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Writers Against Racism's Gary Younge on the 'rise' of UKIP and the English Defence League


In the second instalment of our interview with Gary Younge, he discusses the factors surrounding UKIP’s recent electoral success and the rise of social far right movements like the English Defence League.

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“Most European countries have something like that, Front National in France, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Progress party in Norway, arguably the Northern League and Berlusconi in Italy, the Freedom Party in Austria; they’re all I think, kind of reactionary responses to neo-liberal globalisation."
- Gary Younge, Writers Against Racism

 
Gary Younge is an author, broadcaster and award-winning columnist for The Guardian, based in Chicago. He also writes a monthly column, Beneath the Radar, for the Nation magazine and is the Alfred Knobler Fellow for The Nation Institute. He has written three books, "Who Are We - And Should it Matter in the 21st Century?", "Stranger in a Strange Land: Travels in the Disunited States" and "No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey Through the Deep South".
 
In the second instalment of our interview with Gary Younge, he discusses the factors surrounding UKIP’s recent electoral success and the rise of social far right movements like the English Defence League. 
 
Do you think the recent electoral success of UKIP, has been a direct consequence of that discourse (‘Immigration is fine, it’s the immigrants that are always the problem’)  in Britain?
 
“I think there is a challenge that we have on the left with organisations like UKIP, which is that because of neo-liberal globalisation, people feel very insecure. They are besieged from the outside and arguably, from within. They see jobs being exported, they see things being outsourced, our jobs and wages have become deflated, jobs have become temporary rather than permanent, pensions aren’t what they used to be, the welfare state isn’t what it used to be. And there are real questions around democracy and sovereignty, particularly with regard to the European Union and the Euro. We see that if we look at what’s going on in Greece or Portugal or Ireland where people feel they are losing control of the democratic spaces and that they aren’t in a position where they can shape the politics of their nation states.
 
“Then you have two options really, one is to look outward and have solidarity with other people and groups and to understand this as a global issue, much easier and more ineffective also, is to retreat into a mythological sense of your national identity. Instead of talking about sovereignty and democracy to talk about a nation and patriotism and that’s I think where parties like UKIP come from. 
 
“Most European countries have something like that, Front National in France, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Progress party in Norway, arguably the Northern League and Berlusconi in Italy, the Freedom Party in Austria; they’re all I think, kind of reactionary responses to neo-liberal globalisation.
 
“Once again they speak to real concerns, real insecurities, real fragility particularly among the white working class and lower middle class, but they don’t actually have a meaningful response to them. It’s not as though if you attack Gypsies in Hungary your life gets better! But you can’t get hold of the multi-nationals, the IMF, the European Central Bank, the corporations, you can’t get hold of them but you can see somebody, you can visibly see members of the Roma community or someone wearing a hijab and so those people become the flashpoints for these uncertainties. 
 
“That’s why I found ‘Occupy Wallstreet’ for example and its offshoots so encouraging, because it shifted the focus and discussion to something else. ‘Look, let’s not blame the poor, let’s not have a war against the poor, let’s look at who actually created the situation that we’re in, the multi-nationals, the IMF and so on’. And that kind of managed for a while to shift the conversation. At this moment I think it’s very important for the left to take the underlying concerns seriously, even as we are completely unequivocal in our opposition to and attacks on the way that those concerns have been filtered and expressed. 
 
“The other thing I guess I would say if you look at from afar what’s going on in England but also in other countries, that there are usually a range of ways of expressing this reactionary response, so you have UKIP and then you have something like the EDL which is a more violent, less respectable expression of a set of similar concerns. Sometimes those things come together in one thing like Golden Dawn in Greece and sometimes they’re separate in their formation and their organisation, but they speak to similar groups of people in similar ways about similar things.”
 
What do you think about the rise of the EDL. Do you think there are any links with the Tea Party Movement and ‘birther’ theorists?
 
“Not formal links, no. There may be, but I’m not sure how useful they would be. But I certainly think ideologically there are links. Of course it’s very troubling and I feel like just as there is a homelessness to the left, that moves from Occupy Wallstreet to something else, to something else, there is a homelessness on the far-right. I’m not saying the left and the far-right are the same thing. I’m saying in this particular instance there are similarities. They move. It’s been the NF, then BNP who have now to some extent been eclipsed by the EDL. These organisations are kind of generally fractious and volatile, so I don’t know how long specifically the EDL will be around, but I do know that something like the EDL has been around for a long time and will continue to be.
 
“One of my main concerns really with organisations like that, is the manner in which mainstream parties seek to marginalise the organisations while adopting their rhetoric and their strategies, not their immediate street strategies. When the BNP emerged as a viable electoral force, the argument within Labour was to isolate the BNP but to take on their rhetoric, to talk about niqabs and hijabs and adopt that notion of ‘a threat from within’. And so there is a kind of a mainstreaming of that kind of ideology, which to me is far more worrying because it’s a tougher stain to remove that the organisation itself.”


 
Gary Younge - Writers Against Racism biography



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