Of late, much has been said, with tones ranging from the anguished and fearful to the self-righteous and triumphant, about the English Defence League (EDL). Opinions on the matter are wide-ranging and highly contrasting, and indeed sometimes it is difficult to draw distinctions between the opinions of vastly opposing political ideologies in their approach to the subject of a single issue nationalist multi-racial ademocratic group.
What is clear, however, is that the EDL are dragging the issue of English national identity, English nationalism and English values to the very forefront of the mainstream political and media agendas, and to the everyday person and their understanding of themselves. It is a mystery to me that I have not covered the topic before. It was the sight of the front cover of Monday’s Times newspaper, dominated by a photograph of EDL leader Stephen Lennon, replete with the headline screaming about ‘the new face of English extremism’ that forced my hand.
The leading article of that newspaper regarding the EDL (resolutely entrenched behind a paywall) was littered was loaded words such as ‘extreme’, ‘havoc’, ‘violent’, ‘exploiting’, ‘tensions’ and so on. * This is not the real reason that the EDL have made so many headlines, however. It is the fact that the EDL are entirely different to their predecessors. Just take a moment to recognise the significance of the recent vote of confidence from an American Rabbi. In the context of previous far-right street-pounding groups, this act is nothing short of unprecedented. It also hints at a wider-ranging appeal of their perspective and for their views. So what is it about the EDL that has garnered such wide support so quickly? How do they fit into an understanding of English nationalism?
The Times’ interview with Stephen Lennon was revealing in demonstrating the EDL’s attitudes to the ‘Britain’ in which they live. Lennon railed against organisations that ‘banned’ Christmas, such as the famous examples of Yorkshire and Oxford, going on to state that he would threaten EDL marches as ‘blackmail’ to prevent this happening in future. Interestingly, the writer of the piece called Lennon’s claims that Muslim men are involved in what he called ‘paedophilic prostitution’ an ‘extraordinary’ statement, in spite of the fact that The Times ran a lengthy piece (outside of the paywall) on the matter in September 2007. It is clearly issues that the EDL perceive as injustices that motivate their membership, which many people have related to the 40,000 EDL Facebook group members.
The key distinction to make between the EDL’s English Nationalism and the likes of the English Democrats is politics. The EDL have precisely no commitment to the kinds of thing that the English Nationalist movement are interested in, namely an English Parliament or the matters of devolution. This is perhaps unsurprising. The EDL is an inherently instinctive organisation, born out of a raging, anti-Islamist haze. Lennon openly claims that unlike the National Front and BNP before him, his group will not enter mainstream politics, and thus, political structure and English issues as raised by the likes of the English Democrats and CEP are of little or no significance to the EDL.
So why is the EDL the sole outlet of outrage for these grievances? Simply put: political abandonment. Politically, theologically and ideologically, the EDL are the last fragments of a political voting block that has been utterly rejected by the cosseted metropolitan elites of all the major political parties. Far be it for Byrnsweord to suggest that leading Communists are accurate, but Rob Griffiths, leader of the Communist Party of Britain, quoted in this article demonstrates the truth about the EDL that the hand-wringers of New Labour are either ignorant to or have missed.
Communist Party of Britain leader Rob Griffiths argued that the EDL was a result of the “abject failure of new Labour” to address problems in working-class communities.
“This has left millions of people without a strong political voice,” he said.
“The EDL are attempting to fill this vacuum.”
It is hardly news. Further to this, it is clear that the EDL are not only the embodiment of the reaction to New Labour’s arrogant and ideological efforts to extinguish the right-wing, but are the manifestation of years and years of flawed immigration policy. Enoch Powell warned about it in one of the least-quoted sections of his Birmingham speech of 1968:
“… while to the immigrant entry to this country was admission to privileges and opportunities eagerly sought, the impact upon the existing population was very different. For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision by default, on which they were never consulted, they found themselves made strangers in their own country. They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated… they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted.”
A failure to understand the wider significance of this statement, which in many cases is true, has caused the very problems that the EDL are so easily able to capitalise upon. So often in the last sixty years, politicians have offered self-regarding and arrogant platitudes to the working-class, or simply demonised them, without having even the slightest idea of the problems, difficulties and struggles of this group of people. Nor have they realised the extent to which people (of all races and cultures) feel their identities and communities have been taken from them, compromised or simply killed off in the interests of big business, political incentive and the tyranny of supposed ‘progress’. This very eloquent, and largely accurate, article from Lizzie Cocker in the Morning Star neatly surmises the factors that have helped to revitalise the spectre of the far-right on the streets:
Over the past 13 years the relentless promotion of liberal Western values and multiculturalism in Britain, mirrored by the absence of an internationalist and civil rights counterweight, has handed a gift to the far-right which today it is cashing in.
Exacerbated by domestic policies which have increased segregation in communities along ethnic and religious lines, these young people have rejected the insistence under 13 years of Labour government that Britain does have its own cultural identity, one which is made up of many cultures preserving themselves.
Perhaps, either as a result of the EDL’s protests, or as a new enlightened political class has entered the Commons, a corner is finally being turned in this old debate, and recognition is beginning to emerge of the causes of far-right agitation. Labour MP Jon Cruddas also featured in Monday’s Times, writing that the EDL tapped into a “politics born out of dispossession but anchored in English male working-class culture. Many are traditional Labour supporters.” He went on to urge parties to “search for an animating, inclusive and optimistic definition of modern England to choke off what the EDL taps into.”
Ironically, this ‘modern England’ that Cruddas calls on is one that his leader has categorically ruled out: an England set free from the shackles of a ‘United Kingdom’ that is no longer united, and an England free to establish and define its own Englishness is an England. How appropriate that the party that naively carved up the Union and stamped on England’s fledgling post-Union self-awareness is calling for England to do its duty for their political aims.
The problem? The EDL and their ilk are still not being listened to. Case in point: while the EDL present England as an inherently European power that was realised through the spectrum of Christianity (see their logo, for example), the leader of Searchlight, Matthew Collins, said the EDL’s rise showed the failure of the left “to communicate a secular and progressive message to the wider working class.” He is not alone in missing the point.
The EDL are clearly another aspect of an English Nationalism that is, by the year, continuing to expand and find new and viable potential manifestations. While the EDL sit on the side of the activist and reactionary, and their reaction to media bias, stifling, negative political correctness and the growing minority influence of Muslim extremists is ungainly and unsophisticated they should be ignored at their peril. Furthermore, they act as a very visible manifestation of the dangers of political ignorance, arrogance and greed.
The champagne socialists and cabinet millionaires are slowly realising that the English are no longer happy to be defined as merely a sporting entity, of three lions burdened with corporate logos and stitched on polyester. They have very real grievances, are the ones most acutely aware of political and social injustice, and are prepared to take action by any means necessary.
Byrnsweord sincerely hopes that Britain’s politicians have the good sense to compromise their own self-important self-image and find constructive, proactive methods of resolving the conflicts and solving the problems that England faces. If not, he fears that they will have ignored the long-derided words of the former Member for Wolverhampton South-West at their considerable cost.
* The EDL quite aside, I have always found it fascinating that right-wing groups are the ones with whom such associations are made while laughable excuses are made for flagrant violence from opposing forces; a conviction for assault on a police officer is somehow ‘an attack on the right to protest against racism and fascism’.