Revolt on the Right

29 July 2011

Listen to the Guardian Podcast on the Far Right

What drove Anders Breivik to unspeakable depths of mass murder? His lawyer says he is insane. He says he killed to halt the "Islamisation of Europe".
He also claimed to have links to the far right in the UK, through contacts in the English Defence League. That was enough to provoke David Cameron into demanding from the security services a review of the far right in Britain.
Hugh Muir takes a snapshot of the far right, with the help of Matthew Goodwin the author of New British Fascism: Rise of the British National Party; Matthew Taylor, who has written extensively for the Guardian on the far right; and Dan Hodges, who works with the anti fascist organisation Searchlight.
We'll consider those who seek gains through the political system, those who rely on intimidation and violence, and we'll also visit the communities they see as ripe for conflict and exploitation.
Hugh visits Tower Hamlets in east London to assess the mood ahead of the EDL march, and Martin Wainwright visits Stoke-on-Trent to find out if the BNP can still count on support there.

26 July 2011

Defence Lawyer Of Anders Behring Breivik Statement

Summary of the Breivik Debate - Ballots and Bullets

The Ballots and Bullets Blog over at the School of Politics at the University of Nottingham has put together a useful summary of articles on Breivik and the events over the weekend.

What the BNP Leadership Result Means

Following a disastrous performance at the most recent set of local elections in May, the BNP continued its descent into infighting. Its vote collapsed. Members and activists began leaving the party. Enthusiasm for contesting elections and campaigning dwindled. And the party lost its claim to be the fastest growing party in British politics.

This discontent and a growing grassroots rebellion culminated in a challenge to the leadership of Nick Griffin. This was not the first leadership challenge, but it was the most significant. At the close of nominations on the 4th July, two candidates had put themselves forward as prospective leaders. Both have a rich lineage within extreme right politics, and both are members of the European Parliament: Andrew Brons and incumbent Nick Griffin. As the party describes, in the world of the BNP they are 'heavyweights'.

When all votes had been counted, it was revealed that Brons had only narrowly missed out on replacing Griffin by just nine votes (Griffin polled 1157 votes, while Brons polled 1148). To make the result even more disappointing for Brons, eleven ballots were spoiled. 

Re-elected to lead the BNP for the next four years, and through important elections in London next year and then elections to the European Parliament, Griffin promptly declared: “The time for division and disruption is over; now is the time to heal. Now is the time to move on. Now is the time to get back to work. We have a Party to build and a Nation to save. Let us go forward together!”

But what are the implications of the result? 

With Griffin at the helm, it is distinctly unlikely that the BNP will resurrect its electoral challenge by making gains at the London Assembly and then European elections. As I document in a new book, seen through the eyes of the vast majority of Britons, Griffin's BNP is damaged goods. They simply do not view the party as either a credible or legitimate alternative. The party's decade-long strategy of 'modernization' failed to broaden its appeal among women, young people and economically insecure sections of the middle classes. Instead, and like its 1970s predecessor, the party has fallen heavily dependent on a constituency of older working class men who are more likely than other voters in society to endorse the most strident forms of racism. Rather than reach out to the larger numbers of Britons who are sceptical over immigration but who distance themselves from this crude racial prejudice, the BNP depends heavily on a dwindling base of traditional racists.

This looks set to continue. Griffin's re-election is likely to entrench this negative perception of the BNP among voters. As revealed in the aftermath of Question Time, when only 4 per cent of voters said they would definitely consider supporting the BNP (this number, by the way, was lower than the per cent who said they would consider voting National Front in the 1970s), most voters remain distinctly unimpressed by Griffin. And as underscored by the negative portrayals of Griffin during the Alternative Vote (AV) campaign, the prospect of him undergoing a makeover are slim. He very much remains something of a 'hate figure' within wider society, and lacks the charisma for damage limitation. By contrast, one can't help but wonder what might have happened had Griffin stepped back into the shadows following his election to the European Parliament, and installed a more respectable and 'baggage-free' successor.

But then, perhaps Griffin never really wanted to connect with the electorate at large. Perhaps all he really wants is to sustain the racial nationalist tradition and keep alive his revolutionary ambitions, viewing the BNP as the most effective vehicle through which to do that. Perhaps electoral success and the replication of a far right breakthrough like those seen elsewhere in Europe just aren't high on his list of priorities. Either way, some things do appear certain. The BNP under Griffin will not disappear from British political life, but nor will it achieve a wider breakthrough at elections. Instead, it looks destined to occupy an awkward middle-ground: rambling through the margins and struggling for survival amidst an increasingly competitive right-wing scene.

