What Now for 'Tommy Robinson', Nigel Farage and UKIP?
And is Milo Yiannopolous still finding being in debt funny?
As the sprawling chaos of Brexit grips the national psyche, the far-right is on the rise in Britain; its influence growing, its rhetoric festering. So we thought we'd do a column keeping you up to date with what they're up to.
UKIP leader Gerard Batten has survived a vote of no-confidence in his leadership. The vote came after he appointed the incendiary activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – AKA Tommy Robinson – as his personal advisor on "Grooming Gangs and Prison Reform".
The appointment went down terribly with many senior UKIP'ers, with former leadership candidate Suzanne Evans cancelling her membership, MEP Patrick O’Flynn defecting to the SDP and Nigel Farage quitting the party, warning that working with Robinson could turn UKIP into the new BNP.
Farage then wrote a Telegraph column headlined, "With a heavy heart, I am leaving Ukip. It is not the Brexit party our nation so badly needs", hinting, perhaps, that he could start a new one.
Although Batten survived the confidence vote, the UKIP NEC refused to endorse Robinson and reiterated that he was banned from actually joining the party because of his previous membership of the BNP. It remains to be seen whether Batten’s personal alliance with the Luton-born Islamophobe will be fruitful for either of them.
CAN BREXIT SEND 'TOMMY' MAINSTREAM?
... And that alliance will face a public test this week. Robinson and Batten have planned a joint "Brexit Betrayal March" in London on Sunday the 9th of December. Scheduled for the day of the proposed TV debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, and just two days before MPs vote on May’s Brexit deal, it’s an attempt to unite the sinister fringe of the British far-right with the more palatable sections of middle-class-middle-brow-middle-England.
The march will test whether Robinson – whose normal base is made up mostly of far-right hooligans and Islamophobes – can become a figurehead for a cause that over half of the country supports. It’s a big chance for far-right ideas to enter the mainstream.
Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell called on supporters "stand firm against the poison Robinson is trying to inject into our politics", while a number of counter-demonstrations have been planned.
In a sparkling example of the types Robinson attracts, it emerged on Sunday that Daniel Thomas – one of his close associates, who was among a small group pictured at Batten and Robinson’s planning meeting for the march – was convicted in July, 2016 of an armed kidnapping.
And now, some good news: the cultish internet agitator Milo Yiannopoulos is in serious debt. Documents leaked by his Australian tour promoters indicate he’s run up personal debts of more than $2 million. The activist appeared to confirm his dire financial situation on Instagram, writing: "They say I owe $2million. I don’t! It’s actually at least $4million. Do you know how successful you have to be to owe that kind of money?"
I guess it depends how you define success. The leaked documents suggest he owes $1.6 million to his own company Milo Inc and $400,000 to his ex-partners, the Mercer family. Robert Mercer was one of the biggest donors in the 2016 US Presidential race and was reportedly influential in helping Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway get roles in the Trump campaign. He’s also an investor in Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica, and is known for “playing a key role in the Brexit campaign” by introducing CA’s services to Nigel Farage.
Aside from the political spending, the documents also indicate that Yiannopoulos owes $15,000 for “top shelf embroidery” and $20,000 to the jewellers Cartier. VICE remembers seeing Yiannopoulos speaking at a Tommy Robinson organised “Day for Freedom” event in the summer and joking about his debt: "We’ve had to put a deposit down on the cheap Lamborghini. The Huracán, can you imagine it?” No one laughed. We wonder if Milo is laughing now.
Remember that video of the Syrian schoolboy being mock “waterboarded” by a fellow pupil at a school in Huddersfield? If you didn’t see it, the viral clip shows the “bully” throwing the Syrian refugee Jamal – who has one arm in a cast – to the floor and pouring water into his face, while a group of kids around them jeer. The “bully” has reportedly been forced to go into hiding, while a GoFundMe page set up for the schoolboy and his family has raised over £150,000.
Unsurprisingly, Tommy Robinson jumped at the merest whiff of an opportunity to harangue the Muslim community and recorded a seven-minute rant claiming that five Muslim boys had launched a gang attack on a 13-year-old white boy at the school in question. He then claimed that Jamal had “attacked a white girl”.
This prompted Jamal’s family lawyer to threaten legal action against Robinson, who admitted to being duped by an Instagram account telling a false story about the gang attack. It does seem strange that a figure with Robinson’s following would share those claims without verifying them. It’s almost as if there’s some sort of agenda he’s trying to push.
The Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks has announced it will run a storyline about one of its main characters being radicalised by a far-right extremist group.
Executive Producer Brian Kirkwood said the story will be “about protecting young people online who are susceptible to fake news, the echo chambers of the internet and the algorithms that can lead people – in this case, our much-loved character Ste – down a rabbit hole into a terrifying world.”