Matthew Collins’ war against hate

by Dan Hodges

Matthew Collins is a Nazi. And a good friend.

Actually, that’s not strictly accurate. He used to be a Nazi. Back when he was young and angry and felt he was slipping off the world.

When I was young I was into a bit of politics and football and girls. This is what Matt was into:

“The little old ladies attempted to flee in terror but they had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. They were forced to cower together against the walls in united agonised anticipation of their bloody beating. Their own chairs were raised in slow motion against them. This was going to be a bloodbath”.

It was. And Matthew Collins perpetrated it. The description above relates to an attack he was involved in on a group of Asian pensioners at Welling library, in 1989. He was 17, and a member of the BNP.

The story of Matthew’s brutal assault is recounted in his new book Hate. I’m not usually into reviewing or plugging books. But you should stop reading now, shut down your computer, walk out the door, find a bookshop,  buy it and read it. Then you should  think about it.

Hate is about Matthew Collins’  journey; one that began that day in Welling, continued with his “defection” to the Searchlight anti-fascist magazine, and ended with him being in the forefront of the Hope not Hate campaign that saw the BNP routed from Dagenham and Nick Griffin subjected to his grotesque and glorious political humiliation. At some point over the next few months, the BNP will cease to exist as a political party. Its destruction will have been brought about, in no small part, by Matthew.

But Hate isn’t just about his journey. It’s about our journey. The left, the struggle against the far right, and the reality of the war to keep extremism at bay.

It’s a war we all want to serve in. At a time when politics is filled with confusion and compromise, the fight against the fascists is framed with brutal, but welcome, clarity. Or it should be.

That clarity is certainly what attracted me.  I started working with Hope not Hate on the media  campaign for the 2009 Euro elections. It was no-holds-barred, bare knuckle, PR. We used every dirty, underhand, low down, unscrupulous trick in the book. Then when the book had been used up, we tore it to shreds, set it on fire, and stuffed it down Nick Griffin’s underpants.

It was at that time I first met Matt. To be honest, I thought he was a bit of a bullshitter. He was always talking about all the senior BNP guys like he really knew them. Then I got a call from one of the papers who needed to put one of our latest exposes to the BNP leader. “Stupid question”, I asked across the office, “but does anyone know the number for Griffin’s press guy”. “Yeah”, said Matt. “Do you want him, or do you need Griffin himself”? “You’ve got a number for Nick Griffin”? I replied. “Yeah. What do you want, office, home or mobile”?

He wasn’t bullshitting after all. We started a stupid game where Matt would ring up Griffin, or his press officer, Simon Darby, and we’d wind them up. Matt would pretend to be from a national newspaper and then hand the phone to me, pretending I was his news editor. “Nick, we’re just checking on those twelve seats you’re going to win. It is still twelve isn’t it”? “Nick, what do you say to those people who argue you’re just a bit too, well fat and ugly, to front a modern political campaign”?

I suppose Griffin had the last laugh when he squeezed in by a couple of hundred votes in the North West. But the twelve seat breakthrough never came close to materialising. It was a close run thing, but we managed to hold the line.

During that campaign I learned two valuable things from Matthew. The first was about the nature of modern  fascism itself. “The thing you’ve got to understand about Griffin and the BNP”, he said, “is there’s not really a lot there. They’re dangerous. But if you deal with them properly, they’re not a threat”.

He was right. We have to be vigilant, and we have to tackle the BNP and their offshoots head on. But we should be careful not to overestimate them.

When I started that 2009 campaign I thought Griffin was a sort of brown shirt Blairite, a slick moderniser who was professionalising his party and skillfully maneuvering it towards the political mainstream. He wasn’t. It was clear in the way he operated, and the way his party operated, that this was someone who was aggressive and racist and represented a political challenge. But above all else he was inadequate. He was precisely what we all saw in that defining Question Time appearance. A scared little man, way out of his depth.

