English Defence League leader Stephen Yaxley Lennon has announced an electoral pact with the British National Party splinter group, the British Freedom Party.
In a report carried on the BFP website on 19 November, Yaxley Lennon is quoted as saying “the EDL needs to move up a notch — they cannot go on forever staging street demonstrations”.
This is a significant move for both organisations. The BFP emerged after the split from the British National Party immediately before the last general election. During this split, the BNP’s webmaster pulled the plug on the party’s internet presence and shut down communications. Along with other leading members, he went on to form the BFP citing financial irregularities within the BNP and opposition to Nick Griffin’s leadership.
Since then, the BFP has had a fairly low key existence but behind the scenes much has changed. The recently elected leader is Paul Weston, a former UK Independence Party candidate. Whilst the party and the EDL may hope that Weston will represent a “clean break” with the BNP and its extremist associations, Weston is far from being a moderate.
True, he called the politically motivated mass murder carried out by Anders Behring Breivik an “atrocity”. But he rationalised Breivik’s actions, claiming that he “was driven to mass murder in his own mind because he felt he was no longer represented by the political process.”
In fact — and by his own account — Breivik’s actions were a calculated attempt to inspire similar actions by political sympathisers across Europe.
The BFP’s website has links to the Dutch Freedom Party, headed by Geert Wilders, and the Austrian Freedom Party associated with the now deceased Jörg Haider. Together with similar groups in Switzerland, Germany and Finland, these organisations represent the vanguard of a new Europe-wide far-right.
The BFP and EDL must hope that they can replicate at least some of the successes of their Dutch and Austrian “comrades” — who enjoy 42% support amongst the under 30s — and must surely have an eye on the French National Front’s turn towards more “populist” politics.
In the run-up to next year’s local elections and a final cementing of ties between the organisations, Yaxley Lennon has a lot of work to do. He has already announced a cessation of the “march and grow” tactic until next March when an anniversary demonstration is planned for Luton. His main problem will be in convincing large numbers of EDL supporters to join the BFP, something which he himself has not yet done.
The EDL has no formal membership structure and is organised in such a way as to maximise the potential for factionalism. It will not be possible to transfer all EDL support over to the BFP. The likely immanent demise of the BNP may make this process easier, however.
If the merger is even half-way successful, then the BFP will have a sizable network of street hardened and committed activists capable of carrying out the hard work of door-to-door electoral politics. They will also win the cache of political capital and recognition accumulated by the EDL’s tapping into anti-Muslim racism and nationalist sentiment.
At the time of the next round of local elections, we can expect to see large scale dissatisfaction with the parties of government. The extent to which Labour can re-capture and mobilise higher levels of working class support and the extent to which the BFP can appeal to the hundreds of thousands who voted BNP in previous elections will be key factors.
Most important of all will be the leadership shown by the trade unions, labour movement and the left within the organisations of the working class.
A movement that consistently challenges this government, one that has a winning strategy to defend the interests of our class and which points the way politically will be vital in defeating the threats posed by right-wing populist racism on the streets and at the ballot box.