We asked: 'Is Britain First in terminal decline?'

28 Sep 2016

 

Over the last few years, Britain First has been a political and social phenomenon, claiming to be the first political party to receive more than a million likes on its Facebook page. 

 

The group describes itself on its website as a "patriotic political party and street movement" that wants "British jobs for British workers". It has long been accused of being a racist party, partly because of its anti-Islamic message.

 

Five months ago, a group of Britain First Activists including Deputy Leader Jayda Fransen "invaded" a Halal slaughterhouse, accusing the butchers of practising "a disgusting, vile ideology". Britain First has long denied it is a racist party, claiming they are open to anyone who shares their commitment to the "defence of British values and our opposition to the global Islamic jihad".

 

Now it seems the party that once topped FB news feeds across the country may be in terminal decline as people begin to switch off to its message. In the 2016 London Mayoral elections its leader, former BNP member Paul Golding, received just 1% of the vote, compared to the 57% of votes received by Labour's Sadiq Khan – a practising Muslim.

 

24 year-old Gareth Arnoult from Sheffield is founder of 'Britain Furst', a Facebook page that has been lampooning Britain First's far right message since the summer of 2014. 

 

Gareth said that when he originally saw the Britain First Facebook page he thought it was "a parody" but when he realised it wasn't he was "entertained more than anything" it had "gained such a wide following". 

 

Realising there was "a gap in the market", he subsequently created the 'Britain Furst' Facebook page to lampoon the right-wing polemics coming from Britain First.

 

Britain Furst founder Gareth Arnoult.

 

The page, which has over 200,000 followers, uses memes to parody the sentiments found on the Britain First website. Notable examples include the claim that Big Ben was to be called 'Big Mohammad' and that David Cameron was going to cancel Christmas because it offended Muslims. Gareth, who has met Paul Goulding and Jayda Fransen twice, describing them as "being very polite", attributing their success to the smart use of memes and "really good digital marketing".

 

"They had a really good idea of who their target market was", he says, "namely white males aged between 40-60" who helped to spread their message by sharing all their posts.

 

Instead of making memes with their views overtly apparent, he thinks that Britain First has succeeded by "disguising their political messages" by making it look like something else. With catchy pictures and slogans which "click" with a lot of people, such as animal welfare causes, pro-military slogans and pictures of the Royal Family, Britain First achieved a post reach of over a million.

 

However, Gareth thinks the reason for their success has spelt their doom. Becoming a success by exploiting "gaps in the market", this tactic "has now blown up in their faces". "It got to a point", he says, "where short of murdering someone, there was really nothing they could do to gain public favour anymore".

 

Although the party became "progressively more extreme" in order to stay newsworthy, Gareth believes that this quickened the decline. "Once their message became clear, people were really turned off by it. Far-right nationalism doesn't click with a lot of people for some reason", he adds.

 

According to Gareth, the real strength of the party became clear when you look at the handful of people who showed up for demonstrations and marches. "The armchair activism that Britain First was built on simply didn't transform into real world activism".

 

In the end, Gareth sees the legacy of Britain First as "a guidebook on how to succeed and fail". It changed the way we perceive how social media could influence political discourse and "demonstrated that all you needed is a few people who post meme and you can rock the UK for a few years".

 

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