political discussion into the mainstream. A recent survey found that Conservative supporters believed their party was more right-wing than UKIP.

This tactic has been hugely successful and former UKIP supporters have migrated en-masse to the Tories. Less than a year after their success in the EU referendum, UKIP is now polling at just three (3%) percent in the polls.

Traditional far-right parties remain tiny, and UKIP is on the verge of defeat. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the politics of the far right. When we discovered Ray’s dubious past, we called on Nigel Farage to address what it was that was attracting former members of the NF to his party – now we can ask the same question of Theresa May.

Robert Ray with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage



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