This book by the estimable investigative journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai is an exploration of our modern times and in particular the growth of support for far right groups. In an attempt to understand the current mood in Britain, especially in towns like Luton, she set off to meet supporters and others who were connected to the EDL. ‘Tommy Robinson’ is central to the exploration as it is he who styled himself a ‘defender’ of the white working class. In her travels she returns several times to the town where there is a large multi-cultural population.
Pai is excellent when trying to get to the heart of what motivates people who want to defend ‘our way of life’. She doesn’t actually get to the bottom of it as questions that she poses so acutely are often left unanswered. It is a recurring theme that EDL supporters can articulate what they are against (people of different faiths, countries, backgrounds) without being able to state what they are fighting to protect. There is a mythical land somewhere in the past that many say they wish to reclaim but my elementary arithmetic worked out that this was before most of the interviewees were born.
As a person from an ethnic minority herself, her entry into what could be hostile territory is brave. Somehow, her Chinese ethnicity makes her different from the other ‘others’ (mostly Muslim) who cause the EDL to rise up.
I was pleased that the strong anti-racist and anti- fascist seam of British working class life was mentioned and that Pai did not accept some of the manufactured answers she was given. Most supporters of the modern far right claim not to be racist. The fact that anti- Islamic rhetoric has been made easier by western governments since the war on Iraq provides interesting contextual background to the rise of people defending traditional values. Her interviews with people who joined but then left the EDL show that there is hope for uniting our society.
I think Hsiao-Hung Pai is always worth reading. ‘Angry White People’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?