The far-right panic: a distraction from jihadism

‘Growing threat of far-right extremism in Britain’, warned a London Evening Standard’s front page this week. Normally, statistics related to the government’s Prevent Strategy, under which people are reported to the police for expressing extreme views, are met with suspicion and criticism. Not this time. Apparently, 25 per cent of Prevent cases now deal with people expressing far-right views, an increase from last year’s 15 per cent of cases. David Anderson QC said the large numbers being identified as far-right sympathisers, among adults and children, illustrated the growing danger posed to Britain by the far-right.

But is this really the case? Youths have always aired obnoxious views to wind up adults, and this could well account for part of these figures. In any case, mouthing off is still a world away from actively organising and campaigning on far-right issues. That kind of mobilisation is completely absent today. The British National Party has disintegrated, its local council presence all but wiped out. Street-based protest groups such as the English Defense League and Britain First can barely mobilise a few hundred people for their rallies in car parks. We’re not witnessing a return to 1970s levels of far-right activity, let alone the 1930s, as one commentator recently claimed.

The reason this is back in the news is because scaremongering about the far-right has become part of the armoury against the Brexit victory. Constantly drawing links between Brexit and the ugly far-right is the establishment’s way of condemning and vilifying the 52 per cent who voted Leave. The elite may have lost the EU referendum, but it is still hoping to score points against the white working-class at large.

Even before Brexit, warnings of a far-right resurgence have routinely appeared in the press in recent years. Whenever there has been a terrorist atrocity carried out by jihadists, the elite response has been to raise concerns about a ‘far-right backlash’, even though none has emerged. In this way, obsessing about the far-right has become a displacement activity, a refusal to recognise that a significant minority of young Muslims are estranged from British society.

The Standard’s headline was almost like a sigh of relief, a welcome opportunity to talk about something else rather than confront the problem of jihadism in Britain. There is clearly an uncomfortable awareness among the elite that official multiculturalism hasn’t resolved divisions in Britain, nor has it provided a set of values to cohere British society around. Chasing phantom fascists may help score a few points against ordinary Brexit voters, but it’s not going to confront the crisis of values and cohesion in British society. 

Neil Davenport is a writer based in London.

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