The second thing I learnt from Matthew was about wanking. When you read the book, you’ll notice there’s a lot of masturbating. When I arranged for Matthew to pitch to publisher Iain Dale I spent twenty minutes outlining what I thought were the underlying socio-political themes that made it worthy of publication. “And what do you think are its key selling points?”, said Iain turning to Matthew. “Well”, he replied, “there’s a lot of jerking off”. “I’m sold”, Iain responded.

What comes out most clearly from Matthew’s walk though the world of far right extremism, is the seediness. The tackiness. The pettiness of prejudice.

Yes, there is some excitement. Lots of blood and adrenalin, covert meetings, undercover cops, spooks and terrorists. They are all there.

But there is little glamour to be found in Matthew’s embrace of, and flight from, far right extremism. And  even less romance.

This is important. Hate is a reminder that the politics of extremism is the politics of the sewer. Getting to grips with the far right involves getting down own your hands and knees and wading through the filth.

There is a place for pop concerts, and debates about the morality of bans on free assembly. Placards and slogans and demonstrations of solidarity are all well and good. But at the end of the day the far right will be defeated when it is out-thought and out-organised. It cannot just be shouted down.

Matthew Collins knows this. He has seen up close what makes a modern fascist. And what breaks one.

Once he was Nazi. Now he is a Nazi hunter. It is a terrible and beautiful redemption.

Hate is published by Biteback publishing.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.


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7 Responses to “Matthew Collins’ war against hate”

  1. The Future says:

    Yay!

    A genuinely great article by Dan. More like this please.

  2. “I suppose Griffin had the last laugh when he squeezed in by a couple of hundred votes in the North West.”

    He sure did.

    Griffin was elected to Brussels even though the BNP polled fewer votes in the region than it did in 2004 – the slump in Labour support was so catastrophic that the BNP share of the vote increased even though it lost 3,000 votes across the North West. I was in Manchester Town Hall that night as a naive student activist and was genuinely ashamed that the Labour party had become so toxic that fascists were being elected in its place.

    Just because Griffin failed in the general election it shouldn’t mean that the BNP are a spent force. The internal-wrangling and Griffin’s many failings have incapacitated the party that once took dozens of Labour seats, often in our heartlands. I suspect my brush with Griffin and his goons in June of 2009 will serve as a invaluable lesson in my formative political years, and if Matthew Collins can help in that fight come the 2014 Euro elections and again in the general election of 2015 then welcome, comrade.

  3. Daniel Howe says:

    This book has made me laugh and cry and at times sppechless with
    rage.

    It must also be said that the writer is one of the most brilliant public
    speakers if not one of the most foul mouthed too.

    Great review, but could have written so much more and still not captured
    it all.

    Well done Dan (and your foul mouthed friend!)

  4. Ralph Baldwin says:

    Dan,

    You should begin considering the underlying causation, there uis of course a rift, a significant one between those young men and (possibly) women, who anger and frustarion is such that they choose this path. There is an entirely different level of reasoning, more rational in why people choose to vote in that direction. The latter issue of of incredible importance as that is the reason “scared” little men like Griffin get into the limelight. It is also an issue completely beyond the comprehension of the Westminster lot, and many Councillors too who have not had the pleasure of “wading” in the filth. This last concept, complex and simple is still there bright as day and there has been a point blank refusal to address it by any of the three parties to any substantive or meaningful degree.

  5. Kate says:

    I more than once had the displeasure of meeting Mathew Collins. That his book has mention in it of terrorists comes as no surprise. He was with some individuals who later went on to serve time for their terrorist crimes. I also understand that he pretty much keeps the same company now.

    That he himself never served time in a prison must be somewhat of an injustice for the misery he helped promote in my home town.

    I would choose my “friends” more wisely if I were you Mr Hodges. This one has blood all over his hands.

  6. Roger says:

    I’ve also met Matthew and he is a really great guy.

    And Dan deserves major thanks for getting him published.

    Look forward to reading the book.

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