Distraction by Ineptitude

Yiannis Baboulias

Turning Point UK was launched a few months ago in order to defend (or so it claimed) Conservative students who find themselves isolated or intimidated by the left’s alleged takeover of universities across the country. The group is led by George Farmer, a 29-year-old ex-Bullingdon man, and counts in its ranks the Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes, who has been fined for breaking electoral law. They are holding a fundraising dinner tonight, where the guests of honour will be Nigel Farage and Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA. (The American organisation maintains a ‘watchlist’ of academics who ‘advance a radical agenda in lecture halls’. Several of the people on the list have received death threats.)

The UK branch was established last December. The online launch a few weeks later was a mess, disrupted by leftwing activists who set up dozens of parody social media accounts. One of the real Turning Point spokespeople then suggested that ‘If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine.’ The group’s views are contradictory: they’re supposedly against borders but support both Brexit and Trump; they attack ‘identity politics’ but defended themselves after the Hitler statement by claiming their spokesperson couldn’t support Nazism because she’s black.

The confusion may be precisely the point, however. This is distraction by ineptitude, and it isn’t an isolated phenomenon. TPUK shares more than a passing resemblance to similar groups that have popped up across Europe over the past few years, such as Generation Identity, which exists in the UK and Ireland but has a bigger presence in France and Germany. As a youth-oriented network, Génération Identitaire started out with ‘softer’ positions, like TPUK, before gradually morphing into an openly far right organisation, with close ties to Marie Le Pen and the Alternative für Deutschland. A short-lived group called 1001 Voices appeared in Greece a couple of years ago.

However ineffectual and chaotic they may be individually, these groups have a common goal: to weaponise anti-establishment youth resentment. A single organisation would be easier for their opponents to attack and delegitimise; collectively, they adopt the tactics of the disinformation campaigns that were so effective in the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum: small, loose, personalised and nasty.

Without knowing more about who funds them – and Turning Point won’t say who its donors are – it’s impossible to know how connected the various groups are to one another. But in this context, TPUK looks less like a group of laughable incompetents who can’t put together a tweet without contradicting themselves, and more like part of a network of disparate campaigns that whip up antisemitism, islamophobia and redbaiting in order to strengthen reactionary politics that somehow always come crowned with a MAGA – or, these days, KAG – hat.