✏️ Ruth Parsons
You may have seen a picture of Winston Churchill’s statue outside Parliament Square, which was graffitied with the words “was a racist”. This has been met with anger from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right-wing commentators such as Katie Hopkins and media coverage across the world. The graffiti, although accurate considering that Churchill supported white supremacy, seems to have mostly infuriated a specific type of person: right-wing. White. Men. And they appear to have decided that exposing Churchill as a racist is an attack on them too.
In a shockingly weak imitation of the Black Lives Matter protests that had taken place on previous weekends, right wing protestors decided to gather in Central London this Sunday. Their aim? To protect symbols of British history, such as the Cenotaph War Memorial and the now boarded-up statue of Churchill.
Churchill’s Graffitied Statue (ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)
Although the protestors were there to defend the statues, some of the metal barriers protecting the Cenotaph were broken, and clashes with the police broke out. The London Ambulance service confirmed that it had treated 15 patients, including 2 police officers, at the protests. Police were stationed to keep the peace and stop any far-right protestors from interrupting a peaceful anti-racism demonstration in Hyde Park that was taking place at the same time. Aware of the risks a right-wing protest could cause, Black Lives Matter organisers purposefully rescheduled their rallies that were planned for the same time.
But there’s more to these right-wing protests than the protection of historical monuments. Their anger, whether questionable or not, is fuelled by more than just the risk of graffiti. These protestors are angry at the Black Lives Matter movement for challenging racism and pointing out the double standards that exist throughout British history.
Churchill was labelled a war hero for his role in World War Two, but his policies were also responsible for the Bengal famine in 1943, which killed up to 3 million people. In school we are taught about the British Empire, but not why that meant the British played such a big role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Black Lives Matter is so opposed by the far-right, partially, because they want to change the way British history is told. And this, for nationalists, means that their identity is threatened because a lot of it is centred around British history.
The focus on British history in the far-right is unfortunately nothing new. However, it is plain to see that Brexit has intensified nationalist feelings and led to radicalisation. Britain First, a fascist organisation that supported today’s rally, has recently and unsuccessfully petitioned for St George’s Day to be made into a public holiday because the saint is apparently a symbol of English cultural heritage. Nigel Farage, before and during the Brexit campaign, argued that Brits should “take back” power from Brussels, suggesting we were more powerful before joining the EU.
Nigel Farage was a strong advocate of leaving the EU. (Image via Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock)
Right-wing protestors feel isolated from their culture and Brexit has only led to further radicalisation. The government’s response to Covid-19 has meant that some of them may be on furlough or unemployed, giving them more time to stew on their anger. Lockdown has made people restless, and the media coverage and messages of Black Lives Matter has fuelled anger by questioning their national identity.
It is a toxic and violent combination. Our government needs to start opposing far right frustration rather than encouraging it. The people who showed up to protest today should not be viewed as potential Tory voters but rather as a menace to the British society they claim to love.
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