Ray Hill’s anti-racism legacy will last for generations

For many of us who had the privilege of working with Ray Hill and calling him a friend, his passing will bring back memories of anti-fascist campaigns of the past.

Taking on the British National Party (BNP) and Combat 18 on the streets of east London; undermining the first BNP Councillor Derek Beacon, after his (short-lived) 1993 election in Tower Hamlets Millwall Ward; rallies outside David Irving’s plush London home; and campaigning around the country to stymie any shoots of far-right electoral success.

Ray dedicated the latter part of his life to opposing the far-right. In his early years, he dabbled with far-right politics, eventually joining Colin Jordan’s British Movement.

While working in South Africa and engaging with the local Jewish community, he recanted his views and subsequently infi ltrated the South African National Front, rising through its ranks to become its leader. After returning to the UK he went on to infi ltrate the British Movement and the BNP. While acting as a mole for Searchlight anti-fascist magazine, he rose to leading roles within those groups. In one of his boldest and most audacious moves as an infi ltrator, Ray became one of the founders of the BNP. He did this to create discord and disarray in the UK far-right around the issue of participation in electoral politics.

With hindsight, this almost certainly played a seminal role in ensuring that the UK far-right never managed to come even near to emulating the electoral success of their counterparts elsewhere in Europe.

When Ray eventually ‘came out’ as an infi ltrator, he published his account,The Other Face of Terror, and made a seminal Channel 4 documentary exposing how the UK far-right had become a fully fl edged criminal conspiracy with international links to terrorist groups.

It was around this time that he suffered the frightening cost of his actions. His home was firebombed.

He had to live in hiding. Nevertheless, he forged a strong partnership with Jewish students who were, at the time, fighting the attempts of the far-right to gain a foothold on UK campuses. He undertook countless speaking engagements with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and the National Union of Students (NUS) – and always stayed around after for legendary sessions in the bar, when he would recount stories from his time as a mole.

A former army boxer and accomplished street fighter, Ray could never be described as anything but an ‘old-school anti-fascist’; his understanding of the shifting nature of extremism in the UK was far from simplistic.

He was years ahead of time. He was one of the fi rst to call out the problem of growing Islamist antisemitism. He took a strong stance against the growth of Louis Farrakhan-inspired black nationalism when it tried to establish itself in the UK during the mid-90s.

Speaking to student union leaders, Ray’s blunt attitude to those who used anti-Zionism as a cover for antisemitism had a huge impact upon many who went on to national politics after their NUS days. It also led to opposition from the far-left to an ultimately successful bid by UJS to nominate Ray for NUS honorary life membership. He also became the first and possibly the only non-Jewish UJS honorary life member.

Ray always had a clear message for mainstream political parties – which I’m not sure they ever fully embraced. In his classically gruff Lancashire accent, he would opine that to defeat political extremism by “asking turkeys to vote for Christmas” was a “hiding to nothing”.

Underlying that slogan was his core belief, infl uenced by his time inside the far-right, that the most effective way to draw young, white, impoverished working class people away from extremism was to provide them with mainstream political homes that delivered inspiring leadership, genuine aspiration and equal opportunity to hope.

Ray’s legacy on the fi ght against fascism will endure for generations. It will also continue for so many of us for whom Ray Hill was a formative infl uence on our activism and politics.

About the Author
Cllr Jeremy Newmark is Leader of the Labour Group and Principal Opposition Leader at Hertsmere Borough Council. He is also an elected member of the European Jewish Parliament and the General Council of the World Zionist Organisation