State of HATE is the most comprehensive and analytical guide to the state of far-right extremism in Britain today.
After a few years in the political doldrums, where Brexit dominated the political discourse, the British far right is stirring once more and increasingly taking to the streets in our communities. Brexit no longer dominates our identity in the way it has done for several years, while the pandemic appears to be in our rearview mirror and – in the post-Boris Johnson world – there is growing anger on the right at the Government’s failure to stem migrants arriving in small boats across the Channel. It seems like business as usual for the far right.
This year’s report comes at a febrile time in British politics. We have had three Prime Ministers in
the past year and a cost of living crisis that is causing real pain and misery to so many people. Immigration, and more specifically the issue of people arriving in the country in small boats, is rising up the political agenda and increasingly dominating the focus of the far right.
The country is in a state of political flux, the far right is becoming increasingly active on the streets and – most worryingly – there is increasing symmetry in the narratives and actions between the traditional far right and the more mainstream right.
After the most politically febrile year in recent memory, Britain has entered 2023 in a state of turmoil. With three prime ministers holding office in 2022 alone and the Home Secretary changing from Priti Patel to Suella Braverman, to Grant Shapps and then back to Braverman, it has felt at times like the UK is in a constant state of upheaval.
The continuing fallout from Brexit, the ramifications of the war in Ukraine, the calamitous 44-day administration of Liz Truss and rampant inflation have all collided to create a cost-of-living crisis. Many people are angry, scared, detached and disillusioned, as well as increasingly poor – a dangerous mix.
It is no surprise, then, to find that the British far right is more active than it has been for many years, working hard to exploit the situation, working hard to exploit opportunities not afforded for many years. The organised far right isn’t necessarily larger (most groups are relatively small), but there is a committed core engaging in very regular activism across the whole country. The form that this takes is varied, with leafletting sessions, social events, conferences and banner drops among the many activities happening almost every single week.
After several years where the far right has struggled for space in a political landscape dominated by Brexit, it has seized its moment. The passing of time since the EU referendum and the widespread acknowledgment that Brexit is not working well for the UK, has meant that our attitudes towards leaving the EU no longer dominate our identity. This has provided the far right with an opening which they have gleefully seized.
However, it is the rise in street protests that is, at present, the biggest threat posed by the organised far right. As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were lifted the movement has returned to the streets in a concerted and meaningful way, focusing on a range of issues. A smaller but more concentrated conspiracy theory scene continued to regularly protest throughout the year, while Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) returned with a series of demonstrations in Telford against “Muslim grooming gangs”.
Sadly, the coming year looks set to be a very difficult one. With the cost-of-living crisis becoming increasingly severe, mistrust in mainstream politics growing and an energetic, committed and sometimes violent far-right movement ready to exploit the situation, there is no time for complacency.
The Conservative Party’s shift to the right on immigration and its adoption of populist-right narratives on certain cultural issues began with Boris Johnson, as he sought to win over Brexit Party voters ahead of the 2019 General Election. Yet despite Johnson’s departure to the back benches, this shows little sign of abating. While Rishi Sunak is economically a Thatcherite, he has never shown any real interest
in cultural war politics. However, that is beginning to shift, partly because he is too politically weak to rein in some of his own ministers and out of fear that Nigel Farage could return to the political fray.
While it remains unlikely that Farage will launch a new party anytime soon, polling by HOPE not hate shows that 12% of people would be very likely support it and a further 17% quite likely. This highlights the danger for the Tories. The fear of Farage opening up a flank on the right, coupled with the increasing irritation of the Conservative right (and their friends in the media) over Sunak’s supposed watering down of Brexit and the continued arrival of migrants from France, means that the political rhetoric will continue to be divisive and only give credibility and encouragement to the traditional far right.
The issue of cross-Channel migration and asylum seeker accommodation will continue to dominate the attention of the far right, too, and we can expect to see large amounts of hateful activism in communities right across the country. It also looks like the LGBT+ community, and trans people in particular, will continue to be a constant target of vitriol as well.
With its focus on migrants and LGBT+ people and the existence of groups like Patriotic Alternative and Britain First, the British far right looks very traditional at present. While the pandemic has highlighted an ubiquitous conspiracism across the movement, today’s far right looks more like the networks of decades gone by.
And with so many people economically struggling at the moment, the potential for today’s far right to capitalise on this anger and despair is probably higher than it has been for many years.
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