Since the diminishing of the British National Party (BNP), there has been a lack of political representation of the extreme right in the UK. The consequence of this has been an increase in street-based activity by non-political organizations like the English Defence League (EDL), Britain First, PEGIDA and the Football Lads Alliance. These groups have typically met with different approaches: The first is exclusion or no-platforming; the second is limited engagement.
Exclusion has been a tactic used in relation to extreme-right political parties. For example, the German Republikaner Party was isolated by both the press and by parliament, denying the party a platform and therefore limiting its reach. Within the UK, MPs are able to use petitions, parliamentary procedures and the media to pressure police and local authorities to ban a particular proposed activity of these groups. At the local level, local councilors can bring forward motions in the council to ban a demonstration, liaise with the police and refuse to interact with the organizations in question.
The authorities also have the option to not respond to the activities or protests. The aim of this tactic would be to limit how much media coverage the events receive. This was used with some success against the BNP. The complication when looking at how to respond to street-based activities is whether these activities require a response as they do not, for instance, contest elections. However, their threat to community cohesion may motivate some action from local councils.
The decision to react to demonstrations is in part due to a consideration that they are public order issues and so need to be managed to protect local businesses and the reputation of the community. This then sets a precedent for how such demonstrations are handled in the future. Additionally, many of these demonstrations result in riots, protests and arrests. These types of behaviors require some type of response from the authorities, and failure to do so would be lamented by the local communities.
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Alternatively, authorities can engage with these groups directly. This involves engaging with the communities where these groups are supported in order to address the political alienation or prejudice that may be the drivers behind their support. This approach can also include interactions between alienated radical-right supporters and the communities that are impacted by the protests and demonstrations. In order to be successful, they need to be initiated from within the community and be sustained in the long term.
However, these strategies tend to be short-term and inconsistent. Consequently, these types of initiatives have limited success due to the way in which they are created and implemented.
One problem when trying to respond to these groups is their impact and visibility both in the mainstream and on social media. For example, while the activities of Britain First are relatively low-level in terms of the numbers of supporters who are present at the demonstrations, the videos of these activities have a level of popularity on the group’s social media pages. The same issue existed with the online support of the EDL via its Facebook page.
The use of social media means that content is created by these groups with the intention of it being shared by their members and therefore widen their influence. This type of behavior can only be curtailed by the owners of these platforms and not by the authorities.
Additionally, any decision to no-platform these groups in this way would encourage them to move to alternative media platforms that may be harder to monitor. This problem also persists when looking at how the media responds to these groups. While the national mainstream media can choose not to report on protests or activities, the same cannot be said for local media. When these protests are announced, local communities tend to be informed via their local news outlets. This is also where any response by the establishment, be that increased police presence, separating counterprotests or non-response, is communicated to the community.
Due to the destructive nature of extreme-right protests, it has become necessary for authorities to respond to such activities. However, there has not been a consistent approach. Refusing to allow the protests to take place can strengthen the groups, as it reinforces their anti-establishment position. Increasing police presence could be considered as having a similar effect while also being an expensive and resource-heavy approach.
Politicians themselves may refuse to promote the planned protests by not acknowledging them in their media appearances or may denounce the protests. Either approach may have the same limited impact on the event itself. Finally, long-term grassroots initiatives to engage with the communities from which these groups cultivate their support and address the causal factors that lead to these protests may be a promising approach. Unfortunately, existing attempts to do so have been led from the top rather than the bottom, and as such have limited community engagement and suffer from short-term thinking and piecemeal application.
*[The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right is a partner institution of Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.