Recently, I picked up an unassuming leaflet. It seemed innocent enough, advocating against animal cruelty. The emotive photo of a cattle’s eye behind a metal grill communicated that. It wasn’t until I carefully read the copy on the flip-side of the leaflet did it occur to me; this was political rhetoric at its finest.

A brief introduction: For Britain is a UK far-right political movement. Its leadership is founded on anti-Islam and anti-EU principles, and though they do not have any elected officials on any level of government, they’re part of the nation’s growing conservative movement. I won’t spend any more than this explaining the perceived, as the point of my writing is to examine their rhetoric; their calculated use of language and imagery in this specific leaflet.

Britannia Symbolism

Though somewhat faint and only forming the backdrop on both sides, the leaflet features the figure of Britannia. Britannia is the female personification of the UK and was a prominent rallying symbol, especially during the centuries of British imperialism. The Poseidon’s trident (which is incidentally the movement’s symbol) perhaps best represents the British Empire’s naval power during the 16th to 20th century. The use of Britannia symbolism is vital, as it calls back to a past with a “powerful” Great Britain, at the height of its strength during the age of Empire. A time when it had colonial subjects the world over and grew in economic and military force. Alongside being percieved a moral beacon for liberty and democracy.

Modernity, as the narrative goes, has not been kind. With the EU perceived to have weakened British autonomy, sovereignty and destiny, alongside many other additional ills such as open borders and immigration – it’s unsurprising that an icon of a great Empire past is invoked.

Animal Dignity?

It’s interesting that one side of the leaflet (recognised as the front) features a single closeup photograph of the eye of a cow behind a wire fence. This is the emotional selling point, being the only image in the entire leaflet, and was designed to do so. Read together with the quote provided by the For Britain movement’s leader, Anne Marie Waters – its message is simple: animals have the right to a life of dignity, free from cruelty.

This is a message that can generally appeal to anyone, no matter what ideological spectrum you inhabit.

While the image, if examined in isolation, does not indicate if the cow is in distress, its placement behind the wire fence suggests as such. In fact, it draws parallels to one being “behind bars”; the stripping of individual dignity and loss of autonomy. The eye no longer seems innocent, but now suggest imprisonment and awaiting a bleak future.

Now pair that with the quote, and it would suggest a holistic message that For Britain stands for the protection of animals. But is this truly the case? This choice of focusing on animals over other political issues is deliberate, and one that we will explore further when we flip to the other side. This is where their stance becomes clear.

The Manifesto and who it targets

On the opposite side, the leaflet outlines five simple manifestos.

  • Education, Not Indoctrination
  • One Law For All
  • Freeze Immigration
  • Ban Religious Slaughter
  • Audit The NHS

All which would fit nicely into protest placards and sound catchy when chanted out loud. While the first few and final manifestos do not tally with the earlier image and quote of animal dignity, it is the fourth one: ‘Ban Religious Slaughter’, that indicates what this leaflet seems to be all about and who it seemingly aims at.

The UK typically accommodates to two religions when it comes to religious slaughter: Islam and Judaism. And while religious slaughter is legally recognised by the UK government, with guidelines provided for the practice, this manifesto seems to be squarely targeted at Muslims. Media headlines typically focus on Halal meat and rarely (if ever) about Kosher if one of the many following articles over the few years is any indication.

Halal slaughter is framed as an ethical issue, concerned with the welfare of the animals. In an examination between Kosher and Halal slaughter methods, both, due to their Abrahamic lineage are similar in practice. Yet Halal is under scrutiny. This must be read with the socio-political climate of the past two decades marked by Islamophobia and its cause: religious extremism.

One needn’t dig deeper to know who this is aimed at, though a visit to the For Britain website and a quick check on its founder’s history would state clearly that the movement is anti-Islam. Its three other manifestos, ‘Education, Not Indoctrination’, ‘One Law For All’ and ‘Freeze Immigration’ are all references to the Muslim community. A point which I will explain briefly.

Rule of Law

Manifestos, while catchy, are also malleable to the impressions of its audience. They are, for all intents and purposes, rhetorical Rorschach tests. Apart from two: ‘Freeze Immigration’ and ‘Ban Religious Slaughter’, the other three manifestos, on first impressions are reasonable. Who wouldn’t want equality, unbiased education and a functioning NHS?

This is where a visit to the First Britain website clarifies its stance. As a leaflet, it would have already done its job if you were intrigued enough by its vague but relatable manifestos. I do not want to go into detail, but to summarise: For Britain believes that the political left’s position on hate speech, anti-racism, anti-discrimination, political correctness and moral duty to accept refugees is problematic. This what is what referred to by the lack of the “rule of law”.

