By Dave Green
ON 23 November 2018, UKIP leader Gerard Batten appointed Tommy Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – as his personal advisor. Nigel Farage resigned in protest, subsequently endorsing the Brexit Party – despite the fact that its former leader Catherine Blaiklock had herself endorsed Robinson’s views, retweeting seven of his Twitter posts and declaring that “Islam = submission – mostly to raping men”.
Tommy Robinson rose to prominence as the demagogic leader of the English Defence League, a far right street organisation known for its violence and harassment of marginalised groups. Its supporters have plotted to bomb mosques and have links to the Norwegian far right terrorist Anders Breivik.
Prior to this, Robinson was a member of the fascist, white supremacist, antisemitic and Islamophobic British National Party (BNP), and in 2012 served as vice-chairman of the British Freedom Party, one of the BNP’s offshoots.
Like Farage, Robinson brands himself as an “ordinary bloke”, despite sitting on millions of pounds donated by international capitalist financiers and like-minded fascist sympathisers. During his imprisonment for contempt of court in 2018 right wing politicians rallied to his defence, including former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom Geert Wilders. Robinson has become a glorified “British icon” to the American alt-right.
More recently, Robinson stood as a candidate in the European parliament elections for the North West England constituency. Robinson’s campaign was a barefaced attempt to exploit the insecurities and tensions surrounding austerity and Brexit for his own cynical ends.
Although Robinson had boasted about walking “into Brussels like Connor McGregor”, in the end he snuck out of the count early to avoid the humiliation of coming eighth with 2.2 per cent of the vote. He blamed the social media companies, the government, police, mainstream media… if he had the wit he would have blamed McDonald’s for selling milkshakes too.
Indeed local residents did not take kindly to Robinson’s presence. While campaigning in Warrington and Bury, Robinson was hit twice with projectile milkshakes. Since then both Nigel Farage and UKIP MEP candidate Carl Benjamin have likewise been splattered.
This resulted in the hashtag #MilkshakesAgainstRacism trending on Twitter and McDonald’s receiving instructions from local police to stop selling the product near right populist rallies. We’re glad to report, however, that one Burger King employee in Scotland tweeted in response, “We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun.”
Two weeks later bussed-in Robinson supporters were surrounded and heckled in Liverpool with chants such as “Nazi scum off our streets!” before being escorted away in a police vehicle for their own protection. As he arrived in Bootle on 19 May Robinson’s van was again pelted with milkshakes and eggs, as more than 50 police officers protected and separated his supporters – recognisably not from the area – from local protesters.
Speaking at Derby Park on 18 May Jeremy Corbyn warned of the rise of the far right and the threat it poses to our communities, calling on voters to come out in support of the Labour Party in the European elections. But voting alone will not defeat fascism. Only the working class, united across intersectional lines and including BAME and LGBT+ workers, can guarantee the lasting defeat of Tommy Robinson and the broader far right.
Defence committees must be established to train activists in the protection of anti-fascist demonstrations from far right violence. Only a genuine united front against fascism that penetrates every street and every workplace can successfully halt the rise of the far right both in Britain and internationally. Join Red Flag in the fight to help build such a movement.