124 left wing, anti-apartheid, green, anti-war and even simple trade union groups have been covertly infiltrated by British police since 1968 according to a recent Guardian investigation, using various operatives who in some cases began romantic relationships with genuine members and lived decades-long double lives. In contrast, only 3 groups representing the far-right have been spied on. These do not include the National Front or English Defence League – the affiliated groups of the murderer of Jo Cox MP.
The last violent left-wing group known in the UK, Red Action, disbanded in 1999. Before this, you’d have to look all the way back to a series of attacks from 1970-1972 by a handful of members of the anarcho-communist Angry Brigades to find the UK’s last left-wing terrorists – only one person was injured in this wave, and the IRA also claimed responsibility for all of them.
On the other hand, right-wing extremism has proliferated and grown to a level which the the UK police force has ‘not woken up to’ according to ex-terror chief Mark Rowley.
The far-right have outgrown the fringes of Western politics and reentered the mainstream in the 21st century. Tommy Robinson has become a recurring theme across BBC political broadcasting; he now has a party which gained almost 4 million votes in 2015, an adoring fanbase across the Atlantic including the Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr, and most worryingly, significant support from the British armed forces. The murder of MP Jo Cox was carried out by a former member of Robinson’s English Defence League in 2016. He was unknown and considered insignificant to police back then, and to this day Robinson’s activities are the subject of police protection at demonstrations.
Unlike in the US, where the FBI have openly admitted that they have a significant infestation of white supremacists in their ranks, and Germany, where earlier this year a policeman with far-right sympathies caused a major riot by leaking classified reports to the anti-migrant group Pegida, the symbiotic relationship between the far-right and the police in the UK has never really seen the light of day. However, these declassified police files reveal an ideological war on environmental groups, anti-apartheid activists and work unionists that has haemorrhaged resources as the ultranationalist right have remained unperturbed.
The juxtaposition between police approach to the left and right is based on ideology and bias: MI5, to this day, is mandated to protect ‘the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism’ from subversion. The far-right are violent, bigoted and toxic by definition, but rather than subverting the UK establishment, form part of its fabric and history from Oswald Moseley to the occupation of Northern Ireland. The far-left can offer no threat to civilians, but advocate the complete dissolution of the hierarchal system that the police and intelligence agencies serve, resulting in a ‘particular interest in the surveillance and infiltration of those on the left’ according to sociologist Stefano Bonino.
From its inception in the 19th century, Special Branch of the Police have worked on behalf of industrialists and the political right to quell working-class movements. In the 1920’s MI5 teamed up with the Industrial Intelligence Bureau – an anti-trade union outfit funded by the Federation of British Industries and the Coal Owners’ and Shipowners’ Associations – to infiltrate organised labour and left wing movements. As the Cold War began the pretence shifted to protecting the public from foreign subversion that supposedly manifested through the left, which then became ‘the more vociferous of the Left’ in anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating remarkably in getting one of their men appointed deputy of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. As supplies of foreign scapegoats ran low with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s the UK intelligence community suffered an existential crisis before being resurrected in the millennium through the gift of a so-called War on Terror.
Far-right movements came and went since the modern UK security apparatus was born in 1909, at best being largely ignored, such as the National Front, who despite reaching over 20,000 members in the 1980s were never infiltrated by the police; at worst openly supported, such as the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, where the police quietly enabled and supported Mosley’s Blackshirts.
Oswald Mosley was a racist thug, but also a former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The co-founder of the National Front, A.K Chesterton, was a London socialite and holder of a Military Cross for his service in WWI. The founder of the British National Party, John Tyndall, came from a long line of service in the Royal Irish Constabulary and Metropolitan Police. The ancestors of the British far-right weren’t insurgent rebels, they came from the finest British stock and developed their ideas in the dorm rooms of Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford alongside the deeply influential Hastings Russell, the 12th Duke of Bedford. Their words inspired the nail-bombs of David Copeland that tore through gay men and Bangadeshi migrants in 1999 and helped synthesise the modern ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory which provided a motive for the recent Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 7. Despite this, they never ‘threatened the wellbeing of the state’ like the hippies of the anti-Vietnam war movement who were constantly surveilled; they wished to amplify the old order of the British Empire and project it against its antithetical forces of collectivism and class-consciousness.
The modern police force and intelligence agencies are unequipped to deal with the far-right surge that threatens egalitarian ideals so long as they remain tethered to old imperial conceptions of authority that were designed to thwart egalitarian ideals. The police state remains subservient to an old order and not to the general populace, and this manifests in the kind of groups they target, and more glaringly, in the kind of groups they don’t.