The recent clash between far-right protestors and police in central London has been dubbed as one of the defining moments of contemporary Britain. While some might see it as just another example of growing social unrest and political polarisation, others would argue that it is a symbol of a country that has lost its way.
The images of violence and chaos that have emerged from Saturday’s protest may seem like a flashback to the dark days of the 1980s and 90s when far-right groups were on the rise. However, this current protest was not just about the usual grievances of anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-police rhetoric. Instead, it was a reflection of a much deeper malaise in contemporary British society.
One of the most striking things about the recent protest was the demographics of those involved. Many of those in attendance were young, white and male, from the working class backgrounds with little formal education. These are the people who have been left behind by the modern economy, trapped in low-paid jobs with little prospect for upward mobility.
For these people, the far-right offers a simple, binary worldview that speaks directly to their sense of disenfranchisement. The anti-immigration rhetoric, espoused by the far-right leaders, provides a scapegoat for their woes, and the violent tactics employed on this protest were a cathartic release for their impotent rage.
However, it would be wrong to argue that these people are solely responsible for the current political and social climate in the UK. They are, after all, a product of the times. The recent rise of far-right movements can be traced back to the economic recession of 2008, which saw the collapse of industries and business, the shrinking of the public sector, and the erosion of social cohesion in many communities.
These economic pressures have been compounded by the rise of social media, which has allowed groups to develop and spread their ideologies at the speed of light. Through the use of targeted advertising and mass messaging, far-right groups have been able to mobilise disaffected voters, creating a groundswell of support for their message of hate.
The failure of traditional politicians to address these underlying issues has also played a key role in the rise of the far-right. By offering only platitudes and empty promises, politicians have left many people feeling ignored and uncared for. It is no wonder that they have turned to alternative groups that offer them an identity, a voice, and a sense of belonging.
The violence and chaos that erupted on Saturday should serve as a warning to all of us. It is a symptom of a wider malaise in British society, and unless we address it, we are likely to see more protests like this in the future.
To address the underlying issues, we need to take a hard look at our society, our economy, and our political system. We need to ask ourselves whether we are really creating an environment in which everyone has a chance to succeed, or whether we are perpetuating a system that leaves some people behind.
Too often, the mainstream media and politicians have dismissed the far-right as small-minded racists, without engaging with the root causes of their grievances. But if we are to move forward as a society, we need to have an honest conversation about the problems that are driving people towards these extremist groups.
We need to acknowledge that issues such as unemployment, low-pay, and lack of social mobility are real and pressing, and that they require urgent attention. We need to invest in education, training and job creation, to give people the skills and opportunities to succeed in the modern economy.
We also need to address the underlying issues of identity and belonging, which are at the heart of the far-right movements. By creating a more inclusive, tolerant society, we can remove many of their grievances and create a sense of unity among all people, regardless of their race, religion or cultural background.
This was not the battle of the day but another symbol of broken Britain. Until we address the underlying causes of this violence, we are likely to see more like it in the months and years ahead. By working together to create a fairer, more equitable society, we can ensure that protests like this become a thing of the past, and that our country can move forward with pride and unity.