When far right groups try to downplay their reputation for violent extremism and present a more respectable face to the public they always have a credibility problem. Claims that an organisation is merely expressing the concerns of ordinary patriotic British citizens are rather undermined when there is clear evidence that the organisation’s leadership and a large section of its membership consist of hooligans, racists and neo-Nazis.
Nick Griffin’s “modernisation” strategy for the British National Party repeatedly ran up against this obstacle and the English Defence League faces the same difficulty. In the EDL’s case the challenge of acquiring a cover of respectability is possibly even greater, as its leaders have rejected Griffin’s “suits not boots” approach in favour of a revival of the aggressive “march and grow” street politics of the ’70s National Front. As a result, the picture of the EDL lodged in popular consciousness is of a mob of lager-fuelled louts swaggering down the road chanting “Allah is a paedo” while throwing the occasional Nazi salute. Still, that hasn’t prevented the EDL from making a bid for political legitimacy.
One of the stunts the EDL is currently preparing is a march to parliament on 8 October under the slogan “Sick? Explain Why Mr Cameron?”. This is in protest at the prime minister’s condemnation of the EDL in the House of Commons last month, when he stated that “I have described some parts of our society as sick, and there is none sicker than the EDL”. The EDL’s response was to demand indignantly of Cameron: “Have you read our Mission Statement lately? We suspect not. No sane person could say it is sick to oppose terrorism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism whilst standing for integration and equality.”
No doubt reasoning that it wouldn’t exactly strengthen their claim to be pursuing this progressive agenda if they turned up at Westminster on 8 October with the usual gang of drunken football hooligans shouting racist abuse, the leadership has decided that the demonstration will be organised by the EDL’s women members, known bizarrely as “Angels”, who are collecting names for a petition (“EDL Angels are not sick”) that they intend to hand in at Downing Street.
But the EDL’s attempt cultivate a more moderate public image by placing women at the forefront of its campaign against Cameron is hardly assisted when the first name to appear on the petition is that of Hel Gower, PA to the EDL’s leaders and head of its admin team. In addition to holding the view that “Muslims are total scum bags” Gower is well known for her fascist sympathies, having declared her political support both for the BNP and for an openly Nazi groupuscule called the British First Party. And the record of other “Angels” is no better.