Anders Breivik’s political platform

The Community Security Trust (CST) has published a useful and informative article (click on the image above) on the political platform of Breivik, including insights into his position toward the English Defence League (EDL).

What Does the Prevent Strategy Say About Right-Wing Extremism?

The following extracts from the (June 11) Prevent Strategy  reveal current thinking within government and security agencies toward right-wing extremism. First, it notes how our understanding of how citizens become involved in extreme right-wing terrorism is less developed than for alternative forms of extremist violence. This is correct: evidence on the motivates that drive some citizens into right-wing violence remain under researched and poorly understood. Second, it offers some ideas about what might motivate extreme right-wing terrorism, focusing on the importance of 'supremacist ideology'. Third, it discusses the role (or lack of) from religion, contrasting right-wing extremism with its al-Qaeda (or AQ) inspired counterparts. Fourth, it speculates about the profile of prospective extreme right-wing terrorists. And lastly, it discusses the growing importance of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam sentiment to understanding this threat.

Some (brief) thoughts in The Sun

EDL leader on Newsnight last night

25 July 2011

In response to the numerous calls and requests, I've just put down the five key points that I think we need to keep in mind with regard to Norway. These have gone to the blog Ballots and Bullets.

The Angry White Men and their Motives

Given the interest in understanding the motives behind far right support, I thought I would re-post an earlier essay from June that was published by the Policy Network.

The potent combination of anti-immigrant hostility and political dissatisfaction is at the core of understanding support for the far right. Attempts to win back support must involve not only addressing border control and economic concerns, but also confronting questions about identity and feelings of cultural threat
If elections were held tomorrow in Austria and France, and recent surveys are correct, then the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) would top the polls while Marine Le Pen would recruit a quarter of the vote, potentially beating Nicolas Sarkozy into the second round. These polls follow recent elections in Finland and Sweden – countries once considered immune to a successful far right – where xenophobic parties were propelled into parliament and onto the national stage.
These events reaffirm how early predictions that the challenge from far right parties would evaporate were wrong. In fact, over the past decade it could be argued that this exclusionary brand of politics never had it so good. The arrival of a favourable climate was evident in Britain, where several trends combined to produce a perfect storm for parties that pitched an anti-establishment and anti-immigrant narrative to economically insecure groups. Public concern over immigration rocketed to historic levels. Dissatisfaction with the response of Labour to these concerns went through the roof. There emerged significant public anxiety over the presence and loyalty of settled Muslims. Labour elites ran the risk of legitimating far-right campaigns, by suggesting asylum-seekers were ‘swamping’ schools, Islamic dress was damaging social cohesion and there should be ‘British jobs for British workers’. And all of this came before a parliamentary expenses scandal and financial crisis. 

Interestingly, these trends also coincided with a decade-long investment by Labour in supporting ‘community cohesion’. While councils attempted to construct bridges across diverse communities, and unite citizens around a shared set of values, national trends pointed in the opposite direction toward a rising tide of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment. In the end, however, a combination of a toxic legacy and political amateurism meant that the far-right British National Party (BNP) failed to capitalise. Nonetheless, there remains a large reservoir of latent support and ample demand for a more sophisticated successor.1 This raises the question of which groups in society are particularly receptive to the far-right narrative, and what are their underlying concerns?

In terms of ‘who’, we now have lots of evidence on the socio-demographic profile of these citizens.2 Like their continental neighbours, these ‘angry white men’ share a distinct social profile: they are drawn from the working classes, especially the skilled working classes who have more to lose from rising diversity; they are poorly educated, after leaving school with no formal qualifications; they gather their information from xenophobic tabloid papers, such as The Sun, Daily Express or Daily Mail; and reflecting their economic insecurity, they are deeply pessimistic about their financial prospects. 

Many Britons now openly question whether their future economic position will necessarily be an improvement on the past. The angry white men are absolutely convinced that theirs will worsen. Consider this: three quarters of BNP supporters were dissatisfied about their family’s financial situation, and almost half were fearful that they or a close relative would soon lose their job. Nor was this pessimistic outlook restricted to economics: almost half were dissatisfied with the safety of their community and more than two fifths were dissatisfied about access to local services, such as schools and hospitals. Set against those who turned out for the far right in the 1970s, these citizens are also older, and more likely to come from northern England.

