Fighting for England
Gerry Dorrian describes what drove the EDL
As well as being Senior Lecturer at King’s College, London, Dr John Meadowcroft is the university’s Director of Postgraduate Research in Political Economy, and he has taught on the LSE Hansard Scholars scheme. Significantly, for what follows, he has also toiled at the coal face of politics, assisting Simon Hughes when he was a Liberal Democrat MP and editing, for the Institute of Economic Affairs, the popular and controversial Prohibitions.
In the introduction to his lecture on the English Defence League at the Adam Smith Institute on 2 March, his own chapter on prostitution was cited as a piece that, in looking at all the aspects of one activity surrounded by embargoes and disdain, said everything that needed to be said about all prohibitions.
Which is perhaps a link to Meadowcroft’s pioneering investigations into the EDL. His co-researcher was Dr Elizabeth Morrow, herself a King’s Ph.D, who recently wrote a report for the centre-left think tank Demos that would be controversial and counter-intuitive to some, saying that there was little evidence that the collapse in support for both the EDL and the British National Party was primarily due to the rise of UKIP. Neither is afraid to speak truth to orthodoxy.
Memberships and marches were legal and indeed facilitated by the police, but the EDL was considered beyond the pale by those opposing them. Yet despite the very strong views on either side, both researchers managed to embed themselves in several marches and interview individual members, and still delivered a dispassionate phenomenological study of the EDL based around the perceived costs and benefits of membership, entitled The Political Economy of the EDL. It was a breath of fresh air to hear the subject approached by somebody speaking from a position of knowledge, which made the less salubrious aspects he reported bearable.
One salutary aspect is that demonstrations were attended by some who viewed the EDL as promising access to violence that had been policed out of football: witness the leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, pseudonym Tommy Robinson, who had been a well-known member of a gang of hooligans connected to Luton Town Football Club. Access to violence is one of what John Meadowcroft calls “club goods” – partly private and partly public reinforcers that incentivise people to participate in ways that more structured organisations such as political parties cannot. Participation started to collapse when these “club goods” were rendered unobtainable through, for example, police tactics such as kettling and forcing pubs near the route to shut. A further disincentive was the negative media coverage the EDL accrued, causing members to lose support from friends and family members.
If the change in police tactics caused one exogeneous shock, according to John’s and Elizabeth’s interviewees, another came through infiltration of the EDL by the far-right.
I had been apprehensive regarding the atmosphere during the lecture, but the Adam Smith Institute is an oasis of rational discourse in these increasingly fervid times. I found myself in conversation with a young academic who felt attracted to cultural Marxism, and we identified that we came to opposite ends of the field for the same reason: political cartelisation. This is a process first identified by Frankfurt-school economist Otto Kirschheimer in 1950s Germany whereby main political parties converge to form a “superparty” whose parliamentarians don’t care which party or combination thereof form the government, as long as governmental power resides within the cartel. Indicatively, Keith Sutherland, writing for the Quarterly Review of Summer 2011, quoted Yaxley-Lennon/Robinson’s assertion that “ordinary people feel betrayed by the political class” and identified this feeling as a driver for EDL membership. The corollary of political cartelisation is a withering of political diversity.
There was a refreshing lack of platitudes about multiculturalism. Multiculturalist policies, strategies and laws have delivered a limited multiculturalism in the public sphere only. Many people go home to communities consisting of a limited range of enthnicities or perhaps even just one. Multiculturalism can only arise spontaneously when individuals feel empowered to transgress the boundaries of community and reach out to other individuals doing the same. Yaxley-Lennon/Robinson once put it succinctly: “multiculturalism is where people from different communities meet, fall in love and have children”.
What happened at the Adam Smith Institute on 2 March was little short of a miracle, in that people from different classes and ethnicities came together to discuss a subject on which opinions are generally polarised along ethnic and class lines. One sign of that miracle is that after the lecture I heard a lady who identified herself as opposing the EDL say “I was holding myself back”. That’s what happens when things are brought into the light: we self-censor, we hold back. John’s and Elizabeth’s detached, disinterested assessment, catalysed (I believe) the spread of light rather than heat, and that’s something we all took out into the night.
We look forward to John Meadowcroft and Elizabeth Morrow publishing their research, on this and further projects.
GERRY DORRIAN writes from Cambridge