Analysis | Goddard’s ‘Westminster Mob’ are a threat to our common future

Accusations of hypocrisy and media bias have overshadowed the political significance of Goddard's ‘Westminster mob.’ We should call it out for what it is: the most visible expression of an organised and increasingly confident far-right movement that threatens our common future, writes Matt Carr.

New in Ceasefire - Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2019 13:47 - 0 Comments

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Few people who pay any attention to British politics will be unaware of the small but vocal group of far-right demonstrators who have been gathering outside Westminster for the last month. Led by Tommy Robinson fanboy James Goddard and inspired by the ‘gilets jaunes’ movement in France, these protesters have heckled and abused MPs, journalists and activists including the Sky News journalist Faisal Islam, Owen Jones, anti-Brexit campaigner Femi Oluyole, Sky News presenter Kay Burley, and – most famously – the Tory MP and anti-Brexit campaigner Anna Soubry.

Until this week, these protests aroused little concern from politicians or the media. On Monday however, Soubry was jostled by ‘yellow jacket’ protesters who called her a ‘Nazi’, a ‘traitor’ and compared her to Adolf Hitler.

In a television interview delivered against a background of taunts and abuse, a visibly-shaken Soubry declared that it was unacceptable to be called a Nazi and lamented the fact that ‘this is what is happening to our country.’ That same day Owen Jones was also jostled while trying to enter Westminster by Goddard and his cohorts, who called him a ‘traitor’ and a ‘lying little snake’ for supporting Jeremy Corbyn.

It was the Soubry incident that finally burst the bubble. The Commons speaker John Bercow condemned the abuse directed against her and described the protesters as a ‘type of fascism’. Fifty MPs have now written to Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick to complain about the ‘deteriorating public order and security situation in and around the exterior of the parliamentary estate.’

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this reaction is that it has taken so long. The videos of Monday’s incidents make it clear that these were not simply ‘protests’, but acts of physical and verbal intimidation. Burley has complained of ‘increasingly vile, aggressive and intimidating’ abuse that has forced her to change her own route to Parliament and get a bodyguard.

The demonstrators also abused the police, who responded with surprising passivity. It is difficult to imagine the police doing nothing if a group of Muslims – Anjem Choudhary’s supporters say – had described the police as ‘fair game’ in a ‘war’ or told a black officer ‘you ain’t even fucking British’ as James Goddard did on Monday.

The lack of response can partly be explained by the lack of any concerted response from Soubry’s own colleagues, and also – until this week – by a general lack of interest from the media. Even now, discussions about these demonstrations have tended to revolve around issues of free speech and the right to protest. No one will be surprised to find this view propagated by Spiked Online editor Brendan O’Neill. In tweets, interviews, and in an article that was disingenuous and intellectually depraved even by his standards, O’ Neill depicted the harassment of Soubry as a cry of righteous anger against a politician determined to ‘overturn democracy.’

O’Neill compared the ‘Nazi’ abuse to similar claims supposedly directed against Leave voters, and situated it within a long tradition of ‘rough’ political protest that includes the Suffragettes and the Peterloo protesters. It is difficult to square these attempts to present the protests as a boisterous expression of free speech with the ‘slag’ insults directed at Burley, or the protesters who called Faisal Islam a ‘rapist’ and said that he was ‘not British’, or the men who shouted in Soubry’s face on Monday

Others have echoed O’Neill’s line. Yesterday, Tory pundit Tim Montgomerie tweeted that the treatment of Soubry was ‘unacceptable’, but nevertheless suggested that ‘a parliamentarian who advocates overturning a referendum result she promised to respect should not be surprised at unleashing such ugliness.’ In the Telegraph, Alison Pearson described the abuse directed at Soubry as ‘thuggery’ but added ‘the “this” that has happened in our country could partly be her fault.’

Some sections of the left have also shown little sympathy for Soubry. On Twitter yesterday various pro-Corbyn accounts seemed to accept the abuse directed against her and even agreed with it, in comments such as this:

Tory’s [sic] have killed more people than the Luftwaffe did in the blitz so I say that’s fair enough.

And this:

Anna Soubry was a member of a Tory Government which implemented policies ‘reminiscent of Nazi Germany’. I don’t know if that makes her a Nazi or Nazi-adjacent but I’ll defend anyone’s free speech rights to call her that.

There is more where this came from. Some of these leftist rationalisations were due to hostility towards Soubry and her politics. Others were based on the perceived double-standards of a media and political establishment that has generally been silent in the face of ‘Nazi’ insults directed at Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

Double standards are by no means absent in this affair. Owen Jones was right to draw attention yesterday to the role of the British press in magnifying the ‘traitor’ and ‘saboteur’ insults thrown at him and Soubry. Few MPs raised their voices to condemn the savage beating of George Galloway in 2015. Few of those who are condemning the abuse of Soubry protested the savagely racist abuse directed at Gina Miller last year – including rape threats and threats of acid attacks.

Accusations of hypocrisy and media bias have nevertheless tended to overshadow the political significance of the ‘Westminster mob.’ Goddard and his coterie are part of a wide-ranging network of far-right activists and Tommy Robinson supporters that is seeking to enter its messages into the political mainstream through staged social media spectacles such as the ones we have seen outside Westminster this week. For this burgeoning movement, the loathing of the EU and the ‘Westminster elite’ overlaps seamlessly with the racism, misogyny, and anti-Muslim hatred that also defines Trumpism.

Even the Daily Mail recognised these connections today with a frontpage article showing the ‘hatemonger’ Goddard posing with Robinson and UKIP’s Gerald Batten. The Mail’s condemnation of the ‘far-right Westminster mob’ was not matched by any recognition of its own contribution to the poisonous politics that have made this ‘mob’ possible.

Nevertheless, its conclusions were correct. Goddard and his followers are the thin end of a wider far-right wedge that feels emboldened, empowered and legitimised by the Brexit referendum. The fact that they now feel able to stand in front of Westminster and seek to intimidate the country’s elected representatives is further evidence of how emboldened they have become.

It should go without saying that these developments cannot be combated or reversed by the selective prioritisation of victims who share the same political opinions and the rejection of those who don’t, let alone by spurious discussions about free speech and the right to protest. Of course, Goddard and his cohorts have the democratic right to call an MP a Nazi – provided they don’t engage in intimidation or harassment that breaks the law.

But MPs and journalists also have the right to enter Parliament without being subjected to the kind of thuggery that we have seen over the last few weeks. And we should call Goddard’s ‘Westminster mob’ out for what it is: the most visible expression of an organised and increasingly confident far-right movement that threatens our common future.

In 2016 a member of that movement killed Jo Cox. And whatever happens on 29 March, that movement needs to be put back in its box. If we don’t find a way to do it, it is only a matter of time before someone else is attacked or killed and the ‘war’ that Goddard ranted about on Monday becomes a reality.

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Matt Carr

Matt Carr is a writer, blogger and freelance print and radio journalist. He is the author of My Father's House, Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain, and The Infernal Machine: an Alternative History of Terrorism. His book Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent was published in autumn 2012. His latest book 'Savage Frontier: the Pyrenees in History', has just been published in the UK by Hurst. He has lectured in a number of UK universities, schools and cultural institutions. He blogs at www.infernalmachine.co.uk.

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