The Independent today reports that the English Defence League has broken its formal ties to the British Freedom Party and aims to become a political party in time to contest seats at the European Parliamentary elections in 2014.
From the Independent:
“The far-right English Defence League will be turned into a political party in a bid to stand candidates in the European Parliament elections in less than two years, its founder has claimed. Tommy Robinson revealed the plan as he announced he was to leave the British Freedom Party after only five months.
“Mr Robinson told The Independent he saw the EDL transforming from its current guise as a street movement in future. He said: "I looked into the future and thought that if I wanted to stand [for election], it wouldn't be for the BFP; it would be for the EDL. I would stand for office as an EDL candidate and it will happen, it's just a matter of when.
“"I am looking at how to change the EDL into a genuine political party but we can't put a time on it at the moment. We are looking at the 2014 elections in Europe.
“Mr Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, joined the British Freedom Party in May along with his cousin and EDL co-founder Kevin Carroll in a bid to politicise the movement.
“However, that plan has not come to fruition and Mr Robinson left earlier this afternoon.
“Mr Carroll, 43, is standing for election to the Police and Crime Commissioner post at the Bedfordshire Constabulary. He said he is remaining in the party because he wants to push his political ambitions immediately, rather than wait for the transformation of the EDL, which currently has no formalised membership and little structure.”
That the anti-Muslim EDL intends to transform from a social movement into a political party is not new given previous statements made on their desire to enter politics. However, the wish to distinguish themselves from other far-right organisations and to move on from being a protest-based organisation indicates a desire to be taken more seriously by the wider public. The extent to which this search for legitimacy will be attainable is questionable given the EDL’s history of public disorder and arrests at protests. The news of the EDL’s political ambitions also comes as the EU announced a decision to introduce legislation preventing far-right groups from receiving funding, something which would inevitably affect the EDL.
Moreover, that the European Parliamentary elections are the EDL’s target is consistent with its regional and international ambitions, as illustrated by attempts to form alliances with other like-minded organisations. It is noteworthy too that the BNP’s big gain in recent years, though followed by ‘electoral meltdown’ since, was its victory in winning two seats in the EP elections in 2009. With a form of proportional representation being used in the Europe-wide elections, the probability of small parties doing well is significantly increased. That, and low voter turnout have been factors behind the steady increase in parliamentary representation of far right parties across Europe.
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