‘Loud and Proud': Youth Activists in the English Defence League

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: 411
Oral Presentation
Hilary PILKINGTON , University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
This paper considers the meanings young members of the ‘new far right’ English Defence League (EDL) attach to their activism. Based on an ethnographic study (2012-13) including interviews with over 30 grassroots activists, it argues that the movement’s trademark slogan ‘Not racist, not violent, just no longer silent’ denotes more than a cynical PR strategy. In contrast to a ‘politics’ they reject (understood as ‘debating’, ‘listening’ and ‘reading the Sunday Times’), participation in EDL actions provides young people with a way of ‘getting your point across’, ‘speaking out’ and ‘standing strong’. This, it is argued, is indicative of the experience of the political sphere by some young people as characterised by a ‘politics of silencing’ in which ‘legitimate’ political discourse is closed down due to the social distance between ‘politicians’ and ‘people like us’ and the legal and cultural circumscriptions on ‘acceptable’ issues for discussion. Drawing on Mouffe’s (2005: 6) argument that right wing populism has made inroads in those places where traditional democratic parties have lost their appeal to an electorate no longer able to distinguish between them in the ‘stifling consensus’ that has gripped the political system, the paper traces the resonance of these tropes in the narratives of ‘the political’ among a broader sample of (non-activist) young people in the UK (based on representative survey and interview data gathered for the FP7 MYPLACE project of which the EDL ethnography is also a part). The paper asks whether the desire to engage in politics in a ‘loud and proud’ way might confirm Mouffe’s argument that a democracy that ‘works’ for ‘the people’ may not be one based on ‘a universal rational consensus’ managed through institutions that ‘reconcile all conflicting interests and values’ but rather one in which there is a vibrant public sphere of political contestation (ibid. p.3)?