Turning to ‘why’, some on the centre-left have long shared a belief that these citizens are reacting against the mainstream, rather than opting for policies offered by the far right. Others coalesce around the notion that they are simply single-issue voters, whose discontent with immigration policy can be satisfied by talking about caps on numbers, border control and stressing the economic benefits of migration. Both views are mistaken, and ignore a large body of research that suggests otherwise. At first glance, the modern far right voter is actually concerned about a diverse range of issues. We found that the Britons who are most susceptible to this narrative are more likely than others to endorse a varied array of ideas and policies.3  As we might expect, they were more than twice as likely to rate immigration as the most important issue, to reject the suggestion immigration has brought benefits to Britain and say immigrants should leave. But they were also twice as likely to say gays and lesbians have unfair advantages, to oppose civil partnerships, to distrust their Member of Parliament, to think most politicians are corrupt, to view the main parties as being all the same, to advocate withdrawal from the EU, and consider Islam a danger to Western civilisation. 

That said, it remains true that hostility towards immigration is the most powerful predictor of support for the far right. BNP voters are overwhelmingly more likely than other voters to advocate halting all further immigration; to endorse the view that immigrants receive preferential treatment from local authorities; to reject the suggestion that immigration has helped the economy; and to disagree that Britain has benefited from the arrival of people from different countries and cultures. Importantly, these voters are also more likely than others to endorse more strident forms of racism: almost three quarters agreed the government should encourage immigrants and their families to leave Britain (including those born in the country); almost three fifths thought most crimes are committed by immigrants; almost half thought employers should favour whites over non-whites; over two fifths rejected the suggestion that non-white citizens born in Britain are just as British as white Britons born in the country; and almost one third rejected the suggestion that there is no difference in levels of intelligence between black and white Britons. Not all of the angry white men endorsed these harder forms of intolerance, but they were more likely than supporters of other political parties to do so.

Anti-immigrant hostility, however, is only one side of the story. These voters are also driven to the far right by their dissatisfaction with existing political options: they are far more distrustful than other voters of national and local politicians (upwards of four fifths said they distrust their MP, council officials and civil servants); and they are more likely to say there are no real differences between Labour and the Conservatives (almost 70% agreed compared to 46% of the sample overall). When seen as a whole, and after statistical analysis, it is this ‘potent combination’ of anti-immigrant hostility and political dissatisfaction that is at the core of understanding why these angry white men have shifted behind parties like the BNP.4 

When making sense of these concerns, we also know that context matters. These citizens are not floating adrift. Their attitudes are not shaped by esoteric debates in Westminster and they are not blind to happenings within their neighbourhoods. On the contrary, their local context has important effects. For example, even after we control for the education and employment status of individual BNP voters, we found support for the party was most heavily concentrated in areas where education levels were low and employment rates were high. And these effects were strong. Moving from a seat with a low number of unqualified voters to one with a very large number led to a quadrupling of BNP support. Yet the most important finding was a strong and positive relationship between higher levels of BNP support and the presence of a large Muslim community of Bangladeshi or Pakistani heritage. This relationship did not hold for non-Muslim Asians, while support was lower in areas with large numbers of black Britons.

On the one hand, this suggests the appeal of the modern far right is more subtle than in earlier decades, and that modern Britons are generally at ease with minority groups which they feel are less culturally distinct and better integrated. On the other, it suggests that attempting to win these voters back by talking only about immigration caps, border control and the economic contribution of immigrants are doomed to fail. Citizens who are receptive to the far right are profoundly concerned about immigration, but they are also deeply anxious about a culturally distinct minority group that is settled, is not going anywhere and is growing. Nor are these concerns solely about threats to economic goods like jobs and social housing. Rather, they stem from a feeling that ‘British’ values, national identity and ways of life are under threat. This sense of cultural threat is evident in numerous surveys of public opinion, but it was especially striking during my interviews with the more strongly committed members and activists on the far right. Many genuinely believe Britain is on the brink of race war, and reached the conclusion that the only way of protecting their group from these broader threats was by joining the far right.

For progressives, dealing with this potent combination and feelings of cultural threat means starting some difficult conversations. But those who start these conversations can draw strength from the fact they are supported by evidence across Europe, which reveals how it is these cultural-based concerns that are the most powerful driver of public hostility to immigration, and rising ethno-cultural diversity more broadly.
Dr Matthew Goodwin is a lecturer in political science at the University of Nottingham, and Associate Fellow of Chatham House. He is the author of New British Fascism: Rise of the British National Party and co-editor of The New Extremism in 21st Century Britain (both published by Routledge)
He will speak at the Policy Network event on Fostering trust in diverse political communities on 28 June

Thoughts on Norway in The Times

The Times have published a comment piece today by Matt Goodwin on the attacks in Norway.

An earlier draft of the piece that conveys the same points is below.

