Tommy Robinson, the leader of the English Defence League, is set to be unveiled as the deputy leader of the British Freedom Party. There’s been talk for more than a year of the EDL leadership wanting to become involved in mainstream politics, but this is the most concrete development yet. I’m optimistic that this could signal the beginning of the end for the EDL, rather than the beginning of a new influential era.
The far right have been specifically targeting Muslim communities for more than a decade. Since 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror, the far right found in Muslims a vulnerable scapegoat to focus on. Muslims were being routinely interrogated in mainstream public discussions which the far right capitalised on fully. Tommy Robinson’s incursion into politics will not change much then. It will just be business as usual for the far right.
In fact, Muslim communities and anti-fascist campaigners may benefit significantly from this development. Firstly, the EDL’s aggressive marches will have to be curtailed since Tommy Robinson will be forced into having some degree of public accountability. He will have to tone down his rhetoric to woo voters, thus taking the edge off his typically fiery style. Quite simply, he will have to become somewhat politically-correct which will be devastating for him, since his supporters adore him for his perceived efforts to speak up against political-correctness. Gradually, his existing supporters will become disenfranchised with him as he jumps the necessary political hoops and loses credibility wearing a suit, shirt and tie.
Welcoming Tommy Robinson into the political process also means that his Islamophobic rhetoric can be challenged head-on. On the streets, Tommy Robinson is heard and applauded. In political chambers, he will be undone. I doubt that he will convince many people to vote for him believing as I do that ‘live and let live’ is the motto that best describes the average Briton’s outlook. Moreover, Tommy Robinson’s existing supporters are less likely to participate in elections and other formal democratic procedures than they are in alcohol-fuelled processions, meaning his existing fan base will not do much for him on the ballot paper. Ultimately, the presence of both EDL and BNP activists in political contestations will fracture the far right vote, meaning they will weaken each other by depriving each other of votes.
What worries me more than far right politicians like Tommy Robinson and Nick Griffin is the instances when xenophobia creeps into the words of mainstream politicians. Gordon Brown’s ‘British Jobs for British Workers‘ slogan was controversial and David Cameron’s dismissal of multiculturalism is concerning. These types of declarations from our country’s leaders leave many ethnic and religious minorities wondering what this nationalistic fervour alongside the termination of multiculturalism means for their futures in Britain. Alongside all of this, UKIP are on the ascent, the political party that I have heard some refer to as “the posh BNP”. Our real concern then should not be about Tommy Robinson, but about the more subtle demonising of immigrants and minorities that is a reoccurring feature of mainstream British politics.
Of course, it would be convenient for everyone if Tommy Robinson would keep himself busy running his tanning salon in Luton, but if he is going to be involved in politics, I’d rather see him being defeated in debates and failing in local elections, than see him leading violent marches that achieve nothing but breed fear and hatred. Although we must never be complacent in challenging the xenophobia of the far right, I’m optimistic that the EDL are in decline and that Tommy Robinson will achieve very little in mainstream politics.
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