UKIP may have taken a far right turn – but it has always been a home for extremism

Ukip’s recent autumn conference saw interim leader Gerard Batten unveil a host of radical new policies, including all-Muslim prisons; restricted migration from ‘Islamic’ countries; the end of hate crime prosecution and laws which criminalise discrimination; an NHS ‘health card’ which would be denied to foreigners; and an end to ‘LGBT inclusive’ classrooms in schools. These moves, coupled with Batten’s own well-documented extreme comments on Islam and desire to have far-right activist Tommy Robinson admitted to the party, have led many commentators to claim that Ukip has embraced far right politics under Batten. Whilst it has undoubtedly undergone a more authoritarian, rightward and Islamophobic shift under his temporary leadership, Ukip has always been a fellow traveller of right-wing extremism and a safe space for racists.

Ukip has flirted with anti-Islamic politics before. Lord Pearson of Rannoch – party leader between 2009 and 2010 – described Islam as a ‘world domination movement’, expressed concern over the ‘rocketing’ British Muslim population and claimed that a ‘large and growing sector of our society is set against our way of life and laws’. He also invited notorious far right politician Geert Wilders to Britain and screened his Islamophobic film Fitna [Submission] in House of Lords (Wilders himself was barred from entry to the UK). The party largely avoided overt Islamophobia under Nigel Farage’s leadership; however, he did seek to use the 2015 terror attacks in Paris as an excuse to criticise Islam, railing against an extremist Muslim ‘fifth column’ within the country and blaming multiculturalism for the terror threat as well as for Muslim grooming gangs. Similarly, his ‘Breaking Point’ poster, launched in the final days of the EU referendum campaign and which depicted Muslim immigrants travelling en masse to Europe, was clearly designed to appeal to growing Islamophobic sentiment in the country.

Moving beyond its occasional display of Islamophobia, the party lurched to a more explicitly anti-Islamic platform following the 2016 Brexit referendum. Under Paul Nuttall’s disastrous 7-month leadership stint between November 2016 and June 2017, the party proposed a ‘burka ban’ and Nuttall described ‘radical’ Islam as a ‘cancer’ which needed to be ‘cut out’. The leadership election which followed was a bevy of Islamophobic and nativist policy offers from prospective candidates, particularly from runner-up Anne Marie Waters, part of the so-called ‘counter-Jihad’ movement. Waters has since gone on to form her own extreme For Britain party, which pledged no fewer than 14 policy proposals clamping down on Islam in its recent manifesto. The winner, Henry Bolton (whose leadership took an even more farcical turn than Nuttall’s and lasted less than six months), was hardly the moderate choice. In one of his first speeches as leader, Bolton claimed that Britain was being ‘buried’ by Islam and ‘swamped’ by multiculturalism.

Furthermore, Ukip supporters and activists have frequently shown themselves to be either sympathetic to political violence or fearful of the ‘race war’ deemed inevitable by right-wing extremists. Just over one-third (34.2%) of Ukip voters told a survey conducted by Hope not Hate that violence might be needed to ‘protect my group’ from threats, while over 20% believed armed conflict was justifiable in order to ‘protect the national way of life’. Members also held an overwhelmingly apocalyptic view of race relations, with over 75% believing that ‘violence between different ethnic, racial or religious groups is largely inevitable’.

The party has also been a home for those with views clearly situated on the radical and extreme right. Activists such as Aberdeen Branch Secretary Andrew Lovie have been found posting racist and homophobic rants on neo-Nazi website Stormfront. In a 2014 documentary, the then-Chairman of Ukip’s South Thanet Branch, where Nigel Farage stood for election in 2015, admitted to being a member of the National Front in the past – a party led at the time by Nazi and BNP-founder John Tyndall. Another member of the same branch, in the same documentary, claimed that she had a problem with ‘negroes’ and anyone with ‘negroid features’.

Ukip have also attracted the support of smaller and more extreme far right parties and activists. At the 2015 general election, Britain First campaigned for a Ukip vote, as did former British National Party leader Nick Griffin. Similarly, since 2013 Tommy Robinson has frequently urged his supporters who accompanied him on the often-violent English Defence League marches to vote for Ukip. Even if Ukip were not far right, the far right certainly saw Ukip as the best chance of achieving their aims.

This support of Ukip by the far right has gathered pace more recently when Ukip recruited celebrity ‘YouTubers’ Mark Meechan, Carl Benjamin, and Paul Joseph Watson, all with links to the white supremacist ‘Alt-Right’ movement. The latter works for US-based conspiracy theory platform InfoWars, which predicts and incites apocalyptic visions of race war and ‘globalist’ conspiracy theories and which labels the 2013 Sandy Hook school shooting massacre a ‘hoax’. Benjamin has been accused of making rape threats towards Labour MP Jess Phillips and of denigrating his opponents for ‘acting like a bunch of ‘n*****s’, while Meechan was the subject of controversy after being convicted under hate crime laws for training his dog to give a Nazi salute in response to statements such as ‘Sieg Heil’ and ‘gas the Jews’.

Nigel Farage, leader during Ukip’s highly successful years before the EU referendum, has often presented himself as a bulwark against right-wing extremism in the party, claiming he ‘destroyed’ the far right in Britain (whilst himself facing accusations that he sang Nazi-themed songs and boasted of his initials NF – which matched that of the National Front – in his youth). Yet it would be more accurate to say that he merely sought to bring the far right into the Ukip tent. He admitted in 2014 that Ukip were directly targeting voters of the extreme right BNP and that they had taken a third of their voters, accounting for this success with the argument that many were merely voting for the BNP in spite of the party’s extremism and policies toward immigration. The BNP’s leader Nick Griffin accused Farage of ‘using all our rhetoric, they are using all our slogans, they are recycling our posters and people like it’ – referring to Ukip’s ‘Love Britain, Vote Ukip’ campaign at the 2014 European Elections, precisely the same as a previous BNP slogan.

Ukip is not and never has been a ‘fascist’ party and has always sought to distance itself from the far right. Yet what is clear is that the party has acted as a significant vehicle for the advancement of far right views under a more respectable guise – which was carefully cultivated by Nigel Farage. Since he has left, the mask has slipped and is now beginning to fall off. The party is searching for a new identity in post-Brexit Britain and is turning towards a more militant, anti-Islamic platform off the back of success of similar movements in Europe and the United States. Whether or not it can regain its pre-Brexit levels of support remains to be seen, but be in no doubt – the party is no stranger to the extremism it is now openly displaying and cultivating.

Dr Paul Stocker is an Senior Fellow at CARR, and Teacher of History at Chelsea Independent College. See his profile here.

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