It was his 13-month prison sentence for contempt of court in May that, according to Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, cemented Robinson’s journey from fringe player to occupying “a valuable niche in the radical-right ecosystem”.
“This is exactly the argument they like,” said Ford, “because it means they can say, ‘we’re the truly brave liberals’. The degree to which it has gone viral as an argument shows this is a winner for the radical right. It strongly motivates their core electorate.” Robinson’s imprisonment buttressed the message, allowing him to present himself as a “martyr for truth”.
“If he sticks to that line I can imagine a lot of far-right outfits wanting to make use of that. He could find himself perpetually on tour to whichever country has an election,” added Ford.
Ford believes fallout from the Brexit deal will help the far right make a real incursion into UK politics. He calculated that around 20% of the electorate hold a Ukip worldview, of which around half might be seduced by the xenophobic, Islamophobic vision of a Bannon/Robinson alliance. “That’s still 10% of the electorate – a lot of voters,” he said.
Brexit offered an opportunity to vastly increase numbers, added Ford. “We were promised a national renewal project and all we got was this crappy T-shirt from Boris Johnson,” he said. If a radical-right movement harnessed the power of a Robinson, or Farage, with adequate funding and credible candidates, it could make significant inroads. “There are formidable barriers to entry for new parties. One is getting any kind of attention, and figures like Robinson and Farage are valuable for that.”