The EDL and loyalism: why the shyness?
The English Defence League is a strange beast politically. I’m unconvinced that it can be seen as a classic fascist organisation and it has drawn much of its support and organisation from outside the existing far right in Britain, its origins lie in right-wing football firms motivated into political action by anti-Muslim sentiment.
I’ve generally thought it useful to compare the EDL to the previous time football firms entered the political arena in significant numbers, in opposition to Irish Republicanism in the early – mid 1990’s. During this period certain football firms mobilised large numbers to attack events of republicans and their perceived sympathisers, notably the London Bloody Sunday commeration march in 1993. Like EDL marches participants in anti-Republican gatherings were pretty sure what they were against, less sure what they were for.
Recently, this got me thinking about the curious mutual disinterest between two political groupings that, on paper, seem to have a lot in common: the EDL and loyalism.
Far right groups on the UK mainland have always viewed loyalist groups with the kind of wide eyed admiration usually associated with primary school kids meeting Premiership footballers. It was what they aspired to be; successful political groups combined with well organised militant wings to deal with opponents.
It’s worth noting that this admiration was not usually reciprocated but when it was, such as by former National Front member Johnny Adair and his Shankill C Company, British fascists responded enthusiastically. Some went much further than cheerleading from the sidelines and got actively involved in ‘The Troubles’, longstanding NF activist Terry Blackham was jailed during this period for gun-running.
Given that much of the EDL’s support is drawn from right-wing English football fans it’s not difficult to see what they have in common with loyalism. Both like marching, flags, the Queen and some EDL members even enjoy sectarianism (here’s the EDL’s token Asian member Adbul having a sing-song for instance). Chanting ‘no surrender to Al Qaeda’ is not a million miles from ‘no surrender to the IRA’ and the main EDL website is peppered with rhetoric borrowed from loyalism, the repeated use of ‘no surrender’ and the abbreviated form n.s. is a bit of a give away, and the general theme of defending Britain from a terrorist threat.
It’s interesting then that the EDL have made absolutely no effort to cultivate links with loyalist groups in Northern Ireland or on the UK mainland, even those who have previously been closely involved with the far like the British Ulster Alliance (who used to advertise in Blood & Honour magazine). They failed to send any sort of delegation to the Twelfth of July marches or the parade in Southport, a traditional summer holiday destination for British fascists.
There’s also the sister organisation of the EDL the Ulster Defence League. While the EDL has been successful at building up a profile, a sense of momentum and attracting thousands of supporters to marches it’s counterparts in Scotland and Wales have been poor relations, unable to gain any traction and heavily outnumbered by counter-demonstrators on their rare public excursions.
The UDL has not even been able to gain these lofty heights. Apart from operate a rarely updated Facebook page (it’s currently advertising a march in Dudley that took place last April) and briefly running a website it’s not clear that the UDL does anything at all.
This could be of course because they are a sensible bunch who have correctly realised that Northern Ireland has more pressing problems that being overwhelmed by non-existent scimitar-waving, sharia-imposing hordes but I suspect not. The sentiment is certainly there, here’s their mission statement illustrating standard loyalist rhetoric:
The Ulster Defence League highlights the threat to our shores from Militant Islam Extremism.The U.D.L is also highlighting the Extremism we face from republicans in our own Lands. Ulster knows only too well the realities of living with terrorism and its consequences. Our spineless Government prioritise the Human Rights of Terrorists before the basic right for Britons to live without fear in our own country…
NO SURRENDER – HANDS ACROSS THE WATER. FOR GOD AND ULSTER.
Thankfully this isn’t accompanied by any action. Why not though?
It’s not a question of an unwillingness to travel. EDL supporters have made it to Amsterdam, and plan to return there on October 30th, and popped up in New York a couple of weeks ago. A short ferry trip to Belfast is surely not too difficult to organise.
The unwillingness of loyalist organisations to play ball hasn’t much to do with it either. Most loyalist groups were uninterested in an array of British far right groups propositioning them in the 80’s and 90’s and that didn’t stop fascists from repeatedly asking them them out.
Instead, I think that the seeking international allies in the American and wider European anti-Muslim movement and ignoring the traditional preoccupations of the far right shows why it’s difficult to place the EDL in the British fascist tradition. It’s a different beast.
This may not be a satisfactory answer to the EDL ignoring loyalism. Any alternative explanations gratefully received.