In the face of an emboldened far right, as seen from thousands-strong marches across Europe to a rising number of hate crimes, the need to build an anti-fascist majority across the country is urgent. We cannot let divisions over Brexit get in the way of this task.
This weekend, Tommy Robinson and Ukip are coming to London to march against their so-called ‘Brexit betrayal’. At the same time, thousands of anti-fascists will gather in London to stand against their racism, Islamophobia and hatred of our diverse city and society.
The reasons for mobilising in opposition to them is clear. Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has blamed the Qu’ran for “the mess we’re in” and incites hatred towards Muslims on an almost daily basis. It is his toxic rhetoric that leads to fascistic beliefs becoming normalised and eventually acted upon, as we saw with the Finsbury Park mosque attack, where the perpetrator had received messages from Robinson in the days leading up to the attack. The threat from the far right is thus real and serious, and this is why Yaxley-Lennon – its recruitment sergeant – must be stopped, exposed, defeated and visibly heavily outnumbered on Sunday, as happened in Liverpool last month.
To do so we must have a single, united message and must not let our own Brexit agendas override our opposition to the extreme right. With their ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march, the far right are trying to claim leadership over and legitimacy among the 52% of our fellow citizens who voted leave. While we all know that May’s deal is a shambles, it is not Brexit that we must fight them on – it is their core racist politics that must be challenged and defeated.
In light of this, actions by certain parts of the left in calling for a demonstration not only against Tommy Robinson but also against Brexit falls into their trap. We must build an anti-fascist majority without giving credence or legitimacy to the far right. The bloc by Another Europe is Possible (AEiP) – “No to Tommy Robinson, No to Brexit” – fails on both those counts.
Firstly, it shuts out those who are opposed to Tommy Robinson and what he represents but also voted Leave in the referendum, and therefore divides those who legitimately want to stand in solidarity against the far right. A majority of people in the country voted to leave the EU. Racism and xenophobia were drivers of the vote to Leave, but not the only ones – millions of people voted to leave for a whole host of legitimate reasons. Our mission must be to create a sustainable and effective anti-fascist majority across our United Kingdom – we cannot do that without bringing onside the majority of the population.
Second, allowing a ‘Stop Brexit’ agenda to become part of the counter-protest legitimises the far right’s argument and engages them on a political level, when they should be engaged on the basis of principles and rights. Doing the former offers them the status they seek, offers them ownership of the Brexit argument, which is not representative of the leave vote. We must not do anything that enables this.
That’s why London Young Labour (LYL) will be supporting the counter-demo called by a coalition of activists and organisations including the Anti-Fascist Network, Momentum, Owen Jones and the newly formed Labour Against Racism and Fascism (London). The rally – “No to Tommy Robinson and No to Fortress Britain” – takes no line on Brexit. Instead, it challenges the far right on their politics and shows support for an open Britain – one that embraces migrants and welcomes refugees, the main targets of hate preachers such as Yaxley-Lennon.
Our LYL bloc – “Leave or Remain: We All Hate Tommy” – attempts to bolster that anti-fascist majority by giving an explicit space for both Remain and Leave voters to unite in opposition to fascists. We will counter the far right’s narrative, which claims they are the legitimate representatives of a large proportion of leave voters who have been betrayed. Tommy Robinson is no such thing.
Beyond Sunday, our task must be to challenge the narrative of the far right. Decades of neoliberalism have left whole communities shut out of our economy and feeling left behind. And years of austerity, the gutting of our public services has divided our communities with the help of a right-wing media that channels rhetoric blaming migrants and Muslims for our failed economic system instead of the people and cronyism at the top. That’s why we need a Labour government that will rebuild and rebalance our economy, invest in public services and sustainable jobs that have decent pay, dignity and security for all.
On Sunday 9th December we stand united in opposition to Tommy Robinson and the far right, regardless of what we think about Brexit. As Labour members it is our duty to mobilise and challenge them on their extreme politics, and not cede to their narrative on Brexit. Leave or Remain, we hope to see you there.
Artin Giles is chair of London Young Labour.