The events in Norway mark a watershed moment in our approach to the far right. The attacks, which claimed more victims than 7/7, directly challenge the conventional wisdom that the far right is simply the more disorganized and weaker cousin to al-Qaeda inspired terrorism. Our focus on the latter has been justified, but for too long we ignored or dismissed the potential for violence from right-wing extremists. This movement is no longer the dog that never barks.

While the attacker in Norway acted in isolation, he represents a pan-European subculture that is fiercely opposed to immigration, Islam, rising ethno-cultural diversity and the influence of left-wing mainstream parties. These ideas have attracted growing public support across the continent, as reflected in the rise of far right parties in elections. But sections of this movement are also shifting toward a more confrontational and violent strategy. Some have reached the conclusion that the electoral far right has failed to influence immigration policy, and that a ballot box strategy is incapable of stemming the growth of Muslim communities. For activists like Anders Breivik, the only option left is violence.

I spent the best part of four years interviewing some of the most committed followers of the far right in Britain. Most distanced themselves from violence, but many expressed similar motives to those found within Breivik’s video manifesto and Internet postings. They emphasised the ‘threat’ from Islam and expanding Muslim communities, exhibiting like Breivik a detailed knowledge of birth rates within Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities. Faced with this threat, they stressed the need to take urgent and radical action to defend their families and native Britons from extinction and mass conflict. The way in which this narrative can trip individuals into violence was revealed in the case of one activist who was imprisoned after stockpiling chemical explosives in preparation for a ‘clash of civilizations’. This belief in an apocalyptic-style conflict with Muslims might be dismissed as fantastical, but it is shared by many within the far right. It is what led the BNP to advocate in 2005 that members of the armed services be allowed to keep hold of their arms and ammunition, and leads members of the English Defence League (EDL) to predict that Britain will soon become engulfed by civil war. When put in the right hands, these motives turn into powerful and compelling reasons for taking action. 

The shift within the far right has not gone totally unnoticed. Two years ago, the hardening tone among far right circles led both the Department of Homeland Security in the United States and London Metropolitan Police to warn of the growing potential for violence. Only a few weeks before the attacks in Norway, I similarly warned of the growing threat from ‘lone wolf’ activism following the electoral demise of the British National Party. With no outlet in the electoral arena, where do these ideologically committed activists turn? For too long, we have focused almost all of our efforts on only form of extremism.

Radio 4 Today Programme: Breivik's Ideas 'shared by many'

I joined a discussion about Norway and the wider context on Radio 4 this morning. 

Piece in The Times

23 July 2011

Three Questions For the Security Council

David Cameron has said that, on Monday, the National Security Council will discuss what lessons Britain can take from the  atrocities in Norway. It is important not to overstate the threat from a movement that is fragmented. But here are three questions that I would ask:

1. What is the current threat from extra-parliamentary right-wing groups (both established groups and splinter groups that have formed over the past 18 months)? Too often, this movement is dismissed as irrelevant despite significant evidence of the potential for violence within this subculture. Given the demise of organized electoral parties (e.g. the BNP), there are good reasons to expect that membership of more violent and confrontational groups will increase. 

2. The causes behind lone wolf extremism are poorly understood. What are the drivers of support both for ultra-violent far right groups and violent-prone movements such as the EDL? To what extent are they similar to the drivers of support for AQ-inspired terrorism and, if they are not, how do we need to modify existing responses, both nationally and locally.

3. Is it time to work harder at redressing the imbalance between the focus on al-Qaeda (AQ)-inspired terrorism and alternative forms of extremism? Our security services have rightly focused mainly on forms of extremism from AQ-inspired groups and Northern Ireland. But while we have begun to acknowledge the need to look at different types of extremism, have we gone far enough? 

1 July 2011

Event: What Drives Support for the Far Right?

Matthew Goodwin discusses what drives some citizens to support the far right and the social trends that have engendered a climate ripe for the rise of extremist politics. He will also consider the most effective ways of dealing with the rising threat of extremism at times of cuts, rising unemployment and more generalized disaffection.
Goodwin is the UK's leading expert on the BNP and British extremism. He has worked for numerous public sector organisations and regularly comments on the British media. He is currently leading a major study on the spread of populist extremism in Europe for Chatham house. His new book, "New British Fascism: The Rise of the British National Party", is considered required reading for those interested in the drivers for far Right support.
This event forms part of the Young Foundation's 2011 Lunchtime Seminar series.
The event will be held in the Michael Young Room at the Young Foundation - to attend please RSVP to Annisa Muchtar by Monday 18 July