Britain’s far right is desperate, angry, cornered, and dangerous, as the Finsbury Park atrocity may well show. In just a year, the number of far-right extremists referred to the government has jumped by nearly a third. Social media abounds with frothing far-right fanatics, screaming about betrayal and vengeance. Both Muslims and the left are firmly in their sights – and we urgently need a strategy to deal with it.What’s going on? There are all sorts of reasons for this rise. One part is the decision, last year, by the leave camp to run a vicious and dishonest anti-immigration campaign. This campaign had consequences. It’s not just about how xenophobia and anti-immigration rhetoric was apparently conferred with official legitimacy. Radical rightwingers see Brexit as a national revolution – even if this is not the case for most leave voters – an opportunity to wage a culture war against the social values of the left. Theresa May offered a false premise for her vanity general election – that Labour (which voted to trigger article 50) was attempting to subvert the referendum result. “Crush the saboteurs,” screeched the Daily Mail as the election was called. Such rhetoric from the press – like the Mail’s infamous “Enemies of the people” headline – grants legitimacy to the far-right’s worldview, that their opponents are national traitors and saboteurs. So when the attempt to smash the Labour party disastrously rebounded on the Tories, the radical right apparently became terrified that its version of Brexit – which for a small sliver of the population represents a national rightwing revolution – was imperilled. This fuels the traditional far-right “stab in the back” narrative – that traitors have betrayed the nation.
Far-right extremists are cornered and dangerous. They must be challenged