Racism in Britain today

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R
acism, according to the New Labour Communities Secretary John
Denham, is on the decline. The government’s progress in promoting
racial equality in the last decade is, he argues, substantially responsible for
this state of affairs.

Denham’s claim is astonishing in light of a documented
rise in the incidence of racism in the UK, the growth of support for the far
right BNP, the emergence of violent street gangs under the rubric of the
English Defence League (whom Denham himself has compared to Mosley’s
British Union of Fascists), the reappearance of anti-immigrant politics in
labour disputes such as at the Lindsey oil refinery, and the extraordinary
increase in media-led hostility towards Muslims.
Anti-racists are not as sanguine as Denham. The Guardian journalist
Gary Younge argues that the last decade has witnessed a sharp regression,
as “the shift in emphasis from race to religion and from colour to creed and
culture” has grafted “old views on to new scapegoats”.

Younge’s analysis
is much more convincing than Denham’s, though the shift to creed and
culture can be traced back further to the New Right’s agenda on race rela-
tions, a major inspiration in the career of Enoch Powell. Racist ideologies
have always had a concern with creed and culture, especially—though not
exclusively—when their anthropological claims failed to corroborate their
oppression of a particular group.
: coc·1.c»,4January00.
: Younge,009.
z Racism in Britain today
Yet the acceleration of this shift, and the novelties of racism in con-
temporary Britain, need to be registered if anti-racists are to be effective. A
number of important transformations are taking place in terms of the intel-
lectual justifications for racism, and its targets. If creed and culture have come
to the fore, so have ideas of nationality and citizenship that do not neatly
correspond to older ideas of race concerned with biology and skin colour.
The targets of anti-immigrant hostility are not necessarily black, and those
engaged in racism towards Muslims are not automatically hostile to all black
Britons. That fact alone confuses the discussions of racism and gives racists an
important alibi. Many of those vilifying Muslims will earnestly explain that
they hold no brief for racists, and that they only intend to defend human
rights or “British values” from a culture that violates them. They will often
add that Muslims aren’t a “race”, as if this resolved the controversy.
The “war on terror” is a proximate cause of much of this racism.
However, the temptation to reduce the question of Islamophobia to a
sub-narrative of the “war on terror” is one that must be avoided. Racism
towards Muslims pre-dates 9/11 and the ensuing warmongering, and is not
necessarily tied to pro-war opinion. It has far more to do with domestic social
processes than a singular focus on the “war on terror” would allow. In fact, if
socialists are to resist the far right, they will have to come to terms with the way
in which they articulate a right wing anti-war sentiment in seeming opposi-
tion to their traditionally imperialist ideology. This is related to a displacement
within racist ideas in the post-colonial era in which aggressive global white
supremacism was replaced by defensive white nationalism.
Nor does cultural chauvinism towards Muslims stop at the boundaries
of Islam. Anindya Bhattacharyya has usefully characterised Islamophobia as the
“cutting edge” of contemporary racism in that it carves out a path for older
forms of racism to once again emerge in mainstream culture.

Segments of
liberal opinion have adopted the New Right’s agenda on race relations, often
swallowing wholesale the culturalist arguments on immigration and citizen-
ship that were crafted in opposition to multiculturalism. The centre-left has
also increasingly embraced the idea of a progressive nationalism. In a way that
mirrors the New Right, they hold that social solidarity and cultural diversity
are opposing aims.
4
Following the lead set by Gordon Brown, they have set
out to develop a liberal account of “British values” that could underpin social
solidarity. This has all too often led to a prosecutorial attitude to Muslims, the
rationale being that “Britishness” includes respect for feminism, human rights
: Bhattacharyya,009a&009b.
4: Kundnani,007,pp-40.
¸ International Socialism
and “Enlightenment values”, all of which are supposedly at odds with Islam,
or at least with immoderate manifestations of it. Again liberal complicity in
such cultural chauvinism is not as outlandish as it may appear.
As conventional forms of racism are revived on the basis of
Islamophobic cultural essentialism, there has been a notable attempt to
revive old racist terms of abuse. Strictly Come Dancing presenter Bruce
Forsyth defended the use of the word “Paki” by contestant Anton Du Beke,
averring that “at one time the Americans used to call us limeys, which
doesn’t sound very nice, but we used to laugh about it. Everybody has a
nickname.” Again, when Ron Atkinson referred to black Chelsea player
Marcel Desailly as a “lazy thick nigger”, he was defended by sports com-
mentator Jimmy Hill who said that such comments were just “fun”.
It is probably no coincidence that such terms, whose function is to
normalise racist behaviour, should be so aggressively championed just as
the recorded incidents of racist harassment and violence increase. The sta-
tistics are damning. In 2005 it was reported that racial incidents had more
than quadrupled in England and Wales from 13,151 in 1996-7 to 52,694
in 2003-4. Of the latter figure, more than 35,000 were characterised as
“serious” and included wounding, assault and harassment.

And the rise has continued. In 2003-5 the number of racist incidents
in England and Wales rose by 12 percent. In 2005-7 the number rose again
by 28 percent.

In Scotland the number of racial incidents recorded per year
rose from 4,519 in 2004-5 to 5,243 in 2007-8.
7
The Crown Prosecution
Service reports that the number of defendants received for racist incidents
in England and Wales has risen year on year since 1999-2000. The number
of defendants in 2006-7 was almost four times the number in 1999-2000.

The climate of racism engendering such behaviour has all too often
been abetted by the government, and has led to a surge in support for the
far right which is currently outperforming its last high point in the 1970s.
It has also led to the development of street-fighting gangs of racists, foot-
ball casuals and far right activists known as the English Defence League
(EDL). Purporting merely to oppose Islamists such as Anjem Choudary the
EDL also claims to oppose racism and welcome non-Muslims, whatever
their “race”. Yet protests by the EDL have often degenerated into racist
chanting, sieg heils, and attacks on Asian pedestrians and businesses.
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7: ScottishExecutive,009.
: CrownProsecutionServiceManagementInformationBranch,007.
: Racism in Britain today
All of this represents the culmination of the “new racism”, a trend
described by the philosopher Martin Barker in 1981.
9
Shorn of explicit com-
mitment to biological determinism, or an express belief in the supremacy of
“the white race”, its core axioms centre on the cultural practices of ethnic
minorities and their supposed incompatibility with “mainstream” culture.
Its advocates, originally only hard-line followers of Enoch Powell but now
embracing sectors of the centre left, rely on common misunderstandings
about the nature of racism in order to ring-fence their culturalist discourse
as a neatly distinct matter from racism proper.
Race, culture, nation, and religion
Those advocating oppressive and exclusionary practices today offer a
number of claims to ward off accusations of racism. One such is that they
believe in the existence and importance of racial differences but do not hold
that any race is innately superior to others.
0
Another is that they do not
accept that races exist, and therefore consider the idea of racial supremacy
to be incoherent, but they do believe in cultures (or civilisations) which are
emphatically unequal. This claim is especially prominent in liberal attacks on
“multiculturalism”. For example, Martin Amis defends his intemperate and
usually indiscriminate verbal attacks on Muslims against charges of racism in
the following terms: “I adore multiracialism. There can’t be enough immi-
grants in this country for my taste. I’d like to see immigrants from Mars or
Jupiter. But multiculturalism, I believe, is a fraud. We cannot justify these
things because they’re traditional. The tradition has to go”.

