By Kyus Agu Lionel
Marine Le Pen of the Front National, Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom, the AfD in Germany and of course Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America. The far right, thought to have been vanquished after World War Two, is on the march once more.
This book is a timely intervention in a post-Trump and post-Brexit world, that attempts to unpack many of the reasons for Brexit. It explores how the far right was mainstreamed by the media and a political class which outwardly deplored them but, ultimately, began to ape many of their sentiments.
It’s an attempt at which this book, on the whole, succeeds. Dr. Paul Stocker takes the reader on a meticulously-researched journey through the last century in British and European history, laying bare the truth that in many ways, Brexit was inevitable.
As a historian of the far-right in Britain, it is not surprising that Dr. Stocker has turned his academic talents on Brexit. But don’t be fooled; this is not a book weighed down by inaccessible waffle and uninteresting jargon. It is an immensely readable history of the far-right in Britain, unpacking its rise to ultimately shape the political narrative of the last fifty years and to facilitate a referendum result that shocked the West.
It’s quite common for the narrative around this subject to be somewhat hysterical, simply screaming ‘racist!’ at 52% of the country. This book shows more nuance than that. Yes, it explains – backed up by evidence, that scarce commodity in 2017! – that racism was one of the main drivers behind the vote for Brexit. What it also does is explore the uncomfortable relationship that England has always had with race and touches on the ways that other factors (such as economic deprivation and a disillusionment with a political class which broke its promises over and again) is fuel for far-right sentiment.
One of the most interesting things about this book is its admission that although World War Two was seen as the triumph of liberal democracy over fascism abroad, fascist groups were a small but very noisy group at home. It is very easy to dismiss them because they never gained significant electoral success. Thank God for the extreme incompetence of the far right – until of course, a boy named Farage met a party called UKIP. But this book shows how they have been influencing the political debate for more than 50 years.
It is inevitable that the weaker section of the book is that which deals with the period after the Brexit vote. This is such a constantly shifting political arena, with a leadership contest resulting in the fall of one Prime Minister and the coronation of an unremarkably competent middle-manager as his replacement. Not to mention an attempted palace coup against the leader of the Labour Party, the meltdown of a political ruling class, cabinet infighting, a botched election, and more. It feels slightly frustrating reading it because this is a story which has not yet ended. It’s like stopping a movie halfway and rewinding it to watch it again from the beginning.
This criticism is slightly unfair, because of course Dr. Stocker can’t help that the Brexit process – now pushed to 2021 – is still ongoing. But it does put a slight blemish on an otherwise exemplary book.
“If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”, Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, the Teddy Boys, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”, and so on. People of colour have known all along that racism is, and has always been, alive and well in the UK. Dr. Stocker is not the first to put it down in a book, but that does not make this book any less of a great and valuable read.
English Uprising: Brexit and the Mainstreaming of the Fair Right by Dr Paul Stocker is published by Melville House UK . You can order a copy on Amazon here.