Muslims, their communities and religious practices are deemed detrimental to British society and stability. While there are valid arguments to be made on the Muslim contribution to local and international terrorism, For Britain’s stance is a hardline one that aims to restrict the entire British Muslim populace, compared to other sections of society. There is no nuance to the approach, just a single blanket belief that paints all Muslims as problematic, as opposed to recognising the specific faultlines that can be addressed.

To address immigration: while the EU’s porous (economic) borders policy is understood to be one of the main reasons for the UK’s economic decline – as per the 2016’s Leave EU campaign, the term migrants is coded to mean Muslims. Recent research shows that a third of the Brexit voters believe that Muslim immigration is a (conspiratorial) plan to reshape the UK’s sociopolitical landscape. Paired with the Pew Research Center’s study indicating that the UK’s Muslim population is set to grow exponentially into 2050 – it takes no stretch of the imagination to know where the ‘Freeze Immigration’ manifesto comes from. Muslims, especially migrants and refugees coming from the war-torn Middle-East who are perceived to bring their conservative and extremist values with them, therefore posing a national security threat. On top of taking away economic opportunities from the UK populace.

Finally, ‘Audit the NHS’ is one that speaks clearly for the benefit of the UK. The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s most fundamental post-war public institution. In the recent decade, the challenges facing the NHS has become a prominent matter of debate. Plenty of solutions have been floated, but political will seems to be sorely lacking. To no one’s surprise, the NHS has become a political subject by all quarters, from being used to sway public opinion on the EU referendum (the infamous Boris bus) to unfounded populist claims that migrants are putting a strain on the NHS. Everyone’s opinion on the NHS is that it can do better, and should. The question is how. For Britain’s claim of immigrants taking advantage of ‘health tourism‘ in the UK attempts to insert itself into this debate.

The forgotten majority

This brings us to the movement’s slogan and call to action, present in both sides of the leaflet. ‘Stand up for the forgotten majority’. Who are they referring to? An examination of For Britain’s core stances would indicate that the British majority is to mean those who were working-class, white British. Interestingly, the movement’s emotional appeal for the “forgotten majority” rings similar to the Trump 2016 Presidential Campaign that was believed to have struck an emotional chord with white working-class Americans.

Read on its own, the slogan’s emotional appeal would be subtle, almost reasonable. But when paired with the Brittania symbolism that backdrops the leaflet – the appeal is amplified. There is a nostalgic recall to the age of the British Empire when the island nation was a force to be reckoned with; an unquestionable white majority force. This question of British identity and nationalism is present in British historian Paul Gilroy’s There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, that argues that the sociopolitical and legal contours of the UK are designed to set White British as the standard to judge others against. Muslims, for all intents and purposes, are not deemed as equal to being British – given how Islam and its tenets is positioned as antagonistic towards British culture and values.

This needs to be read together with the growing discontent against London, the capital that is seen to have a say in deciding the fate of the entire nation alongside drawing economic resources towards itself and away from other parts of the country. Inequality is a stark feature of the UK due to the global economy and shifting markets – meaning plenty of other regions of the UK, not seen as a potential economic market, do not get a share of the financial pie. This puts London at odds with other parts of the country. And if this is paired statistically with the increasing population of migrants that inhabit the capital (for various reasons that I will not explore here), there is a reason to believe that the majority of White Britain is being forgotten. Both on policy and economic levels.

Cities like Bradford and Birmingham or even smaller towns like Savile are cited as cautionary examples of a growing Muslim population taking over localities where they were once minorities. Potentially reshaping the sociopolitical landscape to sweep away British culture, whatever that may be defined as. Britishness, or specifically white Britishness, is framed as what is at risk of being forgotten. Because what then of the Windrush generation, the Polish, or the Chinese? Other ethnic minority groups who are also equally British citizens but seem to not fall under the same sword of For Britain.

Language and Politics

So what can we take away here? Though the subject of this essay is about a simple double-sided leaflet, it is an interesting examination of political rhetoric and propaganda. As I mentioned earlier, manifestos are Rorschach tests – they’re designed to mould into its audience’s individual experiences. Hence, being relatable on any level. Though specific manifestos on the For Britain’s leaflet may be more obviously aimed, especially the ones on immigration and religious slaughter – the entire leaflet can be perceived as reasonable. In fact, the calculated use of language masks the movement’s contempt towards Islam and Muslims, allowing its message to be implied, not clarified.

The design of this simple leaflet has been well thought of: from the use of the Britannia symbolism, down to its core message: animal dignity, exemplified by an emotive photograph and an accompanying quote, to its “neutral” manifestos.

Make no mistake, For Britain is a far-right, conservative and antagonistic movement that has no reservations about suppressing and stripping away the rights and autonomy of other groups (Muslims, specifically) that it deems isn’t “British”. Though this single leaf of propaganda may seem superficially harmless, we should be more careful and read between the lines. That is, after all, the appeal of propaganda: an appeal to emotion through the calculated use of rhetoric.