The British public now sees far-right groups as a greater threat to public order than Islamist extremists, a new poll has revealed.
For the first time in recent years, a regular poll for the campaign group Hope Not Hate (HNH) found that more people named the nationalist and anti-immigrant groups of the far right as their biggest public order worry.
Some 33 per cent named far-right groups or organisations as the “biggest threat to community cohesion and public order”, up from 28 per cent when the same question was asked in February. Over the same period, the proportion naming Islamist extremist groups as the biggest threat declined by 35 per cent to 28 per cent.
The polling – seen exclusively by The Independent – forms part of HNH’s annual Fear And Hope report, due for publication on Tuesday. The study comes just days after the jailing of Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defence League, for contempt of court after he breached reporting restrictions by filming suspects in a child sex grooming trial.
Hope Not Hate’s senior policy officer Rosie Carter said: “The turnaround in views on which groups pose a threat has happened in a very short period of time.”
Ms Carter said the shift in sentiment may have resulted from the relative scarcity of large-scale Islamist attacks on British soil at a time when media headlines worldwide have been grabbed by far-right atrocities like the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings last October and the murder spree at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.
At the same time, far-right nationalistic and racist material has become increasingly visible on social media, drawing more people’s attention to a problem which had slipped below the radar for some years. “There is a growing sense of danger linked to these groups, and it’s not just a preoccupation of liberals,” said Ms Carter.
“Home Office data from this year shows there were more convictions of white people for terrorism-related offences than any other ethnicity. MI5 director general Andrew Parker and Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick recently spoke about the rise in far-right activity as a real threat.”
Concern about the far right was greatest among communities who feel under threat from such organisations, with 57 per cent of Jewish respondents and 62 per cent of Muslims naming them as the biggest worry. People with more conservative social values were less likely to see the far right as a problem. Just 3 per cent of people who regard Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – favourably and 18 per cent of those who voted Conservative in 2017 consider the far right the greatest threat.
The poll suggested that the far right’s shift from outright racial nationalism to an “identity politics” approach has struck a chord with large numbers of voters who support such groups’ anti-Muslim messages, anti-elite populism and complaints of being denied their right to free speech.
Just as many people strongly agreed with the proposition that “discrimination against white people has become as big a problem as discrimination against non-white people” as strongly agreed that discrimination against ethnic minorities remained more significant.
A huge 44 per cent agreed Islam poses a threat to western civilisation; 31 per cent thought Islam poses a threat to the British way of life; and 35 per cent believed there are no-go zones in Britain where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter.
But the poll indicated most people draw a line at violence, putting groups like the EDL beyond the pale. Robinson was regarded very positively by just 2 per cent of those questioned, against 42 per cent who saw him in an “extremely negative” light.
Numbers who saw far-left groups as the biggest threat fell from 10 per cent to 8 per cent since February. And those who believed that none of these groups pose a threat rose sharply from 4 per cent to 16 per cent.
YouGov surveyed 6,118 UK adults online between 26 April and 1 May
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