On Sunday 9th December, two days before Parliament votes on May’s Brexit deal, Tommy Robinson, the English Defence League (EDL) founder and Islamophobic poster-boy of the far right, will be leading a march of his supporters through London, under the slogan of “Brexit betrayal”.
The former EDL leader is attempting to raise his profile by linking up with UKIP (see below), urging his followers to join the party and push it in an explicitly racist, Islamophobic direction.
No doubt those on Robinson’s demo will be entirely from the far right: the same racist thugs that have taken to the streets in recent months under the #FreeTommy and ‘Democratic Football Lads Alliance’ banners, intimidating ethnic minority communities and attacking trade unionists in the process.
The main counter-demo on Sunday will be held under the slogan: "No to Tommy Robinson. No to Fortress Britain." This march and rally will be supported by a variety of left-wing organisations.
Some Remain-supporters, however, have called for a counter-demo behind the headline: “No to Tommy. No to Brexit.” These are the same people who have rallied around the demand for a “People’s Vote” and the hope of staying in the EU.
But we must be clear: the European Union is no defender of migrants or protector against racism. It has been complicit in the deaths of thousands of refugees and migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean attempting to escape war and poverty.
And, lest we forget, the EU is a capitalist club that has austerity enshrined into its rules and institutions - the very same austerity that has created the fertile ground upon which far-right demagogues such as Tommy Robinson, Marine Le Pen, and Matteo Salvini now thrive.
Labour and the trade unions need to be at the head of the movement against Robinson and the far right. Alongside a shield of working-class mobilisation to beat the fascists and racists off our streets, we need a sword with which to fight back. And that can only be a bold socialist alternative to austerity and capitalist crisis.
By Alexander Barry
Robinson, the Islamophobic poster-boy of the far right, was recently appointed as a “special adviser” to UKIP by its leader, Gerard Batten. Despite widespread criticism and party rules barring former EDL (or BNP) members from joining UKIP, Batten has defended his decision.
Robinson’s new prominent role at the top of UKIP has led to divisions opening up within the party. Three MEP’s have resigned in the last two months over the issue, with one defector claiming that UKIP was being “hijacked” and turned into an “anti-Islamic party”, with Robinson as a potential future leader.
Despite currently being banned from joining UKIP himself, Robinson has encouraged his followers to join the party in an attempt to influence its policies. One recent resignation, former deputy chair Suzanne Evans, even described the situation as an “obvious attempt by Batten and Robinson to orchestrate a Momentum-style takeover”.
Even former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has now resigned from the party in disgust. As if he hasn't paved the way for Robinson's attempted "takeover" by constantly banging the drum about immigration reaching "breaking point"!
Far right emboldened
The party’s courtship of Robinson and his ilk reflects its drift further to the extreme right after their victory in the Brexit referendum. Since the 2016 vote, the majority of UKIP has split away and returned to the Tories, lining up behind reactionary figures such as Jacob Rees-Mogg. Left behind is an increasingly far-right rump around Batten and co.
Robinson - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - has shot to fame over the last year through a carefully constructed martyrdom. He was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment after being found in contempt of court for streaming defendants live on Facebook, despite a court order preventing the reporting of ongoing trials.
This led to the eruption of the #FreeTommy campaign, with Robinson’s supporters claiming that his free speech was being oppressed. Steve Bannon and Donald Trump have come out in open support of the movement. And UKIP leader Batten has also backed Robinson, absurdly characterising the EDL founder as "a political prisoner" and comparing him to Ghandi and Mandela.
Although such suggestions are clearly laughable, the Free Tommy Robinson movement has had serious effects. An emboldened far fight - in the form of the “Democratic Football Lads Alliance” - have taken to the streets in London and elsewhere, targeting trade unionists such as the RMT’s Steve Hedley in attacks along the way.
We must remain level headed. A Corbyn Labour government, not a mass fascist movement, is within touching distance. Nevertheless, the labour movement must respond to the threat posed by the far right where it raises its head. The most extreme example of this in recent years was the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 by white supremacist Thomas Mair.
Unite and fight
It is clear that the far right have been fuelled by austerity and deprivation, and emboldened by Brexit and the election of Trump in the USA. Robinson’s ideology exists in a context where anti-Muslim hate crimes have spiked by 26% in the last year alone. The extremism monitoring group Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) have also reported a 31% increase in Islamophobic street attacks and a 56% increase in hateful vandalism.
Where the fascists and racists attempt to intimidate working class and ethnic communities, the Labour and trade union leadership must mobilise and organise workers and youth to drive them off our streets, as was done against Oswald Mosley and his fascist followers in the famous Battle of Cable Street in 1936.
Robinson’s popularity and subsequent UKIP appointment can’t be seen in a political vacuum. At the end of the day, it is the efforts of the Tories and Blairites to distract from their attacks on the working class that has allowed xenophobic and racist rhetoric to be legitimised and spread. For example, it is Theresa May - not UKIP or Tommy Robinson - who has spoken openly about creating a “hostile environment” for immigrants, threatening them with deportation on the side of Home Office vans.
Rising anger against the elite has led a small section of society to back Robinson as an anti-establishment hero. In contrast, the leadership of the labour movement needs to offer a genuine alternative to the broken status quo. We must not let those at the top divide workers through racism, but unite instead behind a bold socialist vision.