Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Brighton rejects the English Defence League

On Easter Sunday Brighton was one again visited by the so called "March For England" (MfE). This reactionary group has been coming to our city for the past few years around St Georges Day, to celebrate 'Englishness', "English and proud" as their website says. Socialists do not seek to prevent people from celebrating their nationality and in the past the March for England has passed off peacefully, being largely ignored by the left and the people of Brighton in general.

However last year Unite Against Fascism (UAF) organised a counter protest with vague information that the English Defence League (EDL) would be attending the march. The EDL is a far-right group which expresses a combination of anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant views, despite claiming to be peaceful wherever they have protested there has been violence and often been attacks on ethnic minorities. This counter-protest was called without any discussion with the rest of the left or workers movement. Members of Brighton Socialist Party said at the time that mobilising against a demonstration with no clear EDL or racist presence would not be correct, as it would provide an excuse for the EDL and other groups to ‘defend the right to march on St Georges Day’.

This lead to an EDL mobilisation to come to Brighton under the banner of the English Nationalist Alliance (yet another rightwing group) in order to defend their right to be English in August. Which ended a number of arrests and anti-fascists chasing far-right demonstrators across the city. For a report of that demo click here...

Following on from that a UAF meeting called to "Defend Multiculturalism" was attacked by EDL supporters, reportedly from Portsmouth. Again Socialist Party members were there as the right-wingers were sent packing without breaking up the meeting. The result of all this was to create a mood of extreme tension in the run up to this year’s MfE. The police were clearly anticipating trouble and came prepared, with hundreds officers from Surrey, Metropolitan, Hampshire and Sussex forces were shipped into Brighton including twelve police horses. It was clear to all involved that the amount of protestors on both sides were vastly outweighed by the sheer number of constables!

Despite MfE's claim that they would not tolerate the EDL on their demonstrations at least one flag was present as were familiar faces from the August Bank Holiday demo and the chant of "E-E-EDL". There has been a distinct shift in the makeup of the MfE from last year, gone were the push-chairs and small children. Faced with this, attempts to prevent the MfE from ever taking place were always going to struggle, but it obvious that the police were doing everything in their power to allow the nationalists to march. Socialist Party members have attended many demonstrations where section 5 of the Public Order Act (relating to use of offensive language or signs) was used against demonstrators for the slightest of reasons. The double standards in the use of this power were starkly visible on Sunday. At one point we spoke to the highest ranking officer at the demonstration complaining about the lack of action against EDL members abusing the public. The Police refused to acknowledge it was happening while EDL members leaned over their shoulders to interrupt our conversation with abuse!

The counter-protest was contained with the now familiar kettling tactic from start to finish, indiscriminately not restricted to the demonstrators but anyone standing in the wrong place was forcefully herded together. Eight arrests in total took place on the day, the low point being when a police snatch squad was sent crashing into the UAF counter-protest with little regard for their own officers let alone the demonstrators. Once the MfE has been allowed to set off protestors were escorted down to the prepared positions set up on Victoria Gardens, a large area of grass in the heart of the city.

The whole process being heavily controlled by the police, it is clear that they are unable and unwilling to stop these kinds of events from taking place. Even worse than that they are unwilling to take responsibility for allowing the nationalists access to alcohol from early in the morning, walking them round the city and back to the pub again! In events similar to those that have happened after other EDL attended demos, one protestor was abused as she walked home by now drunken MfE attendees. And so the 150 odd nationalists were allowed their freedom to march, which they used to abuse people across the streets of Brighton, with insults ranging from the deeply offensive to the bizarre. Many were particularly sexist including ‘she’s got Chlamydia’ or ‘go home and cook my dinner’ directed at any women opposing the march.

But all along their route they were met with scorn and derision by passers-by, with members of the public emerging from Burger King and local pubs to show opposition. The message from Brighton was clear "Go home, you are not welcome here!" While Socialists would not simply call for these kinds of demonstrations to be banned outright - as such powers would surely be used against the left as well - lessons need to be learnt from Sundays events. It is not enough to reduce protests to mere slogans such as shouting "Nazi-scum!" The root issues which see some working class people join such demos as the MfE must be taken up.

It is not because of immigration or islamification that we are seeing thousands lose their jobs and public services privatised. It is because of a Government that has no solution to the economic crisis and that means a programme of brutal cuts. Working class people must stand together not on the basis of supposed national or religious identity but on the basis that these cuts affect us all. Racist sentiment is being whipped up by Cameron and Co as a distraction from the overwhelming austerity agenda of the ConDem government; themselves only the mouthpiece for Capitalism. The state, in their use of the Police at these protests, pretends to be a blind arbiter, while clearly it is one law for us and another for the EDL. However even if they stick to this fiction in the most even-handed way the Police cannot be relied on to oppose the development of organised racist forces or worse. A mass mobilisation is needed, drawing in the organised working-class from Trade Unions and workplaces, to prevent divisive movements such as the EDL from marching in the future. This has to be linked to the building of a new mass workers party in response to the lack of a mainstream political party to stand up in the interests of the working-class.

We Say;
- Reject the divisions of racism and the far-right
- Defend the welfare state from cuts and privatisation
- Develop a mass movement of trade unionists, workers and local communities against racism and the far-right
- Build a new mass workers party to overcome