Gerard Batten, the leader of Ukip who calls Islam a “death cult”, Muhammad a “paedophile”, and has marched alongside the far-right thugs of the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, is appointing Tommy Robinson as an adviser.
A criminal with convictions for assault and football hooliganism whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the former English Defence League leader will advise Ukip on grooming gangs and prison reform.
This appointment makes Ukip’s new-found love-in with street fascism and the alt-right official. Robinson’s new wave of fans, who defended and crowdfunded him when he received a 13-month prison sentence in May for breaking the law (facing two separate contempt of court charges), have drawn the alt-right to Ukip.
Social media darlings of the alt-right like Paul Joseph Watson (an editor at the US conspiracy site Infowars), Mark Meechan (aka “Count Dankula”, infamous for his video teaching a dog Nazi salutes by repeating “Want to gas the Jews?” at it) and Carl Benjamin (a toxic misogynist troll known on YouTube as “Sargon of Akkad” who was accused of sparking a wave of rape threats by others on Twitter against Jess Phillips MP) have joined the party.
But one Ukipper isn’t happy with these developments. Its former leader Nigel Farage has said Ukip should “get rid” of Batten as leader, accusing him of “dragging us in a shameful direction”:
“It goes against all the things I did as leader to say we will talk about immigration, we will talk about the extreme forms of Islam. But, we will do it as a non-racist, non-sectarian party. This blows a hole in all of that.”
Farage has long laboured under the impression that he’s got nothing to do with the far right. In a recent Sunday Times Magazine interview, he insisted: “I was never hard right, ever. No, I think I was the antidote to it, actually. If I hadn’t been there, I think the BNP would have become quite big.”
In reality, he’s done far more to fuel the far right and white nationalism in this country than Robinson – an insignificant thug who was once reluctant to give his name to reporters – ever has.
Farage became the “acceptable face” of racism for many voters, who felt emboldened by his dogwhistle statements about immigration.
In his years as Ukip leader, he’s said he felt “awkward” on a train not hearing “English being audibly spoken in the carriage”, warned us we should feel “concerned” if Romanians move next door, blamed traffic on the M4 on “open-door immigration”, defended the use of the word “chinky” for a person of Chinese origin (“if you and your mates were going out for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?”), and described parts of Britain as “like a foreign land”.
During the EU referendum campaign, he unveiled a Nazi-propaganda style poster screaming “BREAKING POINT”, depicting a queue of Syrian refugees fleeing war. His general political aim has been for hard borders and bringing down immigration numbers. By instilling fear and loathing against migrants, he played a significant part not only in the Brexit result, but also making this a mainstream political goal.
Since his triumph in the Brexit result, and his departure (just about) from the Ukip leadership, he’s vigorously supported Hungary’s hard-right anti-asylum leader Viktor Orbán, addressed rallies of the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Germany, endorsed National Front party leader Marine le Pen for French president, and has a very public friendship with Steve Bannon, the former Donald Trump strategist and alt-right media platform Breitbart News co-founder, who once said you should wear the label “racist” as “a medal”. He’s also been chummy with the US President himself.
He can pretend he’s shocked, shocked, by the outwardly Islamophobic direction his party’s taking. He can pretend he’s above people like Robinson, that he’s more sophisticated. But the EDL collapsed. It never had much sway. Robinson was nothing until the media and mainstream politicians co-opted him. Ukip, however, triggered a political shockwave that sent hate crime rates soaring to record highs.
Farage is the one who used divide-and-rule to get people to join Ukip and to vote for it. Say xenophobic things politely, wearing a rich man’s suit with a perpetual grin on your face and a pint in your hand, and people think it’s OK to align themselves with you. Farage and his kind have created the party Ukip’s become – and the movement that backs Robinson’s part in it.