By “tradition” he means such practices as “honour killing”,
which he understands to be uncomplicatedly “Islamic” behaviour. That
unspoken hypothesis is incorrect—“honour killing” is a form of patriar-
chal violence that does not respect such cultural boundaries. According
to Human Rights Watch, such violence “goes across cultures and across
religions”. It is practised under various names—dowry killings, crimes
of passion, etc—in Latin America, India, Italy, Sweden, Brazil and Great
Britain.

Nor is it at all true that “multiculturalism” entails tolerating the
murder of women whether by appeal to tradition or cultural sensibility.
Nonetheless, Amis’s argument confirms that in attacking such practices he
means to impugn a supposedly undifferentiated culture known as Islam.
9: Barker,9.
0: BNP,00.
: Wente,009.
: Mayell,00.
¡ International Socialism
Another attack on multiculturalism came in a widely denounced
provocation by Rod Liddle, the former editor of Radio 4’s Today pro-
gramme, in which he ascribed the “overwhelming majority of street crime,
knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London”
to “young men from the African-Caribbean community”.

Liddle was
slightly less cautiously expressing the same views that Tony Blair had in
2007 when he blamed a spate of knife and gun crimes on a distinctive
black culture, specifically on failing black families.
4
But Liddle’s statistical
claims were simply false.

And in his broader conclusions he reproduced
verbatim a commonplace of racist ideology since the first arrival of sub-
stantial numbers of Commonwealth migrants to the UK in the 1950s.

However, he justified himself by saying that he was not speaking of
race but of culture. “The creed of multiculturalism is largely to blame, the
notion that cultures, no matter how antithetical to the norm, or anti-social,
should be allowed to develop unhindered, without criticism”.
7
To say that
this mis-states the “creed of multiculturalism” would be unnecessarily diplo-
matic: it is a flimsy straw man. Multiculturalism has its origins in a state-led
attempt to domesticate politically rebellious black and Asian minorities in
1980s Britain. Its basic thrust was defined before the fact by Roy Jenkins who,
as home secretary in 1966, declared the aim of achieving “equal opportunity,
accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance”.

: Liddle,009a.
4: coc·1.c»,April007.
: Astonishingly, some newspaper accounts, while providing statistics that completely
undermineLiddle’sclaims,suggestedthatthefiguressupportedhim—Bentham,009.In
fact,theMinistryofJusticefigurescitedbyBenthamdidnotrefertothecapital,whichLiddle
did,anddidnotconfirmthatthe“overwhelmingmajorityofstreetcrime,knifecrime,gun
crime,robberyandcrimesofsexualviolence”inLondonorelsewherewas“carriedoutby
youngmenfromtheAfrican-Caribbeancommunity”.Whatthenumberssuggestedwasthatin
certaincrimecategoriesblackBritonswereover-represented,whereastheirwhitecounterparts
wereunder-representedinarrestandcourtcaseappearances,anentirelydifferentclaim.Asto
thenatureofthestatistics,theSelectCommitteeonHomeAffairslistsdetailedandsubstantial
caveats.Amongotherthings,itnotescrimesurveyfindingssuggestingthat“whitemalesaged
from0towere‘farmorelikely’tohavecommittedanoffencewithinthelastyearthan
youngmalesinotherethnicgroups(percentcomparedwitharangeofto9percent
forotherethnicgroups)”,whereas“onceyoungblackpeoplecommittedanoffence,they
weremorelikelytocometotheattentionofthepolice.”SeeHomeOffice,007.Moreover,
therearelong-standingdifficultieswiththeinterpretationofsuchstatistics.Foradetailed
examinationofsomesuchproblems,seeDrew,9,andWalker,94.
: Gilroy,97,pp9-04.
7: Liddle,009b.
: Jones,00,p4.
o Racism in Britain today
Multiculturalism, though challenging spurious conceptions of an ethnically
“pure” nationhood, has its weaknesses as a response to racism. It fails seriously
to address the systemic roots of racial discrimination. And in attempting to
“celebrate” diverse cultures in a depoliticised fashion, it transforms culture
from a process in which one might participate into a static object to be pas-
sively observed and enjoyed.
9
Liddle’s defence indicates several prominent features of contemporary
Islamophobia. These include the claim that there are such things as discrete,
largely impervious cultures and that there is therefore a cultural “norm” that
a problematic minority is violating on behalf of its own alien cultural tenets.
A constant theme of the anti-Muslim animus today is that its conspicuous
symbols such as the hijab or even the burqa indicate a hostility to “main-
stream culture” and a desire to separate from it. That such ideas should then
become the basis of an attack on an older scapegoat—young black men in
this instance—belies the complacent view that official hostility to Islam has
no broader implications for race relations.
A third example of such defensive pleading is that, in advocating
racist practices, one merely seeks to conserve a valuable social and cultural
order that is endangered by cross-cultural penetration.
These confusions are possible in part because of the exaggerated
importance attached to “scientific” racism. Racism, in this sense, entails a
belief that the variation in physical human appearance is arranged according
to a hierarchy of superior and inferior races. As the anthropologist C Loring
Brace puts it, “race” is a concept that has “no coherent biological validity”.
Variations in physical characteristics such as skin colour, tooth length,
blood type, nose length, the presence or absence of haemoglobin S are
not distributed in a way that conforms to notions of race. The margin for
biological racism in respectable opinion has been squeezed (though it still
has its defenders among devotees of The Bell Curve, which argues that black
people are inherently less intelligent than their white counterparts).
Were it the case that racism amounted to a discredited belief in a
non-existent entity, further discussion would be futile. It would be aimed at
correcting a mistake that few are likely to make. But such a view of racism
is highly misleading. Racist narratives do not begin and end with the body,
and the present-day emphasis on cultural difference is not as anomalous as
it might at first appear. “Race” overlaps with a range of other discourses
such as nationality and ethnicity that are not strictly to do with biological
variation. The everyday language of racism draws on a “common sense”, a
9: Kundnani,004,pp0-;andKundnani,007,pp44-47.
; International Socialism
series of stereotypes and generalisations, about groups of people—be they a
nationality, a faith group or an ethnicity. These stereotypes invariably focus
on ostensible cultural traits. Ali Rattansi points out that when alleged cultural
traits become stereotypes they are naturalised and made to seem inherent to
the group that is so characterised. “Thus the supposed avariciousness of Jews,
the alleged aggressiveness of Africans and African Americans, the criminality
of Afro-Caribbeans or the slyness of ‘Orientals’, become traits that are invari-
ably attached to these groups over extremely long periods of time”.
0
It is this
essentialising gesture that has become known as “cultural racism”.
As for the supposed novelty of cultural racism, it has been with
us from the inception of modern racism. Enlightenment philosophers,
encountering (and sometimes complicit with) the realities of the slave trade
and colonialism, sought to explain white European supremacy in terms of
cultural superiority. Hume is notorious for having suspected “the Negroes
to be naturally inferior to the Whites”. This was not, however, on account
of any biological sense of racial difference. Rather, it was on account of
customs and habits of “the Negroes”, the way of doing things that they
had acquired—in other words their culture.

John Stuart Mill, as a colonial
administrator and Britain’s most outstanding liberal philosopher, similarly
entertained a culturally chauvinist contempt for non-Europeans that was
not grounded in biological racism, which he specifically opposed. He cer-
tainly accepted that colonial subjects were inferior but his explanation for
that inferiority lay in the “laws of national character”, by far “the most
important class of sociological laws”.

