Gillingham UKIP and the Tommy Robinson connection

In which August Scholl takes a look at the rise of the far right and how Gillingham and Rainham UKIP are embracing them.

Medway has lived with the intersection of the UK Independence Party, Brexit and the far right for a long time now. From as far back as Mark Reckless’ surprise Rochester by-election victory in 2014, UKIP has been in close proximity to deeply divisive issues and the extremist fringes who seek to exploit them.

Fast-forward to 2019 and the political scene has changed immensely, both locally and nationally, with UKIP turning from the party of Brexit under Nigel Farage to a pro-Brexit and far-right adjacent body under the leadership of Gerard Batten. Having welcomed alt-right social media ‘personalities’ such as Paul Joseph Watson and Count Dankula into the party, UKIP then took the extraordinary step of adding former BNP member, English Defence League founder and convicted criminal Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, otherwise known as Tommy Robinson, as its ‘grooming gangs advisor’.

Although barred from officially joining UKIP due to his criminal record, Yaxley-Lennon’s appointment by UKIP has been met with glee by much of the party’s grassroots support. Having peddled a watered-down brand of street fascism under the guise of defending Britain from ‘radical Islam’ (a term used by the far right to connotate anything from ‘all Muslims’ to ‘anyone brown’) with the EDL, ‘Tommy Robinson’ has leveraged his minor celebrity, infamy and penchant for obstructing the course of justice to position himself as a hybrid right wing martyr/spokesperson/social media influencer.

Although sections of UKIP have been put off by the welcome given to someone whose words have been directly linked to far right terror attacks, Gillingham and Rainham UKIP’s official Facebook page has barely been able to contain its excitement at linking up with Tommy Robinson. Perhaps recognising Yaxley Lennon’s social media pulling power and popularist right wing appeal, Gillingah and Rainham UKIP have predicted a ‘purple surge’ in UKIP membership with Tommy on board.

Since his appointment to the party, Gillingham UKIP has been enthusiastically sharing Tommy Robinson’s posts on a near-daily basis, along with other far right luminaries such as Katie Hopkins and Tommy’s partner in attempted kidnap ‘Danny Tommo’. The consensus among the page’s followers is that Robinson will sort out Asian ‘grooming gangs’ (with no mention of 81% of child sex offences being committed by white British men), help deliver a hard Brexit and ‘defend out borders’ like some kind of multi-purpose, vaguely racist Christ figure.

Little matter then that our borders are already defended and we already have extensive powers to control immigration under EU law. UKIP still has to come to terms with being a single issue party with vague anti-immigration sentiments that has, in Brexit, effectively got what it existed for. With an ageing supporter base, it makes sense for UKIP to recalibrate and re-focus on anti-immigration and anti-Islamic sentiment and to aim itself at a younger audience. Tommy Robinson and other social media-savvy right wing figures have an important part to play in maintaining UKIP’s relevance.

Building support for UKIP in this way does mean allowing far-right entreeism into a party that has always been at pains to claim it is not racist, in spite of the evidence. It also means appointing someone with no qualifications or experience to ‘advise’ on child abuse, when Yaxley-Lennon’s own criminal record would exclude him from working with abuse survivors or young people in a mainstream job. It also means expressly going against the wishes of survivors of the abuse in Rotherham, who want Tommy Robinson nowhere near them. Robisnon and UKIP’s silence on child abuse committed by white males, the vast majority of offenders, just goes to reinforce the view that Yaxley-Lennon’s appointment to advise on grooming gangs is part of a deeply racialised approach to abuse that cares more about stoking anti-immigration sentiment than it does the rights or safety and women and young girls. To quote the Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly:

‘Robinson and his supporters have absolutely nothing to say when our rapists are white or non-Muslim. It’s almost as if the far right don’t actually care about women, and are in fact using our traumatic experiences to demonise anyone who doesn’t fit with their vision of a white, Christian “Fortress Britain”. We know racism and Islamophobia won’t solve the problem of sexual violence – that’s exactly why anti-racist feminism is so important.’

Gillingham and Rainham UKIP will probably have something to say about this. But when their own Branch Secretary is stewarding for Tommy Robinson on Brexit marches and their campaigners have previously been caught cosying up to Britain First, it’s very hard to fight the feeling that UKIP, both locally and nationally, is giving itself over to the far right in a way that could have serious consequences for any people in the UK it doesn’t consider ‘British’ or loyal enough.

August Scholl is a Medway based musician and activist.

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