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'Free Tommy Robinson' demonstration in Copenhagen, Denmark, 29 May 2018. Photo: Flickr/Kristoffer Trolle

'Free Tommy Robinson' demonstration in Copenhagen, Denmark, 29 May 2018. Photo: Flickr/Kristoffer Trolle

We mustn't allow fascists the space or time to strengthen their organisation before we act: the threat is real

We are facing the danger of the most serious fascist street movement in Britain for decades.

Everyone who opposes racism and values democracy and basic freedoms needs to consider now what they can do to help stop this movement.

In the last year there have been three big London demonstrations and many smaller protests organised by the far right Football Lads Alliance and its laughably titled successor, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance. The biggest of these in June drew up to 15,000. Tommy Robinson, the figure at the centre of these movements, has a large and growing following on social media. The fact that Robinson has been freed from prison will only increase his reach.

The organisers claim their demonstrations are for free speech, against terrorism and the sexual grooming of children. No doubt some marchers are genuinely concerned about these issues. But the marches were organised and addressed by figures from the far right ranging from Dutch anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders to organisers of the white supremacist network Generation Identity. Far right ex-Trump advisor Steve Bannon sent his greetings to at least one of the demos and is widely believed to be involved in funding the movement.

Many known fascists have been spotted on the demos, some making Nazi salutes. On the 9 June demo racist thugs went on the rampage, attacking the police, threatening counter-demonstrators and passers by and glassing RMT union official Steve Hedley at a pub. A week later Tommy Robinson supporters tried to ransack the left wing Bookmarks bookshop in central London.

Tommy Robinson is a fascist himself as well as being a violent thug with a string of convictions. He claims to be standing up for ordinary citizens but he was a member of the Nazi BNP and deputy leader of the British Freedom Party, a failed BNP spin-off. More recently, he has endorsed For Britain, a party which has fielded a number of fascists as candidates. These included one member of National Action, the Nazi terror group that supported Thomas Mair, the murderer of MP Jo Cox.

Like so many fascists in Europe, Robinson and his collaborators are trying to build a mass base by posing as patriots, defenders of free speech and what they call British values against an imagined threat from immigrants and Muslims in particular. Robinson claims to be against Muslim extremism, not Muslims. This is a lie. He has called for the forced deportation of all Muslims not just from Britain but from the whole of Europe. He has threatened the Muslim community with violence by unleashing the English Defence League, which he fronted up.

The claim that the grooming of girls and young women is in some way connected to Muslim culture is another lie, as explained by Elaine Graham-Leigh in her recent article. Sexual abuse of children happens across races and religions. All serious research shows that the majority of child grooming in the UK is perpetrated by white people.

Terrorism is, of course, a real threat but it cannot be stopped by Robinson’s rabid nationalism. What is needed more than anything is to stop our governments dragging us into foreign wars. Pulling society to the right won’t make that happen.

The far right has grown by tapping in to the resentment felt by many against the government and the establishment and turning it against innocent minorities. The last four decades of free market policies and austerity have devastated whole communities, forced millions into poverty and created an unimaginably rich elite. One of our jobs is to strengthen real opposition to austerity. That means backing the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party and organising more resistance on the ground. We need to expand the People’s Assembly against Austerity and other campaigns, build up the trade unions and encourage them to get more active in defending working people.

Our response to the Brexit vote needs to be clear as well. We must defend free movement and stop the right turning Brexit into an excuse for more cuts in wages and welfare. But a second EU referendum would be a gift to Tommy Robinson and others on the right who would claim it as further proof that the establishment ignores the majority.

International right wing forces have boosted Robinson’s profile and organisation. The election of Trump turbo charged the far right around the world. Alt-right organisations like Generation Identity have joined the series of high profile far right individuals offering Robinson support.

The central job for everyone anxious about the rise of the far right is to call out Robinson and his core supporters as the Nazis they are, to drive them out of mainstream politics and off our streets. This can be done. The overwhelming majority of people in Britain loathe what they stand for, and the massive demonstration against Trump in July this year showed that hundreds of thousands are prepared to act to show opposition to racism and bigotry.

In the 1970s, '80s and '90s the National Front and its successor the British National Party were dealt with by a combination of mass mobilisations - including counter-protests - and popular campaigns disproving their fascist views. We need to expose Robinson and his followers and to show once again that we are the majority by getting back on to the streets. That is why the National Unity Demonstration Against Fascism and Racism, on 17 November in London is so important.

A good turn out will highlight the issue, boost confidence and make it easier to organise effective counter protests when Robinson’s crew march again. In the run up to the demonstration this needs to be priority no.1 for everyone in the movement. Above all else, this means unity in action. Of course there are different approaches to tackling the far right and those need to be respected and discussed. But on the 17 November we need to be marching together.

Robinson and his backers are a threat to Muslims, immigrants and all ethnic minorities in Britain. But fascists target anyone who defends minorities, or supports popular rights or democracy. It is no accident that one of their targets in the summer was a trade union leader. 

Following the brutal murder of Jo Cox by a fascist sympathiser, Darren Osborne was looking for a way to attack Jeremy Corbyn before he drove his van into a group of Muslims in Finsbury Park, killing Makram Ali and injuring dozens. In a recent facebook video, Tommy Robinson explicitly demonises Jeremy Corbyn, "communists", "the far left".

We mustn’t allow the far right the time or the space to strengthen their organisation before we act. Every trade unionist, every Labour Party member, and people from campaigns and communities up and down the country must be persuaded that this demonstration really matters.

This time is ours, don’t let the fascists steal it from us. All out for 17 November.

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