A more fundamental problem with the narrow reading of racism in
terms of its bodily discourses is that it even misunderstands how “race”
works. Historians of racism such as Theodore Allen, David Roediger and
Noel Ignatiev demonstrate that race is a socially constructed category that
expresses socially produced phenomena as inherent qualities of oppressed
groups. The concept of “race” as a biological entity has had little to do
with the actual construction of racial hierarchies, which was always a
political act. Historically the purpose of “race” has been to manage class
systems by stratifying labour markets along colour-coded lines. This was
pioneered, according to Theodore Allen, in the rule of the Protestant
Ascendancy in Ireland, a distinctive form of class rule in which a segment
of the labouring majority is integrated into an oppressor group. However
0: Rattansi,007,pp04-.
: Barker,9,pp4-77.
: Pitts,00,pp-;Bogues,00,pp7-4.
8 Racism in Britain today
poor Protestant labourers were in colonial Ireland they enjoyed privileges
with respect to their Irish Catholic counterparts.
Following a series of multiracial class rebellions against inden-
tured servitude in 17th century Anglo-America, epitomised by the Bacon
Rebellion of 1676, the ruling colonists turned to a system of racial slavery
that accentuated and exaggerated the differences between the oppression
of African and European workers. Through a series of legal and political
innovations very similar to those elaborated in Ireland, a “white race”
was constructed in opposition to more oppressed Africans and American
Indians. Racial oppression did not depend on supposed physical differ-
ences.

“Race-making” processes continued to be important for capital
accumulation in post-slavery America as new groups of immigrants were
racially “othered”. Irish, Hungarian, Polish, Italian and Jewish workers,
who would today be considered “white”, were racialised in such a way
as to exclude them from the privileges of “whiteness”, while at the same
time setting them in competition with one another as well as with Chinese
immigrants and African-Americans. The “race management” strategies of
American capital involved the constant adjustment and adaptation of racial
categories and stereotypes such that the demarcations of “scientific” racist
discourses were not strictly relevant.
4
Instead of looking for a reference to supposed static entities called
“races” to define acts of racism, it makes more sense to consider raciali-
sation as a constant process. Just as fascism is notoriously a “scavenger”
ideology, opportunistically appropriating ideological bric-a-brac from
other outlooks and traditions, so racist ideologies are continually con-
structed and reconstructed with a variety of elements of national, regional,
religious, sectional and class stereotypes. What they have in common is
their relationship to the practice of racial oppression in which a minority
is systemically excluded from the opportunities and entitlements of normal
citizenship. Nor are they strictly literal in their expression. Racism operates
to a great extent by allusion and conflation—mark the speed with which
“Muslim” was substituted for “Asian” in the target of racist polemics after
2001. Indeed, that very shift tells us that the cultural racism currently
directed against Muslims is rooted in several generations of anti-immigrant
racism and, before it, imperial racism.
: Allen,994;Roediger,00;Roediger,999.
4: EschandRoediger,009,pp-4;Jacobson,00;onracialisationandtheroadto
“whiteness”pursuedbyIrish-Americans,seeIgnatiev,99.
· International Socialism
The New Right and immigration
For as long as Britain remained an empire with global authority its ruling
class preferred “free” immigration, its demand for labour seemingly limit-
less. Imperialist racism justified the domination rather than exclusion of
non-European labour. At the turn of the 20th century there were some
moves to restrict labour mobility. The 1905 Aliens Act was introduced
on a wave of anti-Semitic invective in parliament and the gutter press,
and amid protests and riots over the migration of Russian and Eastern
European Jews to the UK. Political anti-Semitism was, until the Second
World War, the ideological backbone of organised racists and fascists
across Europe including the UK. But with the defeat of the Third Reich
and the revelations of its barbarism such anti-Semitism no longer availed
itself as a method of recruitment and growth. And as European coun-
tries experiencing severe labour shortages began to import labour from the
colonies—North Africa in France, the Caribbean in the UK—the focus of
necessity shifted to anti-immigrant racism.

Until 1962 there remained a considerable degree of freedom of
movement for labour within the British Commonwealth both to and from
the colonies. Subjects of the Commonwealth were considered subjects of
the British monarch and in legislation passed in 1948 confirmed as citizens
of the “UK and Colonies”. However, the post-war Labour government
mainly sought to solve the labour shortfall, estimated at over 1.25 million,
by recruiting white European labourers from Ireland and Poland. It was
believed by both Conservatives and Labour that mass immigration could
only be managed if the immigrants were of “good stock” and were capable
of merging into the general population. Implicit in this approach was the
racist belief that white and black people could not happily co-exist as
equals. Even so a certain limited amount of immigration from the West
Indies did begin to take place.

The restrictions imposed upon such immigration began in 1962 with
the Commonwealth Immigration Act with further restrictions added in
a 1965 White Paper and then in subsequent acts in 1968 and 1971. The
state’s regulation of flows of migrant labour tends to reflect the fluctuations
of demand for labour in the economy, though initial restrictions did not
come at a time when demand for labour was weakening.
7
A crucial con-
sideration in the timing of the legislation was that the government found a
: Macmaster,00,pp7-77.
: Macmaster,00,p77;JoshiandCarter,94.
7: Hardy,009.
:c Racism in Britain today
way to implement controls that would be flexible, depending on political
and economic factors, and overtly colour-blind while permitting de facto
discrimination in favour of Old Commonwealth migrants. Even so the
controls implemented by the act still permitted the influx of more New
Commonwealth immigrants than had arrived throughout the 1950s. By
1982 no less than 80 percent of black and Asian immigrants living in Britain
had arrived after the act was passed. What the new controls did achieve was
not reduced immigration. Rather they entrenched institutional racism in a
new way, curtailing the citizenship rights hitherto extended to citizens of
the UK and Colonies and making their entitlement to live and work in the
UK subject to employers’ demand for their labour.

Labour had pledged to oppose the act while in opposition on the
grounds that it was racist. Once in office, however, they effected a complete
volte face, embraced the act and tightened the restrictions in its provisions.
9
It was in this climate that the elements of New Right thinking on race
started to come together. The transformation is neatly encapsulated in the
career of Enoch Powell. During his period in government as Conservative
health minister thousands of labourers from the West Indies were recruited
and he never once gave any indication that he was opposed to such immi-
gration. He spoke out against immigration controls in 1956 and in 1964 said
that he could not support “making any difference between one citizen of
this country and another on grounds of his origin”.
0
Having lost the Conservative leadership election to Ted Heath
in 1965 he served in the shadow cabinet before emerging with a new
cause—one made infamous by his “rivers of blood” speech in Birmingham
in April 1968.

This skilfully conjured racist hysteria with the use of anec-
dotes supposedly conveyed to him by his constituents. Most significantly
for Powell’s purposes he could claim that “thousands and hundreds of
thousands are saying and thinking” the things that he was expressing.

The argument that he spoke for a hitherto silent populace represented
an important step in articulating the “new racism”. As theorists of the “new
racism” such as Martin Barker and Paul Gilroy have argued, the racism of
the New Right no longer depended on claims of white superiority, or even
of significant biological differences between “races”. It depended instead on
a view of human nature in which social solidarity is only possible among
: Spencer,997,pp-;Macmaster,00,pp77-.
9: Spencer,997,pp-;Macmaster,00,p0.
0: QuotedinHillman,00.
: Powell,97;Powell,9a.
: Powell,9b.
:: International Socialism
those considered part of the “in-group” or “tribe”, an ideological assump-
tion given a veneer of theoretical respectability by the output of sociobiology
and ethology. It was not that black or Asian people were inferior but that
they could not be assimilated into a white British nation. The instinctive
passions of people keen to retain their traditional way of doing things, their
“culture” in other words, were not susceptible to reason or bargaining. An
excess of non-white immigration—racists like Powell insisted that it was the
numbers migrating that spelled disaster—would inevitably generate bloody
conflict. Thus a defensive white nationalism could be asserted as a common
sense response to immigration, with “voluntary” repatriation and authori-
tarian border controls an appropriate solution.

