India Bourke
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Both sides of the Dover riots: who are the young anti-immigration and anti-fascist protesters?

We catch up with both sides of the protest to find out why they are each taking to the streets.

On Saturday, central Dover became the scene of one of the most chaotic clashes yet between far-right anti-immigration protestors and their anti-fascist opponents.

Around 200 anti-immigration supporters travelled from as far as Edinburgh to "save our country from invasion". Headed by a resurgent National Front, this collection of largely male, right-wing, groups are renowned for their violent take on politics. And this weekend was no different: a barrage of sticks, bricks, and smoke-bombs left many of those involved with minor injuries. 

One masked man was beaten to the ground, where he lay, seemingly unconscious, until friends and police officers brought him round. "I hope you get raped by a refugee!" another right-wing protestor shouted in my direction.

Police interrupt the violence in Dover

Pro-immigration bodies Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and the Kent Anti-Racism Network organised a peaceful rally in the town centre, where speakers included the Labour MP and shadow cabinet member Diane Abbott. But the militant fringes of both sides seemed equally at fault for the fray. Smaller left-wing groups were bent on intercepting the "Nazi" march: "Smash the fascists into the sea" read the Twitter account of North London Antifa.

So where does such violence leave the voice of British radicalism, especially among the young? I spoke to supporters of both protests and found their anger has concerningly similar roots: doubt and disillusionment with mainstream politics.

Josh, 22, from Worcester

Why are you here today?

“I'm here in support of the truckers, British values, and no more immigration. It's not about colour or creed, but if you say you're anti-immigration you get called a Nazi straight away: the right are this epitome of evil in the UK."

Josh, protesting with the anti-immigration groups

What do you do when you're not protesting?

"I'm a part-time carer for my 87-year-old grandma and the other half of the time I work in a factory selling catalytic converters. I had ADHD as a kid and was kicked out of school in Year 10, then sent to a Pupil Referral Unit. I left with one GCSE: a D in Maths. But I'd like to be a contract lawyer - that's where the money is!"

When did you start to feel so strongly about immigration?

"When I was working in a Muslim part of Worcester the lads there would spit at women and call them 'dirty sluts'. I know this isn't how all immigrants act but I can only make assumptions from where my path has crossed. To defend something is to offend something. The Lefties think they're defending but really they're offending me.

"I want the government to slow immgration down. And maybe have an Australian style system where we can bring in who we need and no-one else. We’re told to make something of our lives but the percentage of indigenous people who can is going down day by day - the bankers just want cheap labour, and the government just lies to us every time.”

Savanna, Canterbury Christ Church student

What are you protesting today?

“We come from a generation where the government is cutting everything and we need to out in force against it. They are destroying the welfare system, without which my family wouldn’t have had anything. But I’ve lived like shit for a long time and living a bit worse is ok if it helps those who are running from a war, especially one we helped start. They’re going to cut welfare whether the immigrants are here or not.”

Savanna (far-left) attends the pro-immigration protest

Are you concerned by the violence?

"It's been much worse than I thought it would be. And people are more likely to document the violence than the cause. My mum was terrified when she heard I was coming."

John, 15, from Dover

Why are you here today?

"Dover is shit. There's not a very large Muslim presence but there's a large immigrant population. I've been mugged twice. My argument is that those coming now are mostly economic migrants, otherwise why dont they stay in the first country they get to safely? I know they just want jobs, but I wish they wouldn't do it in my country. It’s current affairs and what happens now will effect me as an adult. Some may say being with this lot is a little extreme but they’re the only ones who are speaking up”.

Are you still at school?

"I just got an A for Maths in my GCSE mocks, and an A* in English. But if I got caught here I’d get kicked out of school, cos you’re not allowed to have a view unless its left wing."

Are any of your friends involved too?

"I reckon my friends are split about 50:50 on immigration. My best friend, James, is with the Antis - we clash politically but otherwise get on just fine."

And are you worried about what will happen if it gets violent?

"If it gets violent I'll leave. Everyone's nice till they have a drink but alchol is a no-no for me - I'm keen on health and am going to join the army. My dad drives a van now but he used to be in the army too".

Karl, 16, from Dungeness

Who are you here with today?

"I'm with the Socialist Party but today I'm here with the anti-fascists generally. My family is really political and left-wing so I go to alot of rallies with my dad. And my mum was a Labour MP."

Does the violence - from the left-wing too - concern you?

“I’m not violent, I try to stay out of that. But I’m here to support the refugees – I can’t stand this fascist shit. Things like this may seem small but it can grow so quickly and you have to take a stand against it.”

Karl, standing against fascism

What particularly concerns you about them?

"It's important to respect different views but when it becomes about exclusivity it gets nasty. When integration - in culture and with jobs - isn't mangaged properly it can be a frightening thing but it shouldn't be used to inspire hatred."

Far-right groups gather

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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