Yesterday Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, was released on bail while waiting for retrial on his contempt of court charges. This was greeted with jubiliation from his supporters, almost as if he had been proven innocent in some way.
There followed, this morning, interviews with two of the far right's commentariat on the BBC.
On Radio 4's Today programme there was Raheem Kassam - former editor in chief of Breitbart News London, former advisor to Nigel Farage when he led UKIP, a contester for UKIP's leadership in 2016 (he withdrew) and supporter of Yaxley-Lennon to the extent that he has been over in America raising money for Yaxley-Lennon's cause.
Whilst on Radio 5 there was Ezra Levant - founder and main contributor of The Rebel Media website and YouTube channel. The Rebel Media is a Canadian far right media platform for anti-Muslim ideology.
This is following hard on the heels of Steve Bannon being interviewed on Nigel Farage's LBC show, saying off air that Yaxley-Lennon (Robinson) was:
the f—ing backbone of this country. You lose guys like Tommy Robinson, you’re not going to have a country.”
Bannon, founder of Breitbart News (are you joining all the dots yet?) is one of the most vile, right wing fascists to hit our airwaves. He was also given airtime on Good Morning Britain on 13th July - being toadied to by Piers Morgan, as is his wont with the far right, which could be seen in his toadying over Trump. No shouting over Bannon as he does over other, usually more left wing, guests.
So, our airwaves, printed media, online media have been saturated with the far right lately. It's like there have been no lessons learned from Nigel Farage's media saturation, which involved 32 appearances on Question Time alone before we take into account any other show. When Nigel Farage first hit the media, he was treated with scorn and derision. David Cameron tried to brush UKIP off, calling them a bunch of
'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists''
Boris Johnson said in May 2014 about the EU referendum promised by Cameron and the rise of UKIP threatening the Tory vote:
and so I say to all those toying with another self-styled Euro-sceptic party, whose MEPs notoriously slumber and snore through Strasbourg debates: You kip if you want to – the Tories are giving us the first chance to vote on Europe in my adult lifetime"
He also ended that article with:
it would be an utter disaster if we were to miss this chance by inadvertently ushering Miliband into power
I think I know what "disaster" is preferable right now.
Undoubtedly, the rise in media coverage of Farage and his party played it's part in Brexit and the rise in racism in this country. The more he was on TV, the more certain people said to themselves, "He's only saying what we're all thinking" so they were emboldened to say it themselves. Racism has increased, notably Islamaphobia although racism across the board. Some people no longer feel as if they can't say racist things any more and that it's absolutely fine to perform hate crimes such as pulling off Muslim women's hijabs.
Today Helen Dale tweeted
However, she is wrong, as these tweets counter:
As well as his party polling "the highest general election vote of any UK far-right party", Griffin himself won the most votes he'd ever had in a general election, 6,620, contesting Margaret Hodge's seat in Barking.
So Helen Dale, you are sadly wrong and if the media in this country doesn't learn from the vast amounts of historical evidence, racism and fascism in this country will continue to be legitimised in the eyes of Yaxley-Lennon and his supporters and will continue to rise. The media are currently enablers and will yet end up with blood on their hands.
There's a huge debate in the Labour Party right now about antisemitism (again, just as Labour are ahead in the polls funnily enough). The current furore is over the acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Labour have accepted the definition but changed the working examples so there is scope for political debate about Israel. You can read more about it here.
According to Jennie Formby, General Secretary of the Labour Party, the NEC Code takes the IHRA Working Definition and supplements it “with additional examples and guidance”, thus creating “the most thorough and expansive Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism introduced by any political party in the UK”. Similarly, Jon Lansman, a fellow member of the NEC, calls the Code “the new gold standard” for political parties, “stronger than anything of its kind adopted by any political party in this country”. The Code, he says, “fully adopts the IHRA definition, and covers the same ground as the IHRA examples” but goes further, making it more workable. That is the view from the inside."
