Why not compare these “far Right” views with those of the public in general? Because these “extreme” opinion are, in fact, mainstream.
Ed West is a journalist and social commentator who specialises in politics, religion and low culture. He is @edwestonline on Twitter.
Imagine that a report came out linking people’s unease with inequality and poverty to extreme Left-wing violence of the Baader-Meinhof variety, showing that Labour voters shared some of the same concerns with supporters of the Communist Party or other Far-Left organisations.
Imagine it illustrated this report with a picture of a gun beside a red flag and jackboots, and pictures of Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman by pictures of Left-wing extremists. If you’re a member of UK Uncut and reading this, I believe I’m not wrong in assuming that you’d consider it an unwarranted slur if your group was compared to bombers and murderers.
So try imagining how the UK Independence Party must feel about theÂ Hope Not Hate report, “Voting to violence? Far right extremism in Britain”, which lumps the group in with the British National Party and English Defence League in a study of Right-wing extremists.
The report was produced in response to a Home Office committee last year that declared that the risk of extreme Right-wing violence was underplayed and that there was a serious terror threat from these groups. The aim of this report, therefore, is to explore the intellectual hinterland from which these Right-wing extremists will emerge, for:
The report graphically highlights the central dominance of immigration and a fear of Islam to supporters of both the British National Party (BNP) and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This is despite the leadership of both organisations playing down their hardline views. While there might be differences in the intensity of this animosity between BNP and UKIP supporters, hostility to immigration and Muslims is linked to a wider discontent with British democracy and distrust towards those who represent it.
The report clearly shows distinct variations of attitudes between different types of supporters, with those actively involved in extreme right wing organisations having more hardline views and attitudes to violence than those who merely vote for such groups or those who are potential supporters. Whether the more hardline views explain why people actually join right wing organisations, as opposed to simply voting for them, or being involved politicises people is beyond the scope of this research, however the differences are interesting in themselves.
One of the most worrying aspects of this research is the attitude of BNP, UKIP and English Defence League (EDL) supporters to violence.
Second, we wanted to compare and contrast supporters of different movements to the Right of the centre-right Conservatives. Not all movements that occupy the far right-wing are the same: whereas some, such as the British National Party (BNP), are associated more strongly with ideological extremism, criminality and violence, other movements, such as the more moderate UK Independence Party (UKIP), advocate similar policies in many areas but would strongly reject any association with extremism and violence. Understanding whether, and if so how, their supporters differ may be an important step to understanding what pushes and pulls citizens further along the political spectrum.
There is a strange, almost quaintly unknowing quality about this worldview. UKIP and BNP supporters, the report argues, “are almost unanimous in their rejection of the notion that Britain is benefiting from diversity”.
And one would, of course, have to be literally insane to hold such a view.
Yet a report that defines “far Right” as someone who thinks that mass immigration is overall a bad thing has a bit of a problem.Â On Friday the Guardian reported that UKIP supporters had been included as a “control” group, but if that was the case, why not just compare these “far Right” views with those of the public in general? Because these “extreme” opinion are, in fact, mainstream.
Channel 4’s 2009 survey, for example, showed a majority of Tory voters and a plurality of Labour and Liberal Democrats agreeing that “all further immigration to the UK should be halted”. A clear majority of Tory voters disagreed with the statement that Britain had benefited from the “arrival in recent decades of people from many countries and cultures”, expressing similar levels of concern as UKIP supporters. Some 53 per cent of Labour voters agreed, and 56 per cent of Liberal Democrats.
Last year’s HOPE not hate reportÂ showed that 63 per cent of white Britons, and almost half of Asians, believed that immigration had been a bad thing for Britain; presumably then some 40 per cent of British Asians are potential white supremacists. The report stated that half of the British population would vote for a “far-Right” party that did not promote violence. In fact their description of “far Right” was not far-Right in any traditional sense, that is being violent, anti-democratic, race-obsessed, territorially expansionist or violently hostile to women’s rights and gays; it was just one that rejected the “benefits of diversity” and wanted to restrict immigration. I love the unwitting humour of the logic here;Â we’rein the centre, everyone else is an extremist.
Another problem with this latest report is the wording of the questions. It found that roughly a third of UKIP supporters agreed or strongly agreed that “immigrants should be sent back to their home country, whether or not they break the law.” That seems harsh, but do they meanÂ allimmigrants? If they had added this word then I imagine the numbers in favour would be pretty small; otherwise it’s an ambiguous question. I would agree, for example, that Abu Qatada should be deported, even though he has committed no crime here.Â And what is the view of the public at large? The report only compares “extreme” views with the general population in one question.
Then the questions about violence, “Violence between different ethnic, racial or religious groups is largely inevitable” or “violence may be needed to protect my group from threats”; these are theoretical, existential questions. The former is also incredibly vague â€“ do they mean all-out Yugoslavia-style war or low-level, everyday conflict that afflicts all diverse societies? The second question could just be interpreted as the same as whether one would fight for one’s country.
Might it be that Hope Not Hate, and many of the other organisations fighting racism, have a rather skewed idea of what “Far-Right” and “extreme” is? Hope Not Hate does a lot of good work, but it seems stuck in a 1980s theory of anti-racism which confuses racial hatred with “parochial altruism”, that is the natural human feeling of being happier around people like ourselves, and so having discomfort with diversity; the former is the pathological variation of the latter, but the latter is part of human nature and not immoral or necessarily problematic. Anti-racism, which has its roots in the Utopian far-Left, holds that this universal feeling can be somehow indoctrinated out, just as the Soviets believed that our desire for financial self-interest could be bred out.
UKIP is something of a strange beast politically, a mixture of libertarians and social conservatives; aside from the Greens, it is the only party considering supporting the legalisation of cannabis. Economically it is the polar opposite of the BNP, but it’s true to say that like that party it draws much of its support from people alienated and repulsed by the new moral order. Social conservatives who overall feel happier with the values of pre-1968 Britain, whether it’s patriotism, their views on marriage, crime and punishment, or sexual mores; andÂ libertarians who hate the way that the cultural revolution has brought a massively expanded state with an insatiable appetite for making new laws, New Labour’s era being a nadir. Both wings of the party have a particularly English opposition to the nanny state, telling them off and leeching their taxes, whether it’s in the name of “health inequality” or “promoting diversity” or any of the other mantras that the statist clergy repeat ad nauseam.
But that hardly makes it “far” anything, any more than Labour are extreme for attracting people who might otherwise vote for the extreme Left and for using the same language of equality and social justice. The irony is that this report seeks to address peoples’ alienation from mainstream politics, and then characterises them as extremists. Is it any wonder that people feel so disconnected?