When it comes to the rise of the neo-right in the “West”, it’s interesting to note that much of the news media in the United States has recognised the phenomenon as a troubling part of mainstream American politics. Of course, this reflects the new political era ushered in by the election and presidency of Donald Trump and the willingness of the Republican Party establishment – and a significant number of GOP candidates – to exploit or echo his brand of populist, right-wing nationalism. However, it also reflects a significant willingness among many US journalists to tackle the country’s problems head on.
In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, there is still a tendency among much of the press to treat the rise of the new-right as something outside of the British political mainstream. Something which effects other nations, Poland, Italy, Austria or Germany, but not the electoral or parliamentary landscape of the UK. This myopia – or smugness – leads some commentators to simplify or misrepresent the partly atavistic nature of the Brexit referendum vote in 2016, glossing over the role of an ultra-conservative movement in bringing it to fruition. Consequently, it is quite rare to hear the corporate media in Britain refer to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the europhobic party par excellence, as a “far-right” body when no such hesitation would be made if it was a Continental or American organisation.
Likewise, and despite the initial furore or occasional protestations of disgust ever since, very few journalists in London acknowledge that the Conservative Party is effectively in a coalition government with a far-right group: the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The latter’s position is made explicit by its membership of the Non-Inscrits bloc in the European Parliament; a loose affiliation which includes such isolated notables as France’s Front National (FN), Germany’s Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NDP), Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik. While the DUP is free of the fascistic or neo-nazi trappings of the groupings above, in most other respects it conforms to the norms of Europe’s regressive nationalist right. And one can only imagine what the reaction of the UK news media would be if Emmanuel Macron and La République En Marche gave Marine Le Pen and the Front National in Paris the same level of access as Arlene Foster and the DUP enjoys in London.
An aspect of all this has been the United Kingdom’s role, along with the United States, as a primary locus of an otherwise amorphous ideology: namely that of the alternative-right. Over the last several years a mutually beneficial network of initially online activists and supporters has emerged between both nations. Something highlighted in the recent whipped-up controversy surrounding the poster-boy of the alt-right, Tommy Robinson; a thuggish street-protester praised by Steve Bannon in a swear-laden rant as the “…backbone of this country” and lobbied on behalf of by Sam Brownback, Washington’s Ambassador for International Religious Freedom.
However, if much of Britain’s metropolitan media is slow to name the far-right for what it is, some in the regional press are more honest, as this report by Cymru.Nation makes clear. The online piece discusses the growing links in Wales between UKIP and the British ultra-nationalist movement. It features several unsavoury characters, including the infamous political carpetbagger Neil Hamilton and Carl Benjamin, the misogynistic YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad. It also takes on the youthful Instagram-nazis of Generation Identity UK and Ireland.
While the far-right struggles for a foothold in Wales, there is concern about the present political trajectory of UKIP, which already has five members in the Welsh Assembly.
UKIP leader Gerard Batten’s attempts to steer the party to the far-right fringes of UK politics seem to be paying off with a surge in new members in July.
Over 3,000 supporters signed up in the month, an increase of 15% overall. The rise follows the recent announcement that four alt-right/alt-light luminaries had joined UKIP.
Since replacing Henry Bolton in February, Batten, who describes Islam as a “death cult” has rowed back on a longstanding rule which bars entry to UKIP for former members of the British National Party and English Defence League.
In April he took part in a lengthy video interview with EDL founder Tommy Robinson, for Robinson’s YouTube channel.
UKIP have also participated in demonstrations to free Robinson, who earlier this year was jailed for 13 months for contempt of court.
And in June UKIP joined the counter-demonstration against the anti-Brexit march, alongside the openly racist Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA), the Veterans Against Terrorism group, and Generation Identity, an organisation that calls for racial segregation.
This shift is clearly of great significance in Wales which is, after the European Parliament, UKIP’s last remaining electoral stronghold.
They have reaped the rewards of the electoral system which allowed them to achieve their greatest success in UK politics, winning seven seats on just 13% of the vote in the 2016 Assembly election.
Within weeks of the vote, Nathan Gill was deposed as leader of the Assembly group to be replaced by disgraced former Tory MP Neil Hamilton, now AM for the Mid and West Wales region.
Hamilton, who was criticised for not even living in Wales, soon caused uproar by referring to Leanne Wood and Kirsty Williams as ‘concubines’ in Carwyn Jones’ ‘harem’.
More recently, he defended Enoch Powell’s notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech on BBC Radio Wales, claiming Powell had been “proven right by events”.