Wed 19 February 2020

After predicting his run for the European Parliament, Louise Raw assesses Tommy Robinson’s rhetoric of betrayal at his ‘exclusive’ launch event.

Tommy Robinson has used many names. At Thursday night’s rally in Wythenshawe, Manchester, during which he announced his candidacy for the European Parliament and promised to build a ‘new movement’, he also tried out some new personas.

Barbecue and rally in Manchester for Tommy Robinson where he announced he will stand in the European elections

First to address a restive outdoor crowd on a British rainy evening was Anne Marie Waters, who set up For Britain after leaving UKIP (or as Robinson would later put it, they “kicked her out for telling the truth about Islam”).

Waters was an odd choice as a warm-up act, given warmth is something her delivery tends to lack. Clad in a yellow jacket so Day-Glo it could have been a nod to the Far Right’s recent penchant for ‘yellow vests’, she hailed Robison the “working-class lad” and “one of the finest British patriots in this country”.

The biggest cheer during her speech was for the back of Tommy Robinson’s neck, when he accidentally photo bombed her by standing in front of the camera.

Robinson the Philanthropist

Next up was the ‘lad’, in a smart blue blazer, promising a new movement for ‘every single one of you’: this pinching of Corbyn’s ‘for the many not the few’ message was a recurring theme.

We were then introduced to Robinson the Philanthropist, via a mobility scooter he’d helped crowd fund for a disabled ex-serviceman. Robinson has been criticised for the lavish lifestyle funded by his supporters’ donations: 5-star holidays, a gated mansion in Bedfordshire, new suits and expensive watches.

Tommy Robinson’s campaign presents a frightening glimpse into the kind of Britain the Far Right want, where young British women are terrified in their own home town.

When the man’s friends got in touch to ask for help, Robinson seized the opportunity to counter the accusations of misusing funds and also tick the requisite ‘patriot’ boxes. He made a virtue out of the crowd-funding, accurately proclaiming “I didn’t get him the scooter, YOU did!” But he alone soaked up all the glory.

A video of Robinson presenting the scooter had been produced by Canadian Far Right website Rebel Media. Whether this assistance from aboard from an organisation which has funded him in the past contravened election rules remains to be seen, but Robinson had already been in trouble for serving free burgers to the crowd until the police told him to stop.

Robinson the Working-Class Hero

After some technical difficulties with a video screen, Robinson launched into an elegy to the North West as a working-class community betrayed, which was, he said, why he was standing there. Voters there tended to vote Labour (‘Boo!’) simply because their fathers and grandfathers had. “Communists!” Shouted the crowd.

“Until they fear us, we will be betrayed. They will fear us when we take their seats”, he continued.  Robinson railed against an ever-shifting ‘they’ throughout: Tony Blair (“Traitor!” they shouted) Theresa May (Robinson did not criticise the loud “You slag” which greeted her image) and MPs who were mostly middle-class.

Robinson the Islamophobe and Anti-Journalism Activist

So far Muslims had not been mentioned. It couldn’t last. Robinson referenced the Imam of a local mosque – named as a critic – who had also allowed MEND to speak in the building. MEND is more generally known as a Muslim outreach NGO. To Robinson an “extremist radical jihadist” organisation who he claimed thought they could swing seats in the area.

Robinson ended in an attack on the “mainstream journalists’ present (the crowd yelled “paedo”) and then news of his four week tour of the North West, which takes him to Salford this Sunday.  

The Rhetoric of Exclusion and Betrayal

In circumstances like this, the mainstream journalists Robinson despises tend to do a bit of hand wringing about the white working class being neglected, then carry on as normal. What really needs addressing is that Robinson is paramount among those who have betrayed them, spreading the false message that intolerance and protectionism will improve their lives.

Meanwhile Robinson’s “every single one of you” version of the people excludes many. The crowd shown on the live stream was overwhelmingly white.

A young Muslim woman who has lived in Wythenshawe her whole life, Amina, told me: “I made the mad decision to go and see the BBQ event. But I was too scared to get out of my car. This is my hometown. But he is here to speak to people he thinks share his islamophobic, xenophobic views.”

Robinson’s version of the people excludes many. The crowd shown on the live stream was overwhelmingly white

“In my work, I help white non-Muslim working-class people suffering poverty,” Amina continued. “My mother supports white non-Muslim children with learning difficulties. Wythenshawe hospital is held together by doctors and nurses of all backgrounds. But Tommy thinks he knows what’s best for us? I don’t feel any different to my white, non-Muslim friends; I’m saddened he came here, and that my neighbours attended. But tomorrow, I’ll be back at work helping them.”

Tommy Robinson’s campaign may, for a variety of reasons, not get far but it would be dangerously complacent to dismiss it as bound to fail. It presents a frightening glimpse into the kind of Britain the Far Right want, where young British women are terrified in their own home town.

Robinson is right about one thing: everyone needs to vote, but against his message of intolerance.

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