The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) were unhappy with this and on Monday 16th July passed a motion calling on the National Executive Committee (NEC) to drop the code of conduct proposals. On Tuesday 17th July, the NEC refused to allow a vote on the proposals instead deciding to consult more Jewish groups over the Summer. A Labour spokesperson said:
“The NEC upheld the adoption of the code of conduct on antisemitism, but in recognition of the serious concerns expressed, agreed to reopen the development of the code, in consultation with Jewish community organisations and groups, in order to better reflect their views.”
However, Margaret Hodge, a member of the pro-Israel / generally anti-Corbyn Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), was seemingly incensed by this. According to witnesses she approached Jeremy Corbyn after the Trade Bill votes on Tuesday evening and said to him:
You're a fucking anti-Semite and a racist. You don't want people like me in the party."
To which Corbyn is reported to have replied calmly:
I’m sorry you feel like that.”
Corbyn's office has since said that action will be taken.
Twitter exploded, with certain justification. The PLP are quick to jump on abuse from alleged Corbyn supporters and refer to it time and again in the media, yet here is a member of the PLP verbally abusing the leader of the party. When it comes to the language she used, it is interesting to compare it to when Catherine Starr applied to join the Labour Party to vote in the 2016 leadership contest. Her application was famously rejected because of a post on Facebook which said:
I fucking love the Foo Fighters"
Therefore, Corbyn supporters were understandably irate about Hodge's verbal abuse. The whole situation stank of rank hypocrisy. From the abuse angle and from the swearing angle.
The next day's response of the right wing of the PLP, including many members of LFI, was a co-ordinated tweet-a-thon about how Margaret Hodge saved her constituency, Barking, from the BNP.
So... Did Margaret Hodge actually save Barking from the British National Party (BNP)? In 2006 the BNP won 11 of the 13 seats it contested in local elections, after which there were calls for Hodge to be deselected and by 2010 had they had 12 seats. In 2007 Hodge assimilated the rhetoric of the BNP around the housing issue in particular, in much the same way as the Tories have assimilated the rhetoric of UKIP to hoover up their support since Brexit. She called for social housing policy to take account of length of residence, citizenship and national insurance contributions.
We should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants"
This garnered praise from BNP councillor, Richard Barnbrook:
I am indebted to you for having the gumption to tell the truth about housing allocation"
and he reportedly wanted to deliver flowers to her for supporting BNP policy.
The Labour Party however, were horrified:
There is no evidence whatsoever that immigrants are causing a problem with social housing. My problem with that is that's the kind of language of the BNP and it's grist to the mill of the BNP."
Housing is allocated according to need and it is disingenuous for Margaret Hodge to suggest otherwise. The problem is lack of housing supply and it's a shame she wasn't so vocal in the campaign for the building of more council housing"
It is not fair for her to play one group of people off against another. Margaret Hodge is missing the point. The problem is clear, there are not enough council houses to meet the demand."
In 2010 Nick Griffin, the BNP leader himself, contested the Barking seat and came third with 6,620 votes compared to Hodge's 24,628. Did she see him off? Or did she attract enough of his voters by pandering to BNP rhetoric? Or perhaps credit should instead be given to the multicultural voters of Barking, where turn out was high, thanks to Labour campaigners, for not voting for Griffin. Indeed, Griffin himself blamed the high turnout for placing him at a disadvantage and for leading to all 12 council seats being lost.
As for Liz Kendall's tweet saying Hodge has "fought tax dodgers" and for women's rights, it has perhaps slipped her memory that in 2013 the Telegraph headline was:
and if you were to dig further back to her time as leader of Islington Council:
We also shouldn't forget she has form for haranguing Corbyn - from the being one of the instigators in the letter of no confidence in 2016 to this in Islington in 1995:
Imagine disliking someone so intensely for so long then they become leader of your party. How that must stick in her gullet. However, it's no excuse for the hypocritical verbal abuse which should now be dealt with - with the severity that Labour Party members using similar language, in abusive and non abusive situations, have been dealt.