2017 started as a terrible year for the UK radical right. With the leader of Britain First in prison and the far-right group UKIP tanking in the June 2017 General Election, the bluster that had put wind in the sails of Britain’s fringe political movement after the 2016 Brexit Referendum and American Presidential Election seemed to magically disappear. contrast, at year’s end, things looked up for Britain’s radical right – with President Trump retweeting posts by Britain First’s deputy leader and the group able to organise its annual conference in relative peace. In providing a summary of Britain’s radical right in 2017, this article considers the electoral misfortunes of the political movement alongside new actors vying for political space. It will use this to assess the chances of Britain’s radical right making a bigger impact on UK politics in future.
Electoral Misfortune on the UK Radical Right
One of the most significant electoral events of 2017 for Britain’s radical right was the demise of UKIP at June’s Snap Election. Buoyed some four million votes at the 2015 General Election, the party should have been on course to do well in the June 2017 General Election – especially in the context of a successful leave vote on 23 June 2016 . In the end, however, what was briefly third party of UK politics slumped to fifth behind the SNP (BBC News 2015). This was largely due to the exit of Nigel Farage and the subsequent infighting that had plagued the party – but also due to the party advancing a more extremist programme than in 2015 – pledging to reduce net migration to zero in five years and (most notably) ban face coverings in public places (BBC News 25th May 2017). It was also tied to the largely unsuccessful leadership of UKIP’s former deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, who came third in the Boston and Skegness seat at the 2017 General Election (Porter 9th June 2017).
Looking more broadly at the movement’s 2017 electoral performance, other actors’ performances in electoral contests during the year held out little hope. In the June General Election, the neo-fascist British National Party contested only ten seats – mainly in the South East. Paling in comparison to UKIP’s performance, the BNP’s best result was in Bishop Auckland – with 2.3% of the vote (BBC News 2017). The party could only muster the support of 4,000 voters in total – with its lowest score recorded in the London Borough of Dagenham and Rainham (232 votes) (BBC News 2017).
New Actor 1: Ann Marie Water’s ‘For Britain’ Party
Switching from electoral misfortune to new contenders amongst Britain’s radical right, one of the first groups to come to prominence in late 2017 was a new party (called ‘For Britain’) founded by prominent anti-Islam campaigner and director of Sharia Watch UK, Ann Marie Waters. Launched after she came second in UKIP’s September 2017 leadership ballot (BBC News 29th September 2017), the aim of this movement was allegedly to give a ‘voice’ to ‘the people who have been forgotten and left behind’ (www.forbritain.uk). Amongst its policies are ‘end of sharia law in the UK’, the ‘end to police prioritisation of so-called “hate crime”’, alongside the ‘reduction of immigration in the UK’ (www.forbritain.uk/policy). In November 2017, the chairman of Liberty GB, Paul Weston, announced the merger of his party with ‘For Britain’ (Weston 27 November 2017).
Alongside formal support, the party boasts around 5,700 likes on Facebook on its homepage (www.forbritain.uk) and roughly 15,000 Twitter followers (https://twitter.com/ForBritainParty). While it has yet to contest parliamentary elections the former UKIP Councillor, Brian Silvester, defected to the party at its inception back in October. Currently collecting monthly donations from members, it will be interesting to see whether ‘For Britain’ comes to prominence in 2018; and moreover, in what capacity and with what coverage in light of the May 2018 UK local elections.
New Actor 2: Generation Identity (UK)
In late 2017, the second movement to emerge on Britain’s radical right scene was the UK chapter of the pan-European ethno-nationalist movement, Generation Identity. On 21 October, the Austrian co-leader of the movement, Martin Sellner, met with other members of the group in London in order to pitch a new UK branch of the movement (Dearden 23rd October 2017). After the meeting, members of the unfurled a banner on Westminster Bridge, which read ‘Defend London: Stop Islamisation’ (Hope not Hate 2017). Similar to the European chapter of the movement, Generation Identity UK advocates the preservation of European ‘ethno-cultural identity’ and stopping what it terms the ‘Great Replacement’, allegedly threatening ‘indigenous Europeans’ (ibid). Incidentally, Sellner was also a speaker alongside Ann-Marie Waters at the ‘metapolitical’ Traditional Britain Group’s montjly meeting in central London during 2017.
In terms of formal support, the UK and Northern Ireland’s Generation Identity chapters have a larger support base than ‘For Britain’. For example, at the time of writing, the group has accrued around 5,800 followers on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/IdentitarianMovement/) and 8,500 followers on Twitter (https://twitter.com/gen_identity). Additionally, it encourages supporters to ‘Get Active’ by reading ‘counter-cultural media’ and books, participating in activism online, and locating other ‘patriots’ through sticker campaigns and associating with political parties (https://identitarian-movement.org/get-active/). Unlike conventional radical right movements, Generation Identity relies upon high-profile publicity stunts (such as the unfurling of banners, or chartering boats to intercept refugee ships) and online social media campaigns in order to gain new followers. Moreover, it is different from traditional radical right in Britain via its membership and makeup, which targets middle-class student-age activists. Indeed, many of its key activists are former law, political science or philosophy students (Hope not Hate, July 2017 ‘Defend Europe/Identitarian Briefing’: 4). Generation Identity therefore marks a break with the traditional radical right in Britain – in both its activism and its support base.
In conclusion, 2017 saw much change for Britain’s radical right. As UKIP went into a nosedive and the BNP continued declining into political insignificance, so we saw the emergence of two new actors: ‘For Britain’ and Generation Identity UK. While both movements have taken tentative steps, they provide an unmistakeable break from the street politics of the EDL and more traditional engagements by the radical right in the UK. Whether either group will move from being merely online outfits to a substantive force in British politics is yet to be seen. It is, however, important to keep a lookout in 2018 for the various campaigns that these and cognate groups invariably conduct – particularly as we wait to hear the results of court action against more established actors like Britain First (Jacobs 5 December 2017).
Dr William Allchorn is Associate Director at CARR, and a postdoctoral researcher at Leeds University. See his profile at:
©William Allchorn. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR).
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