Part 2: Modernisation, Funding & International Activism
Attempts to Soften the BF Image
Overall, BF presents a bizarre, schizoid image of a party that claims to be very strong on law-and-order, yet it and its leaders have frequently broken the law. It claims not to be racist yet promotes hatred against minority religions (especially Islam) whose adherents are predominantly ethnic minorities. It claims to be the pre-eminent defender of freedom, but only in the sense of its own narrowly-defined authoritarian ‘freedoms’ for its supporters at the expense of everyone else’s fundamental freedoms and human rights. It claims to be a staunch defender of democracy yet campaigns for ‘direct democracy’ to replace the long tradition of ‘representative democracy’. While there is nothing wrong in principle in direct democracy and a number of countries have exercised well-managed systems of this kind for many years (e.g. Switzerland), it is clear that in contrast BF’s model would be a cynical parody of these that would be a recipe for potential tyranny and mob rule. In BF’s model, MPs would lose their right to independent thought and action and become mere delegates under instruction from the party, centrally and locally. For example, a local Britain First MP would be expected to support local party members who voted to blockade a local mosque, or intimidate minorities, or invade a hotel for migrants. Under their direct democracy model, BF’s so-called “will of the people” is just a cover for carte blanche tyrannical conduct.
BF’s various attempts to reconcile publicly such manifestly negative contradictions have been clumsy and ineffective, and evidently disingenuous. One of the oddest episodes was the party’s attempt to claim a philo-Semitic stance, by appealing to the Jewish community over an alleged Muslim threat and offering security patrols. In 2015, BF launched its so-called ‘solidarity patrols’ to help Jews in the high-density Jewish residential area of Golders Green in north London feel better protected against anti-Semitic abuse, intimidation and physical attacks. However implausible and exceptional, it is not impossible for a far-right leader to be pro-Jewish. For example, the strangely philo-Semitic position of the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders is well recognized (Englehart, 2013). However, the London Jewish community and its leaders reacted with deep suspicion and condemned the BF’s offer of help as being insincere and mischievous. BF’s Jayda Fransen is reportedly a friend and close associate of the anti-Semitic Polish far-right leader Jacek Miedlar, which belies the party’s claim not to be anti-Semitic.
BF’s attempts, at times almost desperate, to appear to be merely sincere but harmless patriots blessed with a core of innate goodness, have all failed. Like other far-right groups, BF shares a generalized racist, white supremacist, nativist, and ethno-religious prejudice and hatred, none of which they can successfully airbrush out of their image. The sheer brutality of the BF Party’s policy statements and its public presentation is likely to scare off all but the already converted and those potential recruits having authoritarian or troubled personalities primed towards embracing far-right beliefs. Moreover, the visual imagery they project works against them. A heuristic observation, and one backed up by scientific research, is that an individual’s facial expressions often project their personality and character. Kindly people tend to always look kindly, while individuals with bitter and fulminating personalities tend to look permanently angry and possessed by inner demons. To many people, the leaders and supporters of BF and the British far-right bloc as a whole may look like embittered bullies, no matter how much they don smart suits and try to pass as harmless innocents. Whether they are unaware of this unfortunate image, or whether they knowingly cultivate an image projecting strength, domination, and a ‘triumph of the will’ which they imagine falsely to be an attractive one, is unclear. Nevertheless, few people are likely to be favourably impressed unless they are pre-existing supporters and others with an authoritarian, racist world-view i.e. a minority of the electorate.
Who Funds Britain First?
BF relies heavily on personal donations from individual supporters, unlike the erstwhile UKIP that enjoyed the largesse of such corporate donors as Arron Banks, and unlike Tommy Robinson with connections to US far-right financier Robert Mercer, the Middle East Forum and the Gatestone Institute that provide funds for radicals they like. Indeed, individual supporter donations to BF have remained small and its declared income for 2019 was only some £226,000, barely increased from its 2016 level.
The need for more assured revenue and/or loans and financial facilities on easy terms has led to a number of far-right parties across Europe currying favour with sources in the Russian finance sector, all of which are assumed to take their ultimate authorization from President Putin. Over recent years, numerous reports have emerged of such far-right leaders as France’s Front National and Marine le Pen, Italy’s Lega and Matteo Salvini, Austria’s FPÖ and Heinz-Christian Strache, and others, securing such assistance on a large scale from Russia. British far-right groups have also reportedly sought such assistance, including both Tommy Robinson and Paul Golding, who have visited Moscow allegedly for such purposes. Indeed, it was Paul Golding’s refusal to cooperate with British police investigating aspects of his visit to Moscow in 2020 that resulted in his conviction under terrorism legislation. In 2019, Paul Golding also addressed a special roundtable session in Moscow of far-right political delegations from across the globe organized by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s far-right LDPR Party in rooms at the Russian State Duma.
It is unclear whether electoral or other laws may have been broken, by such foreign financial connections and arrangements (if they exist) benefitting a British political party or movement. However, at an ideological level, there is heavy irony from parties that frequently rant about alleged traitors to Britain, who would be “hanged” (sic – e.g. see BF official statements) if they ever got into power themselves, nonetheless apparently eagerly seeking financial assistance from Russia, a declared superpower enemy of the West including Britain. The threat from Putin’s strategy of undermining the political, economic and social stability and self-confidence of western nations is well documented and analysed (e.g. Cipher Brief, 2018, Rivera and Davis, 2019 and Szyszkowitz, 2021). The maskirovka programme in particular forms part of the Russian long-term ‘active measures’ project of psycho-political warfare, in which any and all ‘useful idiots’ (to use Lenin’s phrase) in target societies will be drawn in by guile and deception to help Russia meets its long-term objectives. While BF and other far-right supplicants may believe naively that Russia supports their far-right objectives, directly or indirectly, in reality they are merely potential dupes contributing to Putin’s western subversion programme. Just like Trump, but for his own reasons, Putin relishes their irritant, troublemaking, disruptive effect.
Britain First has followed a well-trodden path shared by its fellow far-right groups and parties, a path of political promiscuity whereby an individual member’s loyalties range fluidly across the far-right spectrum in both direction and time. However, while each group claims to be the only true, pure, supreme epitome of righteous nationalism and nativism, and any nuanced differences may provide interest to academic analysts, in reality, there is little practical differentiation between BF and the rest of the far-right bloc (BNP, EDL, For Britain etc). They all exhibit a paranoid delusional quality (e.g. the Great Replacement conspiracy theory). They are typically noisy, unpleasant, and intimidating. They claim to be staunch supporters of law-and-order yet are not averse to engagement in law-breaking and victimization and harassment of minorities. They self-righteously espouse Christianity yet engage in manifestly un-Christian conduct. They typically claim to be democrats yet campaign to obliterate over 300 years of British representative democracy and cumulative freedoms. They claim to be uber-patriots yet some of them seek financial assistance from Britain’s state enemies. As with the rest of the far-right bloc, BF’s image is therefore likely to result in its electoral appeal being limited, even though its noisy presence will remain. Despite its ineffectual electoral standing, by virtue of its ideology, policies and track record, BF nonetheless remains a threat to public safety and representative democracy. Therefore, vigilant scrutiny of its activities by law enforcement, national security services, and counter-extremism agencies, remains a sine qua non.
To read part 1 click here.
Dr Alan Waring is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and is a retired risk analyst and former Visiting Professor, now Adjunct Professor, at CERIDES (Centre for Risk and Decision Sciences) at the European University Cyprus. He is author of several books on risk, including editing and contributing to the three-volume anthology The New Authoritarianism (2018; 2019; 2021 Ibidem Verlag). See full profile here.
© Alan Waring. 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).