For Britain is anti-Muslim activist Anne Marie Waters’ attempt to harness the energy of her controversial UKIP leadership campaign, after she finished second on 29 September with 21.3% of the vote.
Waters gained the support of the anti-Islam elements within the party by portraying herself as a martyr after she was deselected by UKIP’s National Executive Committee (NEC) from standing as a parliamentary candidate in the 2017 snap election, following pressure from HOPE not hate and other media sources.
Waters announced her candidacy for UKIP leadership at a disorderly anti-Muslim demonstration in Manchester in June organised by former English Defence League (EDL) leader Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), currently working as a contributor at the Canadian far-right media platform Rebel Media.
Waters’ campaign was closely aided by current Rebel researcher Jack Buckby, formerly of the British National Party (BNP). Buckby, who is best known for standing for the anti-Islam party Liberty GB in the Batley and Spen by-election following the murder of Jo Cox in 2016, has been a key influence in the formation of FB.
The UKIP leadership race was dominated by squabbling over Waters’ candidacy. The large majority of the party’s MEPs threatened to leave the party if she won, and Bolton spoke directly to their fears, warning that UKIP could become a “UK Nazi party” if it elected the wrong candidate.
Waters was also criticised by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who wrote a Telegraph article titled “Racists nearly killed UKIP this week”. The article prompted several prominent supporters of Waters to leave UKIP for FB, including former NEC member Anish Patel and Rope Parish Councillor Brian Silvester, who has a moderately large social media following.
Both Waters and Buckby are steeped in ‘counter-jihad’ (CJ) ideology, which promotes the belief that Western civilisation is under attack from the supposedly “supremacist” religion of Islam. CJ writing often blurs the lines between violent jihadis and ordinary Muslims who live their lives quite peacefully. Waters has made a career from relentlessly associating Islam with violence and social degradation, and has described Islam “evil” and “a killing machine”.
Unsurprisingly, Islam and immigration is a central focus of For Britain, which lists among its campaign priorities a reduction in immigration and the deportation of those unlawfully living in the UK; the imprisonment or “removing” of those who pose a risk to British people; an “end to police prioritisation of so-called “hate crime”’, as well as the “public recognition of the teachings of the Koran and Mohammed”.
While such priorities are moderately worded compared to the gutter Islamophobia typical of Buckby and Waters, there is evidence of troubling influences in the new party. For Britain’s Facebook account has posted a racist cartoon entitled How Islam is Destroying Europe, created by alt-right YouTube channel Porridge Pals, depicting Europeans (characterised by as a mass of white faces) being murdered by Muslims (depicted as a mass of brown faces). The video appears to have since been removed from For Britain’s social media.
The chances of For Britain developing into a legitimate electoral threat are slim. The extremeness of Waters’ beliefs, her history of engagement with far-right political projects and her association with notable far-right figures means her ability to attract any mainstream support is severely limited. Additionally, Farage’s maligning of Waters in the press has undercut some of her potential support within UKIP.
For Britain seems destined to serve as little more than a vessel for the most extreme and disgruntled UKIP exiles and ex-BNP members. Already some of FB’s energy has dissipated; FB’s launch on Sunday October 15 was largely ignored by the media, and technical issues delayed the launch of the group’s new website and membership signup by more than two weeks.
The party will, however, do its best to exploit tragedies and terror attacks to disseminate divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric online. Both Waters and especially Lennon have large social media followings, and, whilst the extent of their ongoing involvement in For Britain is at this point uncertain, both Lennon and Buckby are currently employed by Rebel Media, an outlet which has proved an effective loudspeaker for the far right.
Moreover, both Waters and Lennon have background in anti-Muslim street movements. While Waters has previously spoken of her desire to seek electoral means rather than street protests, the avenue to exploit highly-charged issues and events with action on the streets remains open to the party.
PROFILE: ANNE MARIE WATERS
PROFILE: JACK BUCKBY