Lee Anderson’s Culture WarsHow the Conservative Party is Flirting with Far-Right Hate to Appeal to its Base
Max Colbert documents the weaponisation of xenophobia among Tory politicians, with evidence suggesting the Government is encouraging extremism rather than countering it
The Conservative Party’s Deputy Chairman, Lee Anderson, has declared that a “mix of culture wars and trans debate” will be at the heart of its next election campaign.
The declaration comes as Anderson faces calls to resign over his apparent ties to white nationalists after new photographs were uncovered detailing members of the Skegby Scooter Club (SSC) – which he has presented awards to and describes as “real salt of the earth people” – being associated with the movement.
An SSC member, Martin Dudley, pictured with the Anderson, has posed for photographs wearing a ‘No Remorse – White Pride’ T-shirt – referencing a neo-Nazi punk band.
The MP for Ashfield praised Dudley as one of the “top lads who makes me proud” of his constituency. The investigation also highlighted that, in addition to supporting the Nazi-punk movement, Dudley’s name appeared on a 2007 leaked list of British National Party (BNP) members.
Fellow SSC member Nathan Bratby has similarly been pictured wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the logos of neo-Nazi groups.
In addition, Paul Reeson, pictured shaking hands with Anderson, directed a post on social media towards British Muslims, stating: “This is England, my England. If you don’t like me, or my fellow English men and women, leave our shores… or feel the wrath of the steel in my hand.”
The Conservatives’ ‘culture war’ rhetoric has prompted the resignation of its former LGBT+ business chief, Iain Anderson, who said: “It was made pretty clear that the plan is to run a culture war to distract from fundamental economic failings… it’s not something I want any part of.”
Anderson’s proximity to the far-right is not an isolated incident in terms of Conservative politicians. At least two further cases in recent years have involved Tory councillors being associated with extremist groups.
Kent councillor Andy Weatherhead resigned after photos emerged of him at a 2013 event wearing clothing emblazoned with insignia of the New British Union of Fascists (NBU), and Worthing councillor Tim Wills was suspended over support for Patriotic Alternative.
Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
A key part of this planned culture war appears to be the demonisation of migrants and asylum seekers.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has referred to migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats as an “invasion” – the same dehumanising language used in past BNP campaign literature and which campaign group Refugee Action has branded as “shameful”. Politicians have falsely referred to the crossings as “illegal” – a claim made by groups that target hotels housing them.
Rishi Sunak recently unveiled plans to reduce the number of people able to claim asylum in the UK by stopping them from appealing deportation measures, plans which have been called “wrong, unworkable and costly”.
Conservative think tank Policy Exchange has also just published a proposal to deport children fleeing conflict if they arrive in small boats, sidestepping the Human Rights and Modern Slavery Act.
On Friday, several hundred far-right protestors gathered outside the Knowsley Suites Hotel in Merseyside, which accommodates asylum seekers, throwing missiles and setting a police van on fire. The protest was allegedly organised by Patriotic Alternative.
Braverman condemned the attacks, while also engaging in carefully worded two-sidesing, writing that the “alleged behaviour of some Asylum Seekers is never an excuse for violence and intimidation”.
Following the attack, a spokesperson for the Refugee Council told the Byline Times: “Everyone in a leadership position has a responsibility to consider their language carefully. What happened in Knowsley on Friday night was appalling and clearly orchestrated by far-right groups intent on demonising people seeking asylum.
Byline Times has previously reported on how the language used by far-right groups, including the notion that Channel crossings are “economic migrants”, “illegal”, and an “invasion”, has seeped into the political mainstream.
The Refugee council agrees: “Language which demonises and vilifies such men, women and children as “illegal” or part of an “invasion” is completely out of touch with how most people in the UK feel. There is no excuse for indulging in harmful and divisive rhetoric which could encourage the kind of behaviour we saw on Friday.”
Just last November, Andrew Leak, a man ‘motivated by extreme right-wing terrorist ideology’ firebombed an immigration enforcement centre in Dover. 48 hours after the attack, Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis named a hotel where Asylum Seekers were being housed and was accused of “emboldening” those seeking to harm migrants.
The Refugee Council have urged the Government to stop naming hotels, highlighting how asylum seekers are vulnerable to attacks by right-wing extremists. Campaign group Hope Not Hate had, as of November last year, recorded 182 instances of anti-immigration groups descending upon the facilities.
Some MPs, however, including Lee Anderson, made clear their intention to refuse this request. In a Facebook post, he said, “I am sick and tired of seeing our hospitality abused and people who are simply economic migrants cheating our system via small boats and dodgy human rights legislation. I will not be silenced”.
But this rhetoric, no matter how heavily touted, isn’t, yet, reflective of British society as a whole. Over the last decade, the country has seen a shift away from the language of hate towards immigration. In 2021 Hope Not Hate recorded 56% of the population believing it to be a positive thing, as opposed to 40% in 2011. Research conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that, compared to 2015, only 9% of the country views immigration as a priority issue, down from 44%. However, among the Conservative base, immigration remains a top 5 issue.
Countering or Encouraging Extremism?
Anderson has faced severe criticism during his short tenure in-role, notably for calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty, comments which former UKIP leader Nigel Farage described as “epic”.
But tension-stoking rhetoric at the political level is already having mappable effects. In the year ending March 2022, there was a 26% increase in hate crimes across England and Wales, with the majority of hate crimes (70%) being racially motivated and an increase in all five strands (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, transgender). Reported hate crimes against the transgender community saw the highest increase (56%), and racist hate crime passed 100,000 instances for the first time.
The day after the horrific attack on Knowsley, 16-year-old trans girl Brianna Ghey was found stabbed to death in Clulcheth Linear Park, Warrington. Police are treating it as a “targeted attack”, and two 15-year-olds have been arrested on suspicion of murder. The police are now investigating it as a possible hate crime.
The dangers of fanning far-right extremism coincide with the publication of the heavily criticised review of the Government’s £40 million counter-extremism program, Prevent, by William Shawcross.
The Shawcross review downplays the threat from right-wing extremism and claims Prevent should return to “its core mission” of rooting out Islamic extremism. Shawcross found that “the present boundaries around what is termed by Prevent as extremist Islamist ideology are drawn too narrowly” while those focusing on right-wing extremism were “too broad”.
18 people were convicted of far-right terrorist offences in 2021, a 50% increase from the previous year, and a 2022 report from MI5 highlighted that, since 2017, the number of Extreme Right Wing Terror (ERWT) investigations, disruptions, and Prevent referrals have all “steadily increased”.
Between March 2017 and January 2020, 8 attacks prevented by the Intelligence Community and Counter Terrorism Police (just under 30%) were motivated by an ‘ERWT ideology’. Prevent data from April 2021 to March 2022 revealed that referrals because of extreme right-wing radicalisation (20%) were higher than Islamist referrals (16%).
Amnesty International labelled the findings as being ‘riddled with biased thinking, errors, and plain anti-Muslim prejudice”, while those same findings were celebrated by Suella Braverman, who accused Britain’s deradicalisation programme of showing “cultural timidity and an institutional hesitancy” in tackling “Islamism”.
These claims were rebuked by a former head of counter-terrorism policing, who said that parts of the review were driven by “a right-wing viewpoint”, adding that the head of MI5 says that right-wing extremism is “20% of the work they do, so I would listen to him.”
As previously reported by the Byline Times, two-thirds of Conservative councillors and association chairs investigated or suspended for Islamophobic comments since 2019 remained or were reinstated into party ranks. The Party itself, including senior cabinet ministers, have also been repeatedly accused of “flirting with far-right rhetoric”.