Speech by Don Foster to council leaders at the first meeting of the national special interest group on the far right.
First of all - thank you for inviting me here today and thank you for the work you are doing for each of your councils. I would have loved to have stayed for the whole day but I am told that you have a lot of work to do and so I am looking forward to hearing how the day went.
Extremism is an affront to our society in every form, including the far right and the English Defence League (EDL) - they are divisive and create fear in our communities.
The far right does not belong in modern Britain.
Especially following a year when the Olympics changed the way we see ourselves - gave us real confidence as a society with shared values. The Olympics showed how brilliantly our communities can come together.
We basked in the glory of our country’s sporting success stories, whatever their background, skin colour or religion.
We all know that the Secretary of State is passionate about tackling extremism - his commitment is shared by the Prime Minster, the Deputy Prime Minister and across government - everyone is sickened by the messages and activities of the EDL and their ilk.
All of us share a personal commitment to tackling them. In fact one of the reasons I came into politics was because many years ago the National Front were allowed to hire my children’s school to use as a meeting place.
Their ugly messages and actions could not go ignored.
I campaigned against them to get them out of my children’s school and back into the wilderness where they belong.
And now we have the English Defence League marching up and down our streets on a Saturday.
Causing local shops and businesses to lose money just when they are struggling with the downturn.
And causing fear across our communities.
In ‘Creating the conditions for integration’ published last February, the government set out its approach to creating and sustaining strong communities.
A major part of the approach is to tackle extremism and intolerance head on.
The far right must be isolated, undermined, outflanked and subject to the ridicule they deserve.
This is why we are working in schools with 10,000 students across the country to give them the tools to reject the far-right’s messages.
It’s why we are working with communities in Dudley, Croydon, Barking and Luton, training volunteers to produce community newspapers for 14,000 families that provide an alternative voice to the far right.
And why the government is supporting over 30 projects as part of our integration strategy - you have copies today. We need to invest now to reduce the costs and impacts generated by the EDL in the future.
But we know that it is only at local level that we can really address the conditions the far right feeds on.
That is why we were so pleased when Blackburn with Darwen and Luton came to us and asked for our help to set up and run this national special interest group on the far right.
Because it is through the leadership of councils like Luton, Blackburn and many others that we will ultimately succeed.
We already know that there is a lot of good work going on in places up and down the country:
- in Luton they have the ‘Luton in Harmony’ campaign involving nearly 70,000 Luton residents saying loud and clear that they do not want the EDL in their towns
- in Blackburn they have the ‘hundred voice’ campaign, which puts people at extreme ends of the spectrum of opinions in the same room as each other to thrash it out
These are fantastic innovative responses to the challenges we face by the far right but even more is needed.
Local leadership is critical if we are to succeed in smashing the far right in our local areas.
I can tell you that the far right has taken a battering but is still on the move - they haven’t managed to attract the numbers of supporters on marches that they did in their heyday in 2011.
Looking forward to this year, we expect that the EDL will continue to decline in numbers.
But they will still manage to get enough supporters out for marches in towns and cities across 2013 - enough to cause disruption and fear.
We also know that there are splinter groups appearing across the country threatening flash demonstrations and direct action - the Infidels and the English Volunteer Force are just two examples.
All the good work that local authorities and the police have done in minimising the impacts of these people has had an effect but clearly as I said there is more to do.
Local leadership is absolutely critical in succeeding in smashing the far right in our local areas.
But what does this leadership look like? What does it do? How does it keep its head above the parapet at all times, not just in the run up to EDL demonstrations?
Well, that is what we are here for today. I would encourage you all to look at the 30 or so projects the government is supporting. These projects include everything from music projects bringing different communities together for a common purpose, to looking at getting scouts and cadets groups in more areas, particularly areas where they may not have existed before.
As leaders in your communities you will know this better than us. We look forward to hearing the ideas you come up with and to you sharing them with those leaders who couldn’t make it here today.
And I am interested in hearing proposals for innovative projects for undermining extremists of all stripes, so please share your ideas with me and we will see what we can do to support you. There may even be some money for it.
Thank you for what you are doing.