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10 December 2001

Il Duce’s heirs

The Tory leader makes centrist noises, but he and his supporters betray some frightening right-wing

By Johann Hari

Iain Duncan Smith is eager for us to think that he is tough on the far-right elements within his own party. He has forced the MPs Angela Watkinson, Andrew Hunter and Andrew Rosindell to quit the Monday Club. The club is a far-right pressure group that supports the repatriation of immigrants (one 1995 leaflet depicted black people being tipped out of a rubbish bin) and has links with white supremacist groups in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Duncan Smith has suspended them from the party until they promise to cease campaigning on the issue of immigration. Yet the Monday Club is but one example of a dense network of Tory links with the far right.

Look, for example, to the 500-strong pro-Tory pressure group the Swinton Circle, formed in the 1970s by backers of Enoch Powell. Their regular journal informs us that in this country we are suffering from “an asylum invasion”. We should “dismantle the BBC” and put its “far-left” commentators out of a job. And the British National Party is merely a “breakaway party” from the Tories.

These are their publicly stated views. Lord Taylor, one of the few prominent black Tories, says “these people should be in a mental asylum”. Yet Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis, now the chairman of the Tory party, like them so much that, respectively in 1993 and a few months before the last general election, they found time in their busy schedules to address their meetings. They were “cheered to the rafters”, claims one of the members present at both speeches.

One active member of the Swinton Circle is Bill Binding, the former deputy leader of the British Ku Klux Klan and a big fan of IDS. Even though Binding stood as a BNP candidate in 1997, the Conservative Party seems to think he has changed his views so much that he need not be expelled from its ranks. His comments remain, however, bogged down in racial pseudo-science. He defends himself against charges of racism by imploring us to look at “these Jews in Stamford Hill, [who] are 82 per cent northern hemisphere Neolithic”.

All Tory members will receive a letter soon saying that any link with a far-right group “is not compatible with membership of, or association with, any political party”. It claims that they will be expelled if any such links are uncovered. Yet the Swinton Circle doesn’t seem to count as such a group.

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IDS was keen to publicise it when Andrew Hunter, Tory MP for Basingstoke, was told to stop being a “patron” of the magazine Right Now!. The magazine is edited by the self-described “neighbourhood Nazi” Derek Turner, who until moving to England was the leader of an Irish fascist group called the Social Action Initiative. Yet, despite this public call from his party’s leader, Hunter still has not informed the magazine that he is no longer on its board.

Even if he does acquiesce to his leader’s demand, this still leaves inside the Tory parliamentary party a man who was happy until now to be “patron” to a magazine which has published articles arguing that the US must break up into “ethnically pure” states in order to protect “white civilisation”; that “blacks have smaller brains than whites”; and that “race” determines “group intelligence . . . [and] so long as this persists, whites and Asians will always outperform blacks”.

Michael Ancram, now the shadow foreign secretary, was presented with evidence in 1999 that a member of the Tory party called Stuart Millson publicly described himself as a “fascist” and had befriended Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front. Ancram, then party chairman, did nothing.

So Stuart Parker, the concerned party member who was trying to warn Ancram of the looming PR disaster posed by members such as this, wrote to him again.

Still Ancram did nothing. When Parker, the vice-chairman of Bethnal Green Conservatives and a lifelong Tory, continued to warn him, Ancram wrote back saying he should “never” be contacted again on this matter. (And when the New Statesman telephoned his offices, we were told that Ancram was unavailable to discuss the issue.)

Parker fears that “BNP infiltration of grass-roots Tory constituencies is happening all over the country. The leadership knows this, but they have chosen not to act.” Other Tory figures have acknowledged the depth of extremist views within the party. Colin Brown, a Tory MP until 1997, has cried, “don’t purge the Tory party, or no members will be left”. Ancram’s lack of vigilance on the Tories’ far-right links, argues Parker, should lead to his sacking or resignation.

Sitting with Ancram at the shadow cabinet table is Bill Cash, now shadow attorney general.

Cash invited the Alleanza Nazionale leader in the European Parliament, Cristiana Muscardini, and her party president, Gianfranco Fini, to visit the London HQ of his anti-European pressure group, the European Foundation. The Foundation’s Italian “head of office” writes regularly for the Alleanza’s newspaper, Il Secolo d’Italia.

The Tory leader in the European Parliament, Edward Macmillan-Scott, calls the Alleanza “neo-fascist”. Cash denies this description, despite the group’s virulently anti-immigrant views.

Yet why should IDS crack down on links with foreign groups such as this when even the recent crackdown on the Monday Club has been carried out reluctantly and against his gut instincts? As he told the Sunday Telegraph in September, the Monday Club is “a viable group within the party and they are, in a sense, what the party is all about”.

“What the party is all about.” An unsurprising comment, given that IDS has dabbled with the politics of the far right himself. Until his ascension to the leadership, Duncan Smith served as a vice-president of Cafe (Conservatives Against a Federal Europe) alongside the Monday Club president and Right Now! patron, Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.

The viscount has been quoted as saying: “If you say I am a racist, yes I certainly am, and proud of it.” Cafe has now disbanded “for the duration of IDS’s leadership” because “17 of our vice-presidents are now in the shadow cabinet or are opposition spokesmen”.

The viscount is at the heart of a network that includes not only the Tory leader, but many of his most influential colleagues in the shadow cabinet. To give just one example, he served until very recently on the council of the “Freedom Association” with John Bercow, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

IDS himself showed a public interest in the viscount’s pet topic, repatriation, seven years ago. In July 1994, he asked the home secretary: “How many people have chosen to be voluntarily repatriated under the scheme in the Immigration Act 1971, in each year from 1974 to 1986?”

IDS’s own constituency literature during the 2001 general election implied that asylum-seekers were depriving local residents of access to public services. “Residents will be aware of problems with housing . . . and the difficulty of getting a hospital appointment.” He concluded: “We should take tough measures to end the abuse of the asylum system.”

IDS fans such as Andrew Rosindell MP echoed Le Pen during the recent general election campaign: “The money is tied up in asylum-seekers, most of whom are frauds who have come here to take us for a ride . . . They are taking up homes which people are waiting for and we are subsidising them. They should be kept under lock and key.”

Fascist sympathisers in the Tory party are nothing new. The Tory MP Archibald Ramsay was interned during the Second World War for his Nazi sympathies. And in 1984, a committee of young Conservatives called for a permanent body within the party to purge far-right groups. John Gummer, then party chairman, refused. Eric Forth, the shadow leader of the House of Commons, said last year at a meeting of the No Turning Back group: “All this sucking up to minorities is ridiculous. There are millions of people in this country who are white, Anglo-Saxon and bigoted, and they need to be represented.”

IDS needs to decide if his party’s future lies with men such as Forth, Cash and his old friends at the Swinton Circle – or with the non-racist majority of the British people.

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