The immediate beneficiary of Powell’s agitation was the fascist
National Front (NF), the forerunner of today’s British National Party.
For almost a decade afterward the party grew in membership reaching a
high of over 17,000 members in 1976. It gained votes and began to build
a cadre of street-fighters known as Honour Guards who terrorised black
people, trade unionists and the left. The instinct of governments, both
Tory and Labour, was to steal the NF’s clothes on immigration and race.
The Heath government introduced new restrictions with the Immigration
Act of 1971, while deportations under the subsequent Labour govern-
ment increased and immigration officials began to impose virginity tests
on Asian women. Though the fascist threat was seen off by a campaign
attracting far larger numbers of people—the Anti Nazi League had 250
branches with 50,000 members and could mobilise half a million people
at its height—the discourses that had fuelled the NF’s success also fed into
the New Right’s attack on multiracial Britain.
4

Margaret Thatcher adopted a decidedly Powellite tone in 1978 when
she argued that:
People are really rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people
with a different culture and, you know, the British character has done so
much for democracy, for law, and done so much throughout the world that
if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be
rather hostile to those coming in.
It was the shrill language of being “swamped” that was picked up on
but the key referents here are a supposed common sense and specific focus
: Barker,9;Gilroy,97;Brown,00.
4: Davidson,00;Anjum,999;seeRenton,00.
:z Racism in Britain today
on “culture” as the likely source of conflict.

Good race relations, then,
depended on minimising the number of black and Asian people in Britain.
This approach was not unique to the New Right. It was an assumption built
into successive governments’ handling of race relations. But it was reflected
in the Thatcher government’s British Nationality Act of 1981, which con-
secrated existing practices by revising the category of “Citizenship of the
UK and Colonies” into new categories so that most Commonwealth resi-
dents no longer had the right of abode in the UK. By this time primary
immigration had come to a virtual standstill.
The official moves to shut down black and Asian immigration were
accompanied by a number of pieces of “race relations” legislation aimed at
outlawing racial discrimination. This set a pattern which has persisted to this
day. Since the 1960s successive governments have pursued a contradictory
policy of on the one hand separating race relations from immigration and
on the other using the issue of race relations to justify ever tighter immigra-
tion controls. A primary justification for immigration controls, pace Thatcher,
is that they ensure good race relations. The rationale is that by control-
ling the fears of the white population integration for Britain’s non-white
minority is made easier. Yet the signal sent by such a policy is that Britain
is in some sense threatened by the presence of immigrants, especially by
non-white immigrants. Roy Hattersley, once an advocate of strict immi-
gration controls, conceded the point more than a decade ago regarding the
Tories’ 1996 Asylum and Immigration Bill: “It is measures like the Asylum
and Immigration Bill—and the attendant speeches—which create the impres-
sion that ‘we cannot afford to let them in’. And if we cannot afford to let
them in, those of them who are here already must be doing harm”.

This contradiction between anti-immigration measures and race rela-
tions policy has historically been overcome by exempting immigration policy
from the provisions of anti-racist legislation.
7
New Labour’s Race Relations
(Amendment) Act of 2000 expanded the scope of the original 1976 legislation
making it illegal for public authorities such as the police and the Immigration
and Nationality Directorate to discriminate on the grounds of race or nation-
ality. However, there remains an exemption for immigration and nationality
functions, where discrimination on ethnic and national grounds is permitted
if it is required by legislation or ministerial authorisation.

Thus agencies of
: Thatcher,97.
: QuotedinSpencer,99,p77.
7: Spencer,99,p7.
: UKBorderAgency,00.
:¸ International Socialism
the state can pursue and implement a racist immigration policy while pre-
serving a formally anti-racist position in other policy areas.
Though the focus of official racism was initially on restricting New
Commonwealth migration, changing patterns in labour migration and
changing political attitudes led to new targets. Increasingly in the 1990s
it was the issue of asylum that animated new government restrictions. Just
as Europe was being transformed by the collapse of the USSR, and the
European Community was looking to remove border controls among
member states, the single largest category of migrants to the UK became
asylum seekers. Asylum seekers had rights under law, that the British state
did not extend to immigrants in general, as a result of previous racist legisla-
tion. The Major government sought to change that state of affairs with the
Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act of 1993, by increasing the number of
asylum claims that could be rejected and reducing access to social security
and legal aid for claimants. This was followed by further legislation in 1996
limiting access to employment and public services for asylum seekers.
The goal was to restrict access to asylum without appearing to
breach the British state’s legal commitments under the 1951 Convention
relating to the Status of Refugees, and the strategy settled upon was to
transform asylum seekers into normal would-be immigrants, or “economic
migrants”. If a great number of asylum claims were “bogus”—the majority,
as then home secretary Michael Howard claimed in a 1992 debate on the
bill—then they could be treated as would-be immigrants and deported.
9

New Labour had opposed the law in opposition but proposed and imple-
mented even tougher measures in 1999.
Just as previous arrivals in the UK had been regarded as threats to
British identity and parasites who were liable to undermine the welfare
system, so asylum seekers were depicted as drains on housing and welfare
services. Rather than people in need, and perhaps with much to offer, they
were considered competitors for scarce resources and sources of anti-social
behaviour. These themes have been introduced by successive governments
but they were avidly adopted by the British press.
40
This had a predict-
able effect on public opinion. Polls showed that 67 percent of the public
believed that less than a quarter of asylum seekers were genuine refugees.
Research carried out at Swansea University found that most asylum seekers
are fleeing persecution from war, don’t specifically seek to come to Britain,
and have no knowledge of the welfare system before they arrive. The
9: Schuster,00,pp-4,47.
40: Greenslade,00.
:: Racism in Britain today
Refugee Council noted that while polling detected compassionate attitudes
to asylum seekers the public over-estimated the number of refugees living
in the UK by ten times. In one survey people thought that the UK had 23
percent of the world’s refugees, when the actual figure was closer to two
percent. And the majority of the public, almost two thirds, supported the
Tories’ 2005 proposal to withdraw from the 1951 Convention. A recent
poll found that two thirds of Britons believe the country has an “immigra-
tion problem” and 47 percent—twice the average across Europe—favour
discrimination against legal immigrants in terms of access to benefits.
4

