For a set of commentators and politicians, Nazi groups such as the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) are the authentic voice of the working class.
White, middle aged men in casual gear who like football, lager and fighting are apparently typical of all workers.
This insulting, patronising view of what working class people are like has little to do with reality. But most of those who talk this view up have so little contact with actual working class people that they probably even believe it.
Brendan O’Neill of the Tory-supporting Spectator magazine is one of them. Last year he described a march by the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) as “a march organised by working-class people and attended by working-class people. Thousands of them.”
That’s a strange thing to say for an organisation founded and led by managers and small businessmen. John Meighan, the former football hooligan who founded the FLA, is a facilities manager.
The same goes for Nazi Tommy Robinson, the “working class lad” who ran a chain of tanning shops. His mate Danny Thomas, who organises the Free Tommy marches, runs his own business.
Many of the people drawn to far right and fascist movements come from a similar background—as the membership lists of previous movements such as the BNP and EDL proves.
But the far right love the idea that their hatred of Muslims and migrants reflects the views of working class people.
It’s important to how they make themselves seem legitimate. That’s a real danger. Nazi street movements can flourish when they feed off the racism driven deep into society by government policies that scapegoat migrants and Muslims.
Yet it would be a mistake to see the people marching with the DFLA or Robinson as reflective of the working class as a whole.
The working class today is multicultural, multiracial and increasingly integrated. Opinions and attitudes to migration and Muslims among working class people are rarely straightforward, and often contradictory. A minority of working class people accept the racism of Robinson and the DFLA. But plenty of others reject it.
In between there are people with a whole range of conflicting views.
Opinion polls rarely canvass people’s opinions based on class. But results of polls on people’s attitudes to immigration—for instance—are never straightforward.
Recent surveys have tended to to find just under half of people believe immigration has had a positive impact on Britain—but that this is increasing.
A study by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford found that a majority of people think immigration should be reduced. But far less—just over 25 percent—thought immigration had actually made Britain a worse place to live.
In many surveys, people who think immigration has had a negative impact on Britain are far more positive when asked about the effects of immigration locally.
That’s a complicated picture—but it doesn’t point to a vision of a uniformly racist, anti-migrant working class.
What it does say is that people hold a mix of different views that can pull them in different directions.
Stopping the rise of the far right—and challenging racist ideas people—is done by building a united, fighting opposition to them for all of the working class.