Professor Nigel Copsey
‘All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.’
It is this philosophy which has motivated Professor Nigel Copsey to research in depth manifestations of both historic and contemporary fascism and anti-fascism.
He believes the only way to keep a check on right-wing extremism is for research to shine a spotlight on their real views and not the views which are presented for public consumption.
Professor Copsey has been a guest speaker at an event run by the Young Foundation. As part of the Uprising project he was asked to take part in a question time style debate alongside Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.
The topic, ‘Are we entering a new politics of extremism?’, was part of the project’s aim to engage young people with politics.
Says Professor Copsey: ‘The ultimate aim of my research is to educate. It is only through education and understanding that we can ensure that people are not drawn into sympathising with right-wing extremism.’
research with community impact
Professor Copsey believes that it is only through understanding fascist beliefs and the strategy of right-extremist groups that we can effectively counter any potential threats from extremist behaviour.
‘There is a lot of scepticism surrounding immigration in this country. There are concerns over the rise of militant Islam, concern about the loss of English identity, economic pessimism, political disaffection and anti-European sentiment. All of these are worries that the far right can capitalise on.’
‘The latent support base for the far right could be far greater than is realised and that is my concern.’
fascination with fascism and anti-fascism
Professor Copsey, 44, is originally from County Durham. He completed his first degree at the Polytechnic of North London in politics and philosophy. He continued with a master’s on international relations at Lancaster University then a PhD at the University of Portsmouth – a comparison study of the far right in France and Britain.
But his interest in fascism began when he was just 11 and his older brother was heavily into the punk scene and Rock against Racism. ‘I became interested in the politics of that. It was the late 1970s and there was a perceived growth in support for the National Front. I tried to read a heavy academic book on the subject but didn’t understand it.’
So he decided to find out more for himself. Over the years this has become easier as the texts and writings of far right activists have become more readily available online.
‘It is only by analysing the front of stage literature and exposing the back stage beliefs that you can see what drives the extreme right. They are trying to present themselves as respectable and yet there is often a hidden agenda of anti-Semitism and biological racism.’
‘The BNP has been trying to make itself more electable. This has left a gap for a street movement that the English Defence League has filled with a focus against militant Islam. After some success in 2009 when Nick Griffin was one of two BNP MEPs elected, the BNP suffered a major electoral blow in the 2010 general and local elections and now seems to be imploding.’
‘There is a traditional view that the far right need not be taken seriously in this country,’ explains Professor Copsey. ‘But research has demonstrated there is a considerable amount of the electorate sympathetic to far-right views.’
‘BNP voters may not be necessarily anti-Semitic or biologically racist but they align themselves with the far right on issues such as immigration, anti-EU and English identity.’
‘We need to understand it properly so we can counter any potential threat that it represents’.
being a lifelong Sunderland supporter
When he is not involved in his research you can usually find Professor Copsey at home with his family (he has two young children) or shouting for his favourite football team – the Black Cats.
Born in Ferryhill, he followed the family tradition of supporting Sunderland. He remembers the FA cup final in 1973 when second division Sunderland won – a shock defeat for the previous season’s winners Leeds United. ‘I remember watching it on TV while my dad went to Wembley, he grins. ‘And we went to Sheffield for the semi-final against Arsenal at Hillsborough. My dad went to the match while I went shopping with my mum but then I was only six. If only I knew then what I know now. I would have supported Man United instead’.
The latent support base for the far right could be far greater than is realised and that is my concern.