The anti-immigrant racism directed towards Eastern Europeans,
especially Roma gypsies in the form of asylum-bashing has also fed into
hostility towards Polish workers. This found a small but dangerous foot-
hold in the organised labour movement during the Lindsey oil construction
workers’ dispute in early 2009 where a prominent slogan was “British
jobs for British workers”. However, it is in the context of a pronounced
Islamophobia that New Right arguments over immigration and integration
have been taken up by segments of the centre left.
Islamophobia and the revival of “integrationism”
Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim racism, represents a culmination of a trend
which developed throughout the 1990s when anti-Muslim sentiment was
commingled with a more diffuse anti-Asian racism. In northern cities such
as Oldham, Burnley, Bradford and Leeds institutional racism combined
with the wholesale destruction of local economies wrought by neoliber-
alism to produce severe racial tensions. Policies of de facto segregation in
housing allocation had been pursued by local councils, leaving Asian fami-
lies in poorer housing, cut off from white neighbourhoods.
Following the 1988 Education Reform Act, designed to foster a
homogenous white Christian culture in schools, a number of white parents
began to withdraw their children from schools with too many Asian stu-
dents. In some districts school catchment areas were almost exclusively
composed of one ethnic group. Unemployment had soared as a result of
the destruction of labour-intensive manufacturing industries. This affected
all workers but it did not affect them equally and about 54 percent of
Pakistani and Bangladeshi homes across the country survived on income
support. Racist gangs engaged in altercations with local Asian youths,
though the blame for ensuing violence was placed by both police and local
4: rrc !ca·,4January00;RefugeeCouncil,00;MORI,00;YouGov,00;
YouGov,00;Schuster,00,p;coc·1.c»,December009.
:¡ International Socialism
media on Asians. In February 2001 Oldham’s police chief Eric Hewitt
blamed most racist violence on Asian youths.
In the spring of 2001 riots broke out across northern towns after a
gang of 200 white racists attacked an Asian area of the Glodwick estate in
Oldham. When police clad in riot gear targeted Asians resisting this assault,
there was a prolonged stand-off between hundreds of youths and a hundred
police officers. A similar confrontation took place when a gang of racists
and football hooligans, including National Front members, Combat-18
fighters and—though they deny this—BNP supporters, attempted to march
on an Asian area in Burnley. When residents gathered to stop the march
from taking place, riot police advanced on them and another night of rioting
ensued. Similar events later took place in Bradford.
The official response, the Cantle report, blamed “self-segregation” by
the different communities and commended Oldham Council for its attempts
to “build community cohesion”. The report systematically refused to consider
issues of racial oppression, implying that the “communities” were symmet-
rical and that the problem was simply a failure to get along. Its suggested
solution was not to offer ways to combat racial oppression but to elaborate a
set of shared “values” that would centre on the meaning of British citizenship.
Significantly, it was interpreted by the government to mean that minority
communities in particular must get their act together. Home secretary David
Blunkett responded by proposing a “British test” for would-be immigrants,
and later told British Asians that they must speak English when in their homes
if they wanted to properly integrate. This anticipated the themes that would
later be adopted by those belabouring Muslims.
4
The rise of anti-Muslim racism has been documented in numerous
studies.
4
A 2004 study by the Commission on British Muslims and
Islamophobia revealed a variety of forms of discrimination, including the
absence of legal protection extended to other religious groups, employment
discrimination, media hostility to Muslims, and verbal and physical attacks
on Muslims. A recent British Social Attitudes survey found that 45 percent
believe that “religious diversity” is harming Britain. 55 percent would object
to a large mosque being built in their area compared to only 15 percent who
would object to a large church. Only a quarter entertain “positive” feel-
ings about Muslims while a third say they feel “cool” about them.
44
To a
4: Kundnani,007,pp40-4;rrc !ca·,December00;Kundnani,00;Cantle,
00;rrc !ca·,00;|»1c¡c»1c»|,September00;Lowles,HopeNotHatewebsite.
4: Anextraordinarilyusefulresourcefortrackinganti-Muslimracismistheregularly
updatedwebsiteIslamophobiaWatch:www.islamophobia-watch.com
44: uc.|, 1c|c¸·c¡|,9January00.
:o Racism in Britain today
considerable extent the media bears responsibility for this. In 2007 a study
of one week of national newspaper headlines found that 91 percent of those
dealing with Muslims were negative.
4

This is a trend that has become particularly marked as a result of the
war on Iraq. A detailed survey of the British print media (focusing on the
broadsheets and therefore omitting the more pungent output of tabloids such
as the Express and the Star) found that the single biggest category of Islam-
related stories in 2003 were those relating to terrorism, counter-terrorism
and “extremism”. The themes of such reporting were that British Muslims
posed a security threat to the UK, threatened mainstream “British values”,
and created tensions through their inherent cultural differences with other
Britons. The survey also noted that in the pre-9/11 period, though Muslims
were less likely to be discussed in the media because they lacked news clout,
the framework (of “fundamentalism”, criminality, Muslim politics, the
impact of Muslim schools, arranged marriages and—increasingly—“honour
killings”) in which Muslims were discussed tended to be in terms of their
non-proximity to mainstream culture. The construction put on such news
items overwhelmingly tended to depict Muslims as being inherently at odds
with a desirable norm.
4
This once again warns against reducing the hostility
toward Muslims to a product of the “war on terror”.
The current wave of Islamophobia is given an official mandate by poli-
cies pursued by governments across Europe on the pretext of seeking the
“integration” of spotlit minorities, particularly Muslims. A pattern of measures
such as language tests, loyalty tests, and even—in one German state—inquiries
as to private beliefs concerning such matters as sexuality, has emerged as part
of the state’s crackdown on politically troublesome immigrant populations.
New Labour launched a series of initiatives concerned with promoting the
integration of Muslim communities. Just as Asians were previously singled
out for lectures on what language to speak, who to marry and what values
they should have, there was an increasing government focus on the suppos-
edly disintegrative propensities of Muslims, particularly after 7 July 2005.
47
The precedent had been set by the government’s response to the
Macpherson report into police handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Home secretary David Blunkett protested against the idea of “institutional
racism” being a problem in Britain, and opposed the Macpherson report’s
proposals for anti-racism education on the grounds that Britons had too
4: PressAssociation,007.
4: Poole,00,pp9-0.
47: Fekete,00.
:; International Socialism
long downplayed their culture and “we need to reinforce pride in what
we have”. This agenda was carried forward in a 2002 White Paper which
averred that the influx of immigrants caused “tensions” that needed to be
overcome with “a shared sense of belonging and identity”, as opposed to
the old canons of cultural diversity. This could be achieved with citizenship
tests, language tests and ceremonial oaths to the queen.
4
There were many subsequent efforts to bolster the government’s
flagging popularity with clumsy appeals to nationalism. Gordon Brown
announced in January 2005 that it was time to stop apologising for the British
Empire: “We should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it”
he claimed. “And we should talk, and rightly so, about British values that are
enduring, because they stand for some of the greatest ideas in history: toler-
ance, liberty, civic duty, that grew in Britain and influenced the rest of the
world”.
49
This was a vision of “Britishness” that a large number of Britons
would find repellent: it could hardly be expected to be endorsed by descend-
ants of African-Caribbean, Pakistani, Bengali and Indian migrants.
After 7/7 the promotion of “British values”—always nebulously
defined—became a top priority. Blair made a point of insisting, contrary to
intelligence briefings and popular opinion, that the attacks on London had
nothing to do with the war in Iraq. They were, he said, motivated by an “evil
ideology”, a perversion of Islam that promoted “absurd” grievances. Muslims
were charged with the task of rooting out “this evil within the Muslim com-
munity”, and he sought to mobilise “moderate” Muslim leaders for that task.
The message strongly sent was that the only acceptable “moderate” Muslims,
as far as the government was concerned, were Muslims who didn’t have any-
thing critical to say about government policy. This point was emphasised by
the response to a letter from three Muslim MPs who criticised UK foreign
policy. The government said that it would give “ammunition to extremists”,
while the pro-Labour Daily Mirror squealed “Muslim Blackmail”.
0
Just as Muslims have been singled out for failing to properly inte-
grate, British Muslims have demonstrated more “patriotism” than their
non-Muslim counterparts in polls. For example, a Gallup poll conducted
in May 2009 found that 77 percent of Muslims said they “identified with
the UK”, compared to just 50 percent of the public at large—in fact, the
same pattern was repeated across Europe.

