LONDON: The Guardian is facing accusations of uncritically repeating far-right propaganda. On Saturday, the British newspaper reported a claim made by far-right organization Britain First that 5,000 of its members had joined the center-right Conservative Party, which won a landslide in the Dec. 12 general election.
The Guardian article, by Mark Townsend, said Britain First were “attracted by what they describe as (Prime Minister) Boris Johnson’s negative attitude toward Islam.”
The article added that the group had claimed that about two-thirds of its “7,500 signed-up members” had joined the Tories since the election victory.
Britain First describes itself as a “patriotic political party that will put our own people first.” It has been criticized for its uniformed political marches in Muslim-majority areas.
Townsend claimed that “the mass defection of Britain First supporters confirms the backing of Johnson by far-right figures following his election triumph.”
However, critics have questioned the claims. “People should take this story with a pinch of salt,” said Nick Lowles, an anti-fascist campaigner with Hope not Hate. “Britain First doesn’t have 5,000 members. Not now, not ever.”
Hope not Hate, an expert group on British fascism, says Britain First has no more than 1,000 members.
In a 2015 op-ed published by The Guardian, Matthew Collins described Britain First as a “one-man band.”
He ridiculed The Sun newspaper for uncritically publishing the group’s claim that it had 6,000 members, despite the fact that it only managed to gather 60 people on a march through the town of Rochester ahead of an election. Its candidate received 56 votes.
The Guardian now appears to be aiding Britain First’s media strategy. One commenter tweeted: “It’s incredibly frustrating watching people who should know better boosting Britain First’s propaganda because it happens to be politically expedient.”
The Guardian’s piece has been shared by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
Corbyn said: “The far right is on the rise, emboldened by a prime minister who has divided our communities.”
McDonnell said: “Britain First now makes up a sizeable proportion of its (the Conservative Party) members.”
No evidence has been provided by The Guardian, Britain First or the Labour leadership to support these claims.