British politics are essentially about as much fun as listening to Joy Division at your Mum’s funeral. Due to the severe lack of charisma or youth present in British politics it can be very hard to pay attention to and very easy to ignore. Despite this, the British political state is in many ways as awful as the far more entertaining multi-clown-car pileup that is American politics. As a self-imposed exile from the land that brought you colonialism, Brexit, and The Beatles I can offer a little context.
The situation is really bad when the famously bland and spineless Theresa May has to come out and condemn someone on the right. When Donald Trump showed more of his “modern-day Presidential” approach to politics by retweeting inflammatory propaganda from Jayda Fransen, a member of British far-right hate group Britain First, May was forced to come out against his actions. The offending videos purported to show violent actions being committed by Muslims (their authenticity has been strongly challenged). Trump himself obviously responded to Theresa May, telling her “.@Theresa_May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”
Britain First is essentially somewhere between One Nation and a white nationalist group like Patriot Blue. Their Wikipedia page manages to condense their awfulness into this one depressing sentence: “It was founded by Jim Dowson, an anti-abortion campaigner linked to Ulster loyalist groups in Northern Ireland.” This essentially means they combine Fundamentalist Christian ideology with militant Anglo-Saxon suprematism. As the modern face of white supremacy, their multifaceted approach towards fascism combines a highly popular Facebook page, that spends most of its time reposting Nazi-sympathisers The Daily Mail, with IRL intimidating “Christian patrols” through Muslim areas. They’ve also had several run ins with the law including the group’s name being shouted by the murderer of Labour MP Jo Cox. While Britain First denounced the attack, group leader Paul Golding suggested the murderer should be “strung up by the neck on the nearest lamp post”. Trump retweetee Jayda Fransen herself has been arrested multiple times for hate speech and religiously motivated harassment (part of her hate speech was committed on the clearly not racist station Radio Aryan).
This brings up the classic question of whether Trump is knowingly giving oxygen to noxious members of the far right or whether he’s merely America’s racist-uncle-in-chief, mindlessly repeating what he hears on Fox News and discussing it at the world’s dinner table.
It’s almost certainly the latter. Nevertheless, it’s depressing to see him stumbling through the internet pathways of the far right with the current worldwide momentum it has. Britain First, for example, has clearly been delighted with the coverage they have received in the media.
These people may be despicable but their actions do not happen in a vacuum. Having lived in Ramsgate, an area of the UK that is susceptible to the draw of the far right, you can see how these opinions form. The wealth disparity between my famously upper-middle class hometown and this area is shocking, even though these towns are both in the county of Kent. Even as a college-educated member of the middle class, the wage stagnation in the UK is appalling. Britain now has the lowest quality of life it’s had since the 1950s. The UK is really not an easy place to live (especially compared to Melbourne). Neoliberal economics have left towns like Ramsgate yearning for a mythical Britain of the past and led to this emboldening of the far right. As in America, the loss of many traditionally blue-collar jobs has lead to people supporting increasingly unstable political ideologies.
It remains to be seen whether May’s mild statement against Trump will lead to his being banned from the country, ruining the “special relationship” the two countries claim to enjoy.