Among the large pile of awful news flooding the UK, from the fuel and food crisis, a struggling NHS, a Tory government waging war on the poor to the stain of GB News on British TV, just to name a few, it doesn’t seem like it can get any worse. Well, here’s some more bad news. Another far-right obstacle is on the horizon: Britain First is back, and it’s once again a political party.
Far-right group Britain First, which has plagued the political discourse of the country with its Islamophobia and racism, has officially re-registered as a political party after the Electoral Commission approved its application. First becoming a political party in 2010, this reinstatement comes four years after its deregistration in 2017 for failing to renew its status. Yes, that’s the reason. Not its bigoted views but paperwork. In case you’re still a bit shocked, the Electoral Commission does not examine or take into account a body’s political opinions when concluding on its registration as a party.
It has been reported that the official application made by the group “met the legal criteria” for registration; this approval occurred despite Britain First’s leader, Paul Golding, holding a number of previous convictions for hate crimes and even a terror offence. In a recent email sent to its supporters on the comeback, the alt-right group wrote, “This is a stupendous victory for the Britain First movement… Although our street activities will continue, this day marks the birth of Britain First as a traditional political party that will take the fight to the establishment through the ballet box.”
“Street activities” is a very mild way of describing the literal terror Britain First has continuously perpetrated. While it failed to renew its status as a political party in 2017, it was a year that became saturated with its escapades. The group became infamous for its Islamophobic and racist rhetoric—particularly targeted against immigrants—that horrifyingly gained it a mass following online, with over 2 million people liking its Facebook page. A following that included the US President, at the time, Donald Trump; his resharing of Islamophobic tweets by Jayda Fransen, Britain First’s deputy leader at the time, gave the group a global platform.
Aside from the many documented racially motivated and ‘mosque invasions’ inspired by the group, just a few months later, both Fransen and Golding were convicted on the crime of religiously-aggravated harassment for targeting innocent Muslims they unjustifiably concluded to be part of an ongoing rape trial. In 2019, Golding was also found guilty for refusing police access to his devices on his return to the UK from a trip to Russia. He was convicted under the Terrorism Act.
Following their convictions, Facebook made the decision in 2018 to take down the group’s page. Citing that it had continuously ignored warnings about its community standards violations, Twitter also suspended the accounts of both Fransen and Golding. While social media giants acted upon these findings, The Independent found that convictions do not prohibit you from being able to register as a political party under current law.
Despite this disgusting track record, a spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said, “The application to register Britain First as a political party has been approved. We assessed this application against the criteria set out in law, including consideration of public comments submitted to us. The party’s application met the legal criteria and the party has therefore been registered.”
While it most likely won’t be able to make much of an impact, you never know. In a country where a human rights organisation like Black Lives Matter is vilified, mocked, disbanded and often labelled as a terror group, an actual convicted terror group, Britain First, is allowed to be an active political party. White supremacy strikes again.
Andrew Neil, one of the driving forces behind the channel, left the organisation last week in a very public spat. He only presented a handful of shows before going on an extended break—during which he managed, eventually, to get out of his multimillion-pound contract. In an interview with the Daily Mail, he described his time there as “the worst eight months in my career.” Somewhat melodramatically, he claimed his experience was worse than being on an IRA hit list.
I have zero sympathy for Neil. It was clear from the outset what sort of operation GB News would be. They used his reputation and connections to give the project a veneer of respect. It was never about free speech or shifting the conversation, really—but a soulless attempt to stoke and profit from culture wars and conservative online discourse.
GB News is a failure in any measurable capacity. They count it as a win when they out-perform BBC News or Sky News, but focus entirely on the rolling news channels, which I’ve never known anyone to actively watch, merely tolerate. Their viewing figures pale in comparison to any major terrestrial news programming. Famously, a few months back, the Welsh language version of Paw Patrol—Patrôl Pawennau—was outperforming them in the ratings.
Put simply, the channel launched before it was ready. The poor production quality and litany of technical issues were widely mocked online. They had next to no rehearsals. “The CEO wanted to get on air, even if it was ramshackle, and then improve things,” claimed Neil when speaking to the Daily Mail. Quality hasn’t noticeably improved since, though, with regular factual inaccuracies and spelling errors of their own presenters’ names.
They managed to alienate significant chunks of their own viewer base when one of their presenters took the knee to protest racist abuse suffered by footballers after the Euro 2020 final; Guto Harri was suspended for his actions, then proceeded to quit. The hypocrisy of a channel founded on free speech was evident from the outset—‘free speech’ was, yet again, being used as an excuse for outdated or bigoted opinions. Left-wing commentators routinely decline invitations to join debates—because no meaningful debate ever happens, it’s just a machine to generate outrage.
Perhaps they aimed too high. 24-hour political commentary and coverage is a lot to manage, especially without third party content to fill the schedule. They didn’t want to provide breaking news coverage—due to the costs and logistics that would entail—but without any, the commentary often feels dry or slow. At a time when media consumption is becoming increasingly bite-sized, it seems like a strange decision to introduce a new news channel. Much of their most successful content are often short, viral clips that circulate online.
And, now, after previously abandoning such plans, it seems like the malevolent nonagenarian Rupert Murdoch is set to swoop in and set up a rival channel. He brings with him everything that GB News lacks: adequate funding and a modicum of experience. talkTV will launch early next year, with Piers Morgan presenting the flagship slot. Rumour has it that many at GB News are hoping for cushy new jobs at talkTV. News UK promises “proper hourly news bulletins, sports and entertainment shows […] current affairs, debate, opinion and documentaries.” A wider array of content might prove more popular and more successful.
Despite its questionable success, GB News doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. It has found a rather small core group of supporters who staunchly defend the programming, believing it to be more trustworthy than its competition despite, objectively, being a right-wing echo chamber edging further and further to the right. It will, it seems, continue to churn out mediocre political analysis for the foreseeable future. It appears doubtful that it will have the impact the channel’s founders had hoped—if anything, they’ve managed to prove how vital our other news operations are.