During the last 11 years, and especially after the formation of the English Defence League (EDL), academics along with practitioners have placed particular emphasis on the changing dynamics and transformations of far-right organisations in Great Britain. Although the British far-right has also mobilised – even in similarly sizeable numbers – in the past, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this past decade has been one of the most successful periods of mobilisation at the extra-parliamentary level, i.e. at the protest arena (Mulhall 2019), over the past thirty years. Peaceful marches, static protests, disruptive events, politically-motivated murders, and demonstrations that have attracted thousands of people are only a few examples of far-right activity in the country. The aim of the above report is to analyse the repertoire of action of the British far-right through the presentation of a new ‘Far-right mobilisations in Great Britain’ (FRGB) protest events dataset that has mapped protest actions during this heightened period of far-right street activism (2009-2019).
In defining Britain’s extra-parliamentary far-right, we are mainly interested in individuals and groups that adhere to what Mudde (2007) suggests are the three defining features of far-right ideology: nationalism and xenophobia (or nativism), and authoritarianism. One of the strengths of this conceptual definition is that it does not conflate ideology with target selection or issue position, allowing the study of the far-right over time and across space. In Great Britain, for instance, the far-right has often been elided and conflated with the counter-Jihad or the anti-Muslim movement in the past ten years. Although it is true that the majority of actions have targeted Muslims over the last decade (Allchorn 2018), various outliers and research that focuses on previous time-periods do not support this claim. Jackson (2018), for example, shows that the Communists or the Jewish people were, among others, the main targets of the British far-right before 2000. More recently, the murder of George Floyd in the USA initiated a series of demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement and its sympathisers around the world. The far-right in Great Britain was quick to mobilise on biologically racist narratives of ‘White Lives Matter’ against anti-racists with the aim of defending monuments of high symbolic value for the nation (Sabbagh 2020). Though arguably different in nature, similar patterns have also been exhibited during the 2011 riots when members of the English Defence League had taken to the streets to protect English cities from protesters and looters (Busher 2012). We argue therefore that by focusing on what the far-right opposes (e.g. religious and ethnic minorities or the Left) and not ideology, researchers might be adding unnecessary confusion to the definitional debate.
Moreover, in this report, we have decided to focus our attention on actions that are more likely to be the product of strategic decisions, since we are interested in developments that take place at the meso (or group) level. As a result, and through a present and interesting facet of the FRGB dataset, politically motivated murders (or what some scholars would deem as terrorism (Schmid 2004)), symbolic violence, or political stunts have been excluded from our analysis because they are usually carried out at the micro (or individual) level. Another aspect of far-right mobilisation we take into account is the presence of counter-movements on the same day the far-right organises a demonstration event. Existing literature has long theorised and studied movement and counter-movement interactions and how their relationship unfolds (McAdam 1983; Meyer and Staggenborg 1996). In the case of Great Britain, simultaneous protests orchestrated by opposing movements have often challenged and stretched authorities (both financially and operationally), since they have led to tensions and resulted in violent episodes of contention, e.g. in Birmingham in 2009 and 2013, in Walsall in 2012, or in London in 2018.
The report proceeds as follows: the first part discusses methodological issues and explains why Protest Event Analysis (PEA) is a useful tool for researchers who are primarily interested in the extra-parliamentary dimension of the far-right. The second part looks at the size of protests. If we accept what della Porta and Diani (2006:171) have stated that “a movement’s destiny depends to a great extent on the number of its supporters,” then it is important to see how frequently each far-right group has managed to mobilise large numbers of people. In the third part, we discuss another characteristic of protest, and more specifically its main protagonists. We wish to answer the following two questions: 1) which are the most successful groups, in terms of number of events, and 2) when we account for protest size? Next, we look into the main claims that Britain’s far-right make during their protests, and we aim to highlight the reasons that drive far-right mobilisation. In the final part of this report, we focus on the actions of counter-movements, while at the same time we also provide statistical data on the total number of arrests when far-right events go unopposed and opposed.
Interactive Data Visualisation
Dr William Allchorn is Associate Director at CARR and Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Leeds. His profile can be found here.
Andreas Dafnos is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and Doctoral Candidate at the University of Sheffield. His profile can be found here.
© William Allchorn & Andreas Dafnos. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
*To cite this dataset use the following reference: Allchorn, W. & Dafnos, A., (2020) ‘Far-Right Mobilisations in Great Britain, 2009-2019,’ London: Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.
 It should be noted that CARR, over the last two years, has contributed to this debate through the production of blog-posts, reports, and podcasts.