The rapid rise of new far-right street movements in the UK, spearheaded by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA), and coalescing around the #FreeTommy movement, is a serious concern for the left and labour movement.
Alongside smaller more hard-line groups such as For Britain and the UK branch of the European far right youth movement, Generation Identity, the nationalist and populist far right are having a resurgence.
The DFLA was formed in the wake of the Manchester and London Bridge terror attacks and has brought together elements of the far-right with established football firms and hooligans.
Tommy Robinson — former BNP member, EDL and Pegida UK founder, and now far-right “journalist” with close links to Anne Marie Waters of For Britain — has become a figurehead for the wider movement since he was locked up for contempt of court.
Robinson was jailed after he claimed to be reporting the truth about sexual abuse by “Muslim grooming gangs”. Showing little concern for the survivors of sexual abuse, his report defied reporting restrictions made by the court and could have made the trial collapse.
Robinson’s aim was to stir up anti-Muslim racism and to create a storm around his “free speech” being curtailed. The Facebook live stream that got Robinson arrested for was seen by more than 250,000 people. Those who rallied to Robinson’s defence in a big demonstration (maybe 10-15,000 people) in Whitehall on 8 June said they were protesting against an establishment gagging order.
The 8 June mobilisation was bigger than any managed by the National Front in the 1970s (their biggest turnout was around 1500), or the BNP at its peak.
This was no spontaneous mobilisation. One of the main driving forces behind this and a similar 5,000-strong mobilisation in Whitehall on 6 May is the DFLA. The DFLA was not a public backer of the June demonstration, which was initially called by a supporter of Generation Identity and promoted by ex-UKIP advisor, now of Breitbart London, Raheem Kassam. But the DFLA supporters are enthusiastic participants in the movement.
UKIP leader Gerard Batten spoke at the 8 June 8 rally. He was joined by Anne Marie Waters from For Britain, herself a former UKIP leadership candidate, who stood in the recent Lewisham East by-election (gaining just 1.5% of the votes and losing her deposit). Also on the platform, Geert Wilders from the Dutch Freedom Party and Filip Dewinter from the Belgian Vlaams Belang. A supportive message was sent from former Trump aide Steve Bannon.
The left have not yet got to grips with this new political phenomena.
Unlike the NF, the DFLA is not a tight and disciplined organisation, but at its core are a number of established and ideological fascists and racists. To downplay the racist nature of the demonstration and the movement would be a serious mistake.
On the demonstration, alongside “sieg heiling” and Nazi salutes was racist chanting. Numbers of people were looking for open confrontation with anti-fascists and the left.
This movement is undoubtedly linked to the outcome of the Brexit referendum. The Leave result and the assassination of the MP Jo Cox has emboldened the far-right. The political mood, with a government that is under pressure to deliver a hard Brexit and end freedom of movement, helps the far-right.
A well organised street movement will feed off the prevalent toxic nationalism and seek to pressure the government from the right.
It is incumbent on the left and labour movement to resist this movement both physically on the streets and also to challenge its political basis. Unfortunately the mobilisation by anti-fascist and anti-racist groups for the Whitehall demonstrations was too weak. SWP-dominated Stand up to Racism and Unite Against Fascism are the most significant forces on the ground, but have been unable to mobilise the broad support they had for anti-EDL mobilisations. Despite lip service to mobilisation, the turnout from unions to both demonstrations was very poor. It does not have to be this way.
A local mobilisation in Lewisham against a hustings at which Anne Marie Waters was speaking (organised by the left group People Before Profit) was more of a success. The meeting hall was blocked by protestors and the meeting was disrupted. This demonstration and a rally against For Britain brought together anti-racist campaigners (in SUTR) but also Labour Party and trade union activists and people from Lewisham Muslim communities. Although these actions could have had a more consistently labour movement focus, they were a good beginning. Similar action should be replicated and scaled up.
The Labour Party has over 500,000 members and the unions have over six million members. The failure to turn these numbers out to oppose the far-right must be turned around and urgently.
For too long the labour movement has outsourced it anti-fascist work to other groups such as SUTR or Hope not Hate, paying an affiliation fee and circulate calls for mobilisations made by those groups. Now is the time to for the Labour Party and trade unions to call actions in its own name.
We need to educate trade unionists and Labour activists about the politics of the far-right. We need to organise local stalls and mobilise. Our models are Cable Street in 1936, Lewisham in 1977, and Southall in 1979.
Only mass action against the far right can stop them.
• Unity protest against far right 14 July, central London.