by Paul Goodman
The three main security threats in Britain are posed by Islamist, Irish republican and neo-nazi terrorists, in that order – or so the security services indicate. Violent Irish republicans have no electoral base in the UK. (Let's leave aside for the moment their tortuous and bitter relationship with that former violent Irish republican party, Sinn Fein.) Nor have the Islamists and neo-nazis.
But movements exist which are flavoured with sympathy for Islamism and, if not neo-nazism, certainly fascism. The embattled, beleaguered BNP – brought low partly by the failures of its leadership – is essentially a fascist political party. There's no Islamist equivalent. But this isn't to say that there won't be in the future, or (more likely) that an equivalent of the English Defence League could emerge.
There've been signs in recent months that all this is recognised by Searchlight, the anti-fascist arm of the traditional left, and that it's been preparing to adapt its work accordingly, recognising explicitly that Islamist as well as fascist ideas and movements threaten integration and cohesion. And the organisation's new "Fear and Hope" campaign was duly launched this morning.
Its website tells us that this is part of project called Together, which "will challenge the extremism of the English Defence League (EDL) and Islamic extremists by working within communities being targeted around what unites them rather than what divides them. It will build up positive role models and leaders in target communities and give a voice to the mainstream majority."
The project report is promised online at nine o'clock this evening. It's therefore wise to suspend judgement on it, although the executive summary is up and running, and contains some interesting conclusions. For example, Searchlight's unearthed "popular support for a sanitised, non-violent and non-racist English nationalist political party." (James Bethell got there first.)
However, the substance of the report's been compromised by the spin. Searchlight's choice of venue is the Guardian. Nothing wrong with that: as an occasional contributor to the paper, I'd scarcely write otherwise. But its choice of vehicle is an article by David Miliband. Does this concentrate exclusively on the report's findings? No: Miliband attacks David Cameron. ("David Miliband attacks Cameron's 'muscular liberalism'.")
Many Conservatives – including, I suspect, most readers of this blog – wouldn't give Searchlight the time of day. The organisation, however, will be looking for all-party support for its campaign. Can Searchlight explain why linking the start of its venture to an attack on the Prime Minister is likely to help achieve this, or calm anxieties in other parties that it's too close to Labour?
The headline on Miliband's piece refers to "the far right". ("Insecurity is fuel for the far right's hate.") Does this really further Searchlight's declared objective – to "challenge the extremism of the English Defence League (EDL) and [my italic] Islamic extremists"? If the organisation was looking to balance its campaign, in terms of either substance or support, it's failed its first test – namely, to get off to a good start.