In my most recent articles for Souciant Magazine I've been focusing on the Far-Right in the UK, it's history and it's relationship with the concept of whiteness. In the article 'Keeping Britain White' I take Powell's notorious speeches as my jumping off point. It was the perfect starting-point as the extent to which Powell tapped into the race-consciousness of white people in England cannot be exaggerated. There's a reason Powell's memory lives to this day and his political career has been eclipsed by the speeches he gave in '68. The spirit of Powell still captivates many to this day.
It was in 1968 that the Conservative politician Enoch Powell gave his notorious speech, in which he claimed that “in fifteen to twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”. He invoked the language of ‘excreta’ and ‘wide-grinning picaninnies’ in relation to Afro-Caribbean immigrants.
Powell imbued this inflammatory portrayal with a classicist reference to the poet Virgil: “as I look ahead I am filled with foreboding like the Roman I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”
Immediately the speech became notorious and has since remained an artefact in the collective imagination of British life. Every so often there is an eruption of racial strife and the phrase ‘Enoch was right’ is bandied about. Yet the speech had not emerged from a clear sky. In the mid-1960s, Powell had penned articles against Indian men sporting turbans and beards at work. There had been serious racial tensions in the past. The Notting Hill riots of 1958 were followed by calls for the doors to ‘coloured’ immigration to be shut. The Far-Right participated in these riots and sought to propel themselves further on the basis of racial strife.
If you look back at old newsreels from forty to fifty years ago you can see people saying things like “We want to keep Britain white”. It was a slogan for far-right organisations like the White Defence League, the National Front, and later, the BNP. In the aftermath of Powell’s speech people would march under banners and placards that displayed the same or similar messages. He had tapped into the racial consciousness of the white working-class. As a prominent right-wing politician Powell had given credence to sentiments widely held in the country. He had gone out on a limb in a bid to unseat his rival Ted Heath as leader of the Conservative Party.
I go on to go over the racial oppression of the Irish by the British in order to frame our common assumptions about race. I refer to the accounts of racist signs, such as "No coloured, or Irish", and the details of British colonial rule in Ireland. Relying on the work of Noel Ignatiev and Ted Allen I present how the Irish were not considered 'white' until the late nineteenth century. In fact, in a conversation I had with Carl Freedman, on this matter, I was told that it was only in certain parts of the US. So there was asymmetry in that regard. The Irish may have found headway on the East Coast, but not necessarily across the American continent. It is true that the KKK was partly a successor to earlier nativist movements looking to restrict the rights of Irish Catholics.
My comments on how this can be did not satisfy some. As I had explained that the 'white race' is not so much a biological phenomenon as it is a socially constructed formation this was bound to be the case. It was thought I was saying that there is no biological basis or differences whatsoever. This is not so, there are genetic gaps and clusters of ancestry. However, 'race' is a far too crude a concept as by the one-drop rule the entirety of the white American population in the Southern States would have been deemed 'black'. South African Apartheid had the same trouble in defining what constitutes 'coloured', 'black', 'Indian', and 'white'. The fact that the Irish were not considered 'white' by the English (and were compared to apes by the popular press) while the Japanese were categorised as 'white' in South Africa tells us a lot about how 'race' really works.
In the next piece I wrote 'Britain Pushes Right' I looked at Britain First and tried to contextualise it within the history of the Far-Right. History reveals the extent to which we take the unoriginal for the original. The Far-Right has a very limited playbook, though we underestimate them at our peril, we have to make sure our response is proportionate to the threat we face. A great article on the Britain First rabble has been produced by Thomas G Clark. Here you can see my own take on the Golding-Dowson double-act.
At the helm we find a double-act Paul Golding and Jim Dowson. Golding leads the Christian patrols, which consists of a campaign of intimidation against the Asian British community. He was a BNP councillor from 2009 to 2011 and left amidst the infighting around Nick Griffin. Dowson is a much more mercurial figure. He ran the BNP call centre in Northern Ireland and pumped £4 million into the Party’s coffers to provide fuel for a public relations campaign. As he was in the Six Counties, Dowson found natural allies in the Ulster Loyalist movement, and has been organising Union flag protests. Before all of this, the Scottish friend of British nationalism was a Calvinist minister and a pro-life campaigner, with ties to the American Religious Right.
Never a member of the BNP, Dowson now says he would prefer to see UKIP go from strength to strength. He has been explicit that the aim of providing support to the BNP was to “push everyone over to the right” and that has resulted in the “success” of UKIP. As Britain First put up candidates for the EU elections of 2014, the group recommended to its supporters to vote for UKIP, or the English Democrats, in areas where they could not put up a candidate. The only other recommendation was to not vote British National Party. Dowson has said that he foresees a Holy War, and that he agrees with Islamists who call it jihad. He only stipulates that it’s really a crusade.It’s not the first time that the British far right has moved to appropriate religious sensibilities. It’s not surprising, as fascism is a ‘scavenger ideology’, to quote Robert Paxton, which constitutes itself by plucking up whatever may propel it forward. After the National Front was humiliated at the ballot box in 1979, its members moved on to experiment with a kind of fascist Christian mysticism. This was led by Derek Holland, a devout Catholic, who declared himself a ‘political soldier’, advocating an austere and disciplined life committed to the purity of nationalist ideals. The drift into esotericism was no doubt furthered by the infighting which ultimately led to the Front splitting up.The ‘crusade’ Dowson envisions has international dimensions. The Christian infused nationalism has obvious allies in those parts of the world where religion still plays a serious role as an identity-marker in political conflicts. On the Britain First Facebook page, you can find pictures which demonise Bosnian Muslims, while others celebrate the Lebanese Phalange. No doubt this is to align Britain First with Serbian ultra-nationalists and a Maronite Christian organisation founded out of admiration for Adolf Hitler. This is just what you can find out if you canvas their Facebook page with scrutiny in one’s eyes. As we have already seen this wouldn’t be the first time that the far right has forged unexpected alliances.
The article is now dangling on reddit for the usual feeding frenzy. Good luck to the mob, I say.