Such expressions of loyalty can
4: HomeOffice,00.
49: Kundnani,007,pp-;Brown,00.
0: rrc !ca·,July00;rrc !ca·,9July00;Kundnani,007,pp-;rrc
!ca·,August00;uc.|, M.··o·,August00.
: Dunt,009;ucc·c|·,7May009.
:8 Racism in Britain today
in part be interpreted as a defensive response to official opprobrium. And
the very fact that such questions are being asked of Muslims is itself indica-
tive of the atmosphere of the tribunal. But if one half of the public at large
is not terribly bothered about patriotism or loyalty, why should Muslims
be expected to be different? The demand for “integration” is a demand for
double standards and ultimately for political quiescence.
Liberals have all too often provided cover for this particular kind of
racism. After 2001 the centre-left began to espouse arguments about national
identity and immigration that mimicked those of the New Right. The New
Labour friendly commentator and editor of Prospect, David Goodhart, revived
Powellite arguments that the welfare state was under threat from excessive
diversity. He maintained that the pro-welfare consensus was under threat
because people would be less willing to pool resources to look after people
who were unlike them and whose values they did not share. The upshot
was that the government should not only seek to control borders but should
work harder to “integrate” minorities—thus he applauded David Blunkett’s
demand that Asian families should speak English in their own homes. He
expressed the fear that “we will wake up in 20 years and find we have become
a US-style society with sharp ethnic tension and a weak welfare state”.

Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality (now the
Equality and Human Rights Commission) initially denounced liberals of
Goodhart’s ilk as “liberal Powellites”, but later reversed his position and
advised that it was time to dump “multiculturalism” as it “suggests sepa-
rateness”. He said that it was necessary to fight for a “core of Britishness”
that would unite society, and was defended in this position by liberal
columnist Polly Toynbee. He warned that Britain was “sleepwalking to
segregation” with the development of “fully fledged ghettos”. In a detailed
response to these sorts of alarmist claims, a study by two experts based in
Manchester University found that the evidence does not support the claims
of disintegration along racial lines. For most young people from minori-
ties half or more of their friends are white, less than a fifth of minorities
born in Britain have friends only among their ethnic cohort (far fewer than
whites), and Asian Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus marry out of their own
group as frequently as white Christians.

As liberals have embraced such discourses, the right has felt more
confident about exploring them, as when Lord Carey announced that
: Goodhart,004;Casciani,004.
: Phillips,004;coc·1.c»,7April004;September00;FinneyandSimpson,
009,pp9-99.
:· International Socialism
migration threatened the “DNA” of the nation. That “DNA” consisted
of “liberal democratic values” which were upheld by “democratic insti-
tutions such as the monarchy, parliament, the judiciary, the Church of
England, our free press and the BBC”. He went on to say that “some
groups of migrants are ambivalent about or even hostile to such institu-
tions”. He also called for a campaign to prevent a projected 15 percent rise
in the UK population over the next 20 years. David Cameron backed the
call, maintaining that such levels of immigration would place a burden on
public services—Cameron’s core policy for the coming election is a rapid
and deep cut in public spending! Aside from the fact that immigrants can
work and produce taxes as well as consume public services, the majority
of future population increase will be due to births, not immigration. In
general, immigrants are largely skilled, qualified professionals, and generate
more in taxes than they consume in public services and benefits.
4
The structural logic of the liberal antagonism to Islam, moreover, is
almost identical to that of forces much further to the right. Essentially, it
goes like this: we do not oppose Islam only extremism. But, as it happens,
Islam itself is extreme therefore it is necessary to discipline Muslims and
to prevent Europe from becoming too populated with Muslims either by
birth or migration.
Sometimes liberal concerns about Muslims are ostensibly humani-
tarian, most obviously so when liberals rail against the oppression of
Muslim women. However, in subjecting the patriarchal aspects of Islam
to selective attention, Islamophobic liberals have actually colluded in dis-
courses that make life more difficult for Muslim women. Some have even
been willing to defend discriminatory employment practices. Consider
the case of Bushra Noah who was refused a job at a hairdressing salon
because she wore a hijab. She successfully pursued a law suit proving that
she was the victim of discrimination, a decision that led to murmurs of
discontent among some liberals.
The purported humanitarianism of liberals, concerned about the
condition of women who wear the hijab or niqab, is intermingled with
a moral panic about Muslims “not fitting in”. For liberals as much as for
reactionaries, the “veil” is a signifier of cultural separatism, of Islamist agi-
tation and ultimately of terrorist intent. Joan Smith, for example, leavens
her feminist objections to the niqab and the burqa with shrill denuncia-
tions of alleged separatism. For example, she maintains that “it’s hard to
4: 1.»c·,0September00;7January00;|.»c»..c| 1.»c·,0January00;coc·1.c»,
January00;FinneyandSimpson,009,pp-.
zc Racism in Britain today
think of another form of dress which is so highly politicised—or so rejec-
tionist of mainstream culture”.

However, what Smith means by “rejectionist of mainstream culture” is
made clear when she speaks of Islamists plotting terror while enjoying “some
success in persuading Muslim women to adopt the niqab and jilbab”. In a
paranoid leap of the imagination, Smith treats such garments as if they are an
extension of an “Islamist” agenda to subvert liberal democracy.

Again this
is a continental trend. The feminist writer Joan Wallach Scott has described
how in France the “veil” is depicted as an “enemy flag” in the Republic.
7

The Sarkozy administration’s attempts to ban the burqa bear this out.
Construing Islam as an “enemy” within segues into a dangerous
argument that Muslims are “colonising” Europe through sheer force
of numbers. Lord Pearson, the leader of the UK Independence Party
(UKIP), claims that on the basis of present Muslim birth-rates Britain will
have lost the ability to determine its “own” system of government within
ten or 20 years.

Niall Ferguson has spoken of the “subtle Muslim colo-
nisation of Europe’s cities”.
9
Across the continent such claims consistently inform right wing
hostility to Muslims. For example, the Lega Nord (Northern League) in
Italy ran an advertising campaign depicting the effects of “immigration”
on Native Americans—“Now they live in reservations”, the posters said.
0

The metaphor of colonisation was dramatically pictorialised during the
successful Swiss campaign for a ban on the construction of minarets, when
its campaign posters depicted a Swiss flag covered from corner to corner
with ominous black minarets. In the foreground was a “veiled” Muslim
woman, again depicted in black.
Taking this language to its demagogic extreme, the BNP asserts that
“Islamic colonisation” in the UK amounts to a “bloodless genocide”.

The language of colonisation implies that the appropriate response is a
“national liberation” struggle. While such martial connotations would not
be welcomed by liberal Islamophobes, this is the message taken to heart
by would-be far-right bombers. Martin Gilleard, who manufactured nail
bombs for the purposes of such a struggle, said, “Be under no illusion, we
: Smith,00.
: Smith,007.
7: Scott,007.
: Pearson,009.
9: Ferguson,004.
0: Israely,009.
: BNP,009.
z: International Socialism
are at war. And it is a war we are losing badly... I am so sick and tired of
hearing nationalists talk of killing Muslims, of blowing up mosques, of
fighting back...the time has come to stop the talk and start to act”.

A founder of the English Defence League (EDL) feels much the same
way. Commenting on the daubing of inflammatory graffiti on an Indian res-
taurant, he claimed, “I personally look forward to the day that we are posting
news of acts of war against the Moslem community and not just graffiti”.

This interface between the authoritarian policies of European states,
media propaganda and the racist priorities of the far right has contributed
to the growing profile of xenophobic and outright fascist parties across the
continent. In Italy the Lega Nord shares power in a hard-right coalition. In
Belgium the far-right Vlaams Belang is the single largest party. In Denmark
the Danish People’s Party is the third largest party and governs in coalition
with the centre-right Conservative People’s Party. In Holland the second
largest party is Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party. And in Britain we face the
twin threats of an electoral surge by the BNP and ugly manifestations of
street violence by various far-right activists and racist hooligans under the
rubric of the EDL.
The far right
The far right in Britain is currently enjoying its best election results since
the Second World War. The BNP is outstripping the best results obtained
by the National Front during its heyday in the mid-1970s. In the 2001
general election the party gained a total of 47,129 votes, largely based on
localised pockets of strength in the north east following race riots. In the
2005 general election this had increased to 192,746. In the 2008 London
Assembly elections the party gained a seat on the assembly for the first time
with 130,714 votes. And in the 2009 European Parliament elections the
BNP gained two MEPs and a total of 943,598 votes nationwide. From the
start to the end of the last decade, in other words, the BNP had increased
its total vote by over 2000 percent to almost a million. The party’s mem-
bership in 2008 stood at more than 10,000.
4
This performance is even
more shocking in the light of the schismatic nature of far-right politics,
and the splits that have beset the BNP itself in recent years.
There has been a simplistic tendency to reduce BNP support to the
disaffected “white working class”, comprising former Labour supporters
: Githens-MazerandLambert,00.
: Ray,007.“Moslem”istodaygenerallyconsideredaperjorativespellingof“Muslim”.
4: coc·1.c»,November00.
zz Racism in Britain today
angered by the party’s allegedly lenient stance on immigration. The con-
clusion drawn by some Labour ministers is that the party should abandon
“politically correct” equal rights legislation and appeal to white workers on
the basis of pandering to anti-immigration sentiment.

One study, based on a
composite of several polls, would appear to give some weight to this picture.
It identifies typical BNP supporters as middle aged white males working in
skilled manufacturing roles. They are not necessarily the poorest workers but
they are typically the most aggrieved. In contrast to NF supporters in the
1970s, they are older, less sympathetic to the Conservative Party and much
angrier about the state of society. They share significant demographic quali-
ties with Labour supporters and “52 of the 58 council seats won by the BNP
since 2005 have come at the expense of Labour incumbents”.

Other research, however, casts a different light on this. First of
all there is the Democratic Audit study from 2004 which found that the
majority of BNP voters were ex-Tories rather than former Labour sup-
porters. “In fact the BNP gains most from the Conservatives and least
from Labour”, it said. That survey also suggested a more complicated story
with respect to the class background of fascist voters, a disproportionate
number of whom were “lower middle class”.
7
Another survey carried out
by YouGov last year was large enough to include a representative sample
of BNP voters. It confirmed that the BNP had made substantial inroads
into the working class but still found that their voters tended to have voted
Conservative in the past rather than Labour.

Indeed, the traditional base
: AndyBurnhamandMargaretHodgehavebothmadeargumentsalongtheselines.
BurnhamrespondedtoBNPgainsin009byarguingthat“clearlythereareconcerns
aboutimmigration.Thegovernmenthasgottorespondtothoseconcerns...We’vegotto
understandandconnectwithpeopleastowhytheyvotedBNPandneverjustdismisswhy
they’vedonethat.”QuotedinBhattacharyya,009c.Hodgedramaticallyraisedtheprofile
oftheBNPbysuggestingthatrulesfortheallocationofsocialhousingshouldbechanged
toovercomean“essentialunfairness”favouringimmigrants,otherwisetheBNPwouldgain
votes—rrc !ca·,May007.Similarly,agovernmentministerrespondedtoNewLabour’s
defeatinthe00Henleyby-electionbyfumingaboutHarrietHarman’sproposedequalities
bill:“Wehave,asCreweproved,aproblemwiththewhiteworkingclassmalevote.Sowhat
doesHarrietdoonpollingday?Announcethatwewillbringinlawstodiscriminateagainst
them.Thatisclearlynotveryhelpful”—uc.|, 1c|c¸·c¡|,7June00.
: Ford&Goodman,00.
7: Animportantcaveataboutthesefindingsisthatthereport’sauthorsrelyon“socialclass”
breakdownsinwhichCandCvotersareclassifiedas“lowermiddleclass”.Thismeans
thattheyincludedskilledmanualworkersandclericalworkersamongthe“lowermiddle
class”alongsidesupervisors,juniormanagers,smallbusinessmen,andprofessionals.John,
Margetts,RowlandandWeir,004.
: YouGov,009.
z¸ International Socialism
of the Labour Party, the organised labour movement, is the most resistant
of all social groups to the BNP’s ideas.
9
Another cliché is that BNP voters are not expressing racism so much
as dissatisfaction with levels of immigration, or an inchoate rage about their
diminishing economic prospects. Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, alleges
that “most” BNP voters are “not racists”.
70
In fact, the YouGov survey found
that the majority of BNP voters, some 72 percent, support the party’s platform
of “voluntary” repatriation, a key step in their programme for an “all-white
Britain”. 94 percent want all immigration stopped and 58 percent attribute
most crime to immigrants. Only 35 percent of BNP voters agree that non-
white British citizens who were born in this country are just as “British” as
their white counterparts. This is a layer of people who don’t want to share a
country with black or Asian people. A sizeable number of them are also pre-
pared to endorse explicitly punitive measures against non-white Britons, as
49 percent want employers to discriminate on the grounds of race.
BNP voters are also disproportionately inclined to believe in anti-
Semitic conspiracy theories, inasmuch as 9 percent believe that there is
an international conspiracy led by Jews and communists to undermine
Christian values in Western countries. A further 24 percent believe that
such a conspiracy exists but that it is “exaggerated”. These are not merely
hardcore racist ideas. They are even more extreme than the BNP are pre-
pared to appear in public.
7

BNP voters also tend to express a spurious victimology in which
white people are the “real” victims of racism, corroborated by the media
and politicians who hypocritically vent about the “white working class”.
The Yougov poll found that 77 percent of BNP voters believe that white
people are unfairly discriminated against. 70 percent believe that Muslims
enjoy unfair advantages and 62 percent believe that non-white people in
general are given undue favour. But in this as in other respects the BNP is
tapping into much wider layers of racism. Across the public in general the
single largest sector of opinion, 40 percent believe that white people are
the victims of discrimination, 39 percent believe that Muslims are unfairly
advantaged and 36 percent believe that non-white people in general receive
unfair benefits. 44 percent believe that Islam, even in its milder forms, is a
“serious danger” to “Western civilisation”. 61 percent of the public share
9: John,Margetts,RowlandandWeir,004.
70: uc.|, Mc.|,February007.
7: YouGov,009;BNPleaderNickGriffinhassoughtpubliclytodistancethepartyfrom
itsdeep-seatedattachmenttoanti-Semiticconspiracytheoriesdespitehisownpreviously
volubleHolocaustdenial—coc·1.c»,0April00.
z: Racism in Britain today
the view that all immigration to the UK should be stopped. More than a
quarter favour the government “encouraging” “immigrants and their fami-
lies” to leave the UK even if they were born here. Predictably, it is the
most right wing voters that entertain these views but they are also shared
by a substantial number of Labour supporters. Note the overlap between
the racist resentment of Muslims and the same resentment towards other
minorities. These are not separate but parallel phenomena.
7
The BNP’s approach to would-be voters has been decisively shaped
by the new international political climate forged by the “war on terror”.
In this respect, it mimics xenophobic and fascist parties across Europe
by redirecting its fire onto Muslims, tailoring its message to avoid public
expressions of anti-Semitism and even for the first time expressing support
for the state of Israel. The first sign of the latter change came in 2006 when
Lee Barnes, the BNP’s legal officer, outlined the position with respect to
Israel’s invasion of Lebanon: “I support Israel 100 percent in their dispute
with Hezbollah... I hope they wipe Hezbollah off the Lebanese map and
bomb them until they leave large greasy craters in the cities where their
Islamic extremist cantons of terror once stood.”
The party declared itself “prudently” on Israel’s side, for reasons of
“national interest”: Israel was part of a “Western, if not European” civi-
lisation whose opponents were “trying to conquer the world and subject
it to their religion”. An article on the BNP’s website explained that the
party had cast off “the leg-irons of conspiracy theories and the thinly veiled
anti-Semitism which has held this party back for two decades”. BNP leader
Nick Griffin explained the new strategy berating those who wished to con-
tinue to focus on Jews by saying, “We should be positioning ourselves to
take advantage for our own political ends of the growing wave of public
hostility to Islam currently being whipped up by the mass media”.
7
However, this has not translated into a pro-war stance in the major
theatres of the “war on terror”, nor has it necessarily involved explicitly
cheerleading Israeli aggression. The BNP has opposed the wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq, claiming to be the “only serious party calling for immediate with-
drawal from Afghanistan”. It has, however, tapped into pro-troops sentiment
by standing in wards where soldiers have died, and Griffin has even made
an appearance at Wootton Bassett where the coffins of deceased soldiers are
routinely paraded. On Operation Cast Lead, Nick Griffin explained to sup-
porters that though it was in the general interest of Britain for Israel to defeat
7: YouGov,009.
7: Mo·».»¸ ¨|c·,0September00.
z¡ International Socialism
its opponents, the BNP took no view on Israel’s assault on Gaza because it
was none of Britain’s business how the two sides dealt with one another. By
saying that the troops should be brought home to police Britain’s borders
the BNP taps into a right wing version of anti-war feeling, the gist of which
is that Britain should have nothing to do with Muslims either at home or
abroad. Obviously this does not represent a conversion to anti-imperi-
alism. The BNP has roots in a post-war organisation called the League of
Empire Loyalists, and its British Pride website celebrates the British Empire as
a “noble” and “benevolent” venture. What it signifies is, firstly, the BNP’s
hostility to the United States and, secondly, its adaptation to the shift from
explicitly pro-colonial racism to a more conservative white nationalism. The
claim that Muslim “colonists” are carrying out a “bloodless genocide” in
Britain reflects an agenda of militarising British society in quite a different
way to that intended by the government.
74
In order to “take advantage” of “public hostility to Islam” being
“whipped up by the mass media”, a division of labour has come about
on the far right. Lee Barnes explained: “The BNP have no interest in
seeking to return to street activism so the way is clear for the NF to
become the primary organisation in the UK that organises and deploys
those nationalists who are not interested in political electioneering but in
street activism.” Tom Linden, a National Front organiser, made the same
point in strikingly similar language. The formation of the English Defence
League, avowedly in response to “Islamic extremism”, represents some-
thing of an opportunity along these lines. The EDL and the BNP formally
maintain an organisational distance. Indeed, each is operatically appalled at
the very idea that it would have anything to do with the other. The EDL
denies that it is racist like the BNP, and the BNP has gone so far as to
accuse the EDL of being a “Zionist false flag” operation.
The truth is that the two organisations are connected in a number
of ways. Chris Renton, a key EDL organiser, is a known BNP activist.
Davy Cooling, a member of the BNP, is also active in the thuggish outfit
“Men in Gear” and a key activist in the EDL’s Luton “division”. Sean
Corrigan, who runs the EDL’s online forum, is a BNP activist from St
Albans. Several BNP members have been spotted at EDL protests. The
EDL also accepts Nazis from other backgrounds such as the British
Freedom Movement and is open about the fact that violent Combat 18
members attend its protests. One of its key funders and strategists is a
74: Griffin,009;c|c»»c| : !ca·,November009;|»1c¡c»1c»|,9March00;1.»c·,0
November009;r·.|.·| r·.1c,00.
zo Racism in Britain today
far-right businessman named Alan Lake, who has previously worked with
the fascist Swedish Democrats.
7
What appears to be happening is that the organisational and “intel-
lectual” spine of the organisation is being supplied by organised Nazis while
the foot-soldiers are recruited from among football casuals and other violent
right wing, but non-Nazi, groups. This is not the first time that such a
tactic has been pursued. The National Front used to infiltrate and mobilise
skinhead and football hooligan groups during the 1970s in order to attack
the left and ethnic minorities. It is also analogous to the general tendency
by fascist organisations to use paramilitaries, comprising many who are not
ideologically committed fascists, both as weapons against opponents and
as socialising institutions that can help produce a disciplined fascist cadre.
7

This is one reason why it is a mistake to simply dismiss the EDL as thugs
who can be dealt with by police as a public order issue.
Conclusion
The swing, within a decade, from post Lawrence Inquiry optimism to
the current abysmal state of affairs was not inevitable. To a consider-
able extent racism has been driven by policy and encouraged by media
reaction. Contrary to the ahistorical analyses of racism that see it as an
instinctive response to “otherness”—which by naturalising racism, under-
mines criticism of it—racialisation is a political act, and racism a structure
of political oppression. In this sense the revival of Powellite racism,
the “new racism”, is a result of various government strategies for man-
aging troublesome minorities, making immigration work to the benefit
of capital accumulation, and depoliticising anti-racism so that it can be
accommodated to the neoliberal settlement.
But it would be a mistake to see this as a purely top-down process.
Racist ideas have caught on because they in some sense explain people’s
experiences of the world, and they are particularly popular among those
for whom the world is structured by competition for scarce resources.
It is these groups of naturally right wing voters who gravitate toward
UKIP and the BNP. The “war on terror” has helped radicalise these ideas
and give them a poisonous edge, but it didn’t create them, and it isn’t
the principal source of them. To combat racism it is necessary not only
7: Barnes,009;Linden,NationalFrontwebsite;Lowles,¨cc·.||.¸||,009;Cressy,Hope
NotHatewebsite;1|.· |· |c».c·|.·c,0January00;Tweedie,009.
7: Thurlow,99,pp-;Dunning,Murphy&Williams,9,pp-;Mann,
004,pp-9.
z; International Socialism
to mobilise the anti-war and anti-racist majority and fight the delirious
propaganda of the right wing press, but also to reassert the basic class
antagonism that structures society and the necessity for working class unity
in the face of that. This becomes an altogether more urgent task as the
deepest recession since the 1920s throws millions out of work, depresses
incomes, and threatens to eviscerate public services and welfare.
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