The fewer English Defence League supporters that can be mobilised for a demo, it seems, the more left-wing campaigners feel the need to go out and counter them. On Saturday, there were about 150 far-right EDL members marching in Walthamstow, London. But that didn’t stop a counter-protest 20 times this size taking place in an attempt to ‘crush’ the EDL.
One thing that never seems to cross anti-EDL campaigners’ minds is what it would be like if the EDL was simply allowed to march without obstruction. The EDL did little to no mobilisation in Waltham Forest, the borough in which Walthamstow sits – it was the ‘We Are Waltham Forest’ anti-EDL campaigners who spent almost two months fliering, putting up posters, holding meetings, getting people to sign petitions, knocking on doors and running stalls in Walthamstow town centre.
Without the efforts of We Are Waltham Forest, 150 EDL members would have turned up on the bleak crossroads by Blackhorse Road station, and trudged for a mile or two towards their planned rallying point at Walthamstow Town Hall, causing minimal disruption. Walking along the largely empty Forest Road, they would have appeared slightly daft and pathetic. Indeed, for much of the route, with their ‘Allah is a paedo’ banners and feamongering chants drawing the attention of only a handful of passersby, that is exactly how they came across. (They really only came snarling to life when spurred on by anti-fascist protesters and photographers who were following the protest from a safe distance on the other side of the road.)
Not much to dread: 150 EDL supporters march down Forest Road, Walthamstow.
But the idea that the EDL could march unchallenged would be anathema to anti-fascist campaigners who are convinced they are witnessing the birth of a neo-Nazi party, or an angry swarm of Anders Breiviks-in-the-making. Indeed, many wanted the march banned altogether, with local Labour MP Stella Creasy leading the call. At a special meeting last month, she said of the EDL: ‘When they talk about marching on any day, it’s a no go for me. That’s a point when our welcome draws a line in the sand and says no.’
‘When you come with those views’, she continued, ‘when you come with that vision of our local community, it’s not what we expect, it’s not representative, and it’s not what we will accept’. Evidently for Creasy, and the hundreds of people whose views she claimed to represent, only people with the ‘right’ views are welcome in Waltham Forest. Lib-Con home secretary Theresa May and the police ignored the request for a ban, however, and the EDL’s march went ahead.
Some anti-EDL campaigners saw fit to attack May as a result. One furious campaigner started screaming hysterically at the police, who were keeping him apart from the EDL march: ‘It’s Theresa May’s fault, it’s her fault, how could she let them come here?’ One seller of a left-wing newspaper was challenged by a photographer about why he wanted the EDL banned. Are you not in favour of free speech and democracy?, he was asked. ‘Fundamentally, I’m against fascism’, he responded.
The idea that the left can gain unity through being against the EDL – perceived to be the twenty-first century frontline of fascism – was pushed by speakers and protesters. One prominent left-wing blogger tweeted: ‘The stereotype that the British left are best at mobilising AGAINST things is truest… when it comes to resisting fascism.’
An anti-fascist campaigner gives a scientific account as to why the EDL should be banned.
For all the bravado about ‘smashing’ the EDL, and chants comparing it to the Nazis and ‘stringing them up like Mussolini’, when the anti-EDL protesters got a chance to take on the individuals who share the ‘same hatred’ as Anders Breivik, they did, erm, nothing. With the EDL march diverted down side streets due to a ‘sit down’ protest by anti-fascist groups, the EDL’s leaders – including founders Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll – found themselves surrounded by about 500 anti-EDL protesters. Robinson took the opportunity to mock the crowds through a loudspeaker system, asking questions along the lines of: ‘If the sun didn’t set during Ramadan, would you rather starve than eat?’
Despite the EDL leadership being outnumbered 100 to 1 by protesters, and buffered by just a handful of policemen, all the protesters did was chant, ‘if it wasn’t for the coppers, you’d be dead’ (to the tune of ‘She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain’). Their failure to act rather gave the lie to the idea that they genuinely believe Robinson and his cronies to be the new Nazis. The Battle of Cable Street this wasn’t. The anti-fascist protest was exposed not as a groundswell of community members, willing to take to the streets to fight the fascist threat, but rather as an army of censors calling upon the state to ban the obnoxious, lager-swilling, working-class louts of the EDL.
If Tommy Robinson really was the same as Breivik, why did protesters just whine when they had him cornered?
Miffed that he wasn’t going to be able to address his supporters at the rally, Robinson bellowed down the loudspeaker, ‘What about our democratic rights? What about free speech?’ One voice in the crowd responded: ‘Fuck your free speech!’
Such an attitude sums up the censorious approach of the anti-Nazi left-wing campaigners. The EDL is cast as hate incarnate, needing to be banned for holding views that the likes of Stella Creasy MP deem unacceptable. The EDL can’t just be countered, it seems, it must be silenced.
The left has cried wolf over the rising threat of the EDL. Should it return soon – as it promises to – it’s unlikely such numbers will turn out from the community to protest against the EDL. Moreover, when faced with the perfect opportunity to ‘crush’ the ringleaders of the movement, these great anti-fascist protesters balked. Perhaps they realised that should the great fascist spectre of the EDL cease to exist, they would have to go through the effort of hyping up another threat instead.