An organisation called Turning Point UK was launched via social media in early February. An offshoot of a US-based group, the British wing describes itself as a:
Grassroots organisation dedicated to educating students and other young people on the values of free markets, limited government and personal responsibility.
Turning Point UK (TPUK) seeks to challenge the widely held view that young people are inherently left-leaning. While attracting the support of Conservative MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel, the youth wing of the Conservative Party and other MPs have raised concerns about the group’s affiliation with its American counterpart. Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is a group marred by ongoing allegations of racism and Islamophobia and links to the far-right.
While social media is awash with people claiming TPUK are “far right”, the reality is rather more complex. TPUK doesn’t readily “fit” traditional understandings of who and what the far right is, which tend to focus on the overtly racist, staunchly patriotic and nationalistic street movements many perceive to be driven by white, working-class men.
As our ongoing research suggests, the term “far right” is becoming increasingly meaningless and unusable as those on the right become ever more diversified and use a broader range of issues behind which to identify and mobilise.
TPUSA was established in 2012, the brainchild of Charlie Kirk, a then politically active 18-year-old. Pro-military, pro-police, anti-feminist, anti-Muslim and supportive of the National Rifle Association, TPUSA refers to itself as “the nation’s largest campus-based conservative student organisation”.
Key to this is the targeting of university campuses across the country. As well as claiming to have helped more than 50 supporters to become student body presidents, TPUSA is also behind the website Professor Watchlist, which seeks to expose academic staff who the group claim discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist agendas.
Prior to its social media launch, TPUK was officially launched at an exclusive event in London late in 2018. Speaking at the event were Kirk and Candace Owens, the communications director of TPUSA. Voicing her concerns that we are in the middle of an ideological world war, Owens said that the US and UK needed to rally together to defend Western values as part of an ongoing “culture war”. Kirk agreed, adding that while “all men are created equal not all cultures are created equal”.
In line with TPUSA, the British group intends to target students and universities, and seeks to educate young Brits about “ideas marginalised by the mainstream education” as a means of changing campus culture. As part of this, TPUK’s launch video focused almost exclusively on how the left want to control young people and dominant discourse in order to shut down those who question them.
While the British offshoot claims to stand against racism and has sought to distance itself from the far right, TPUSA has done similar despite reportedly recruiting racists and Nazi sympathisers to increase its ranks and form stronger links with the far right and alt-right. Although TPUK “influencer” Dominique Samuels told the BBC in an interview in early February that the UK group is independent of its American parent and will not merely replicate everything it does, it remains closely affiliated with TPUSA.
The rhetoric TPUK uses and the demographic it targets makes it extremely similar to another group called Generation Identity (GI), whose targeting of migrants illustrate the nature of their deeply racist and Islamophbic intentions, and the resonance these have with the traditional far right. A Europe-wide youth movement, GI argues the need to “stop the Islamisation of Europe” and the demographical replacement of “native Europeans”. Both groups argue that their respective traditions and values are under threat by the left, and that mainstream politicians are failing to serve the interests of young people. Both also seek to mobilise young people by engaging them in universities, to challenge perceived “leftist enemies” who seek to suppress dissent and restrict free speech.
Splintering of the right
While only time will tell exactly where TPUK’s future direction lies, there is much to suggest that the group would appear to be heading towards the outer echelons of the right-wing political spectrum.
But describing TPUK as being far right is fraught with difficulties. This is because over the past decade or so, the right wing has undergone significant transformation and diversification. As well as responding to a wider and more diverse range of socio-political issues, right-wing groups have also drawn on a much broader range of identities behind which to mobilise and subsequently form new alliances.
In recent years, groups such as the Football Lads Alliance, Britain First and GI, have mobilised in response to extremism, grooming gangs and immigration. Add into this the right’s adoption of the defence of civil and liberal values – especially those relating to gender and sexuality – and groups such as Gays Against Sharia illustrate the difficulty of positioning such groups within traditional understandings about who and what the right, let alone the far right, might be.
The same is true of TPUK. While the group has certain leanings and sentiments appropriate to the traditional far right, that they appear so far removed from street-protest groups such as the English Defence League a decade ago, let alone the National Front and Combat 18 “boot boys” of the 1980s, makes it increasingly difficult to comfortably describe them as far right.
It also further muddies the water that groups, including TPUK, routinely – yet contradictorily and cynically we hasten to add – decry racism, endorse diversity and champion free speech. If nothing else, doing so enables TPUK and others to refute those who claim it to be far right, which might be just enough to ensure its appeal to those who might have previously been adverse to this label. For this reason, now might be the time to rethink the existing vocabulary and the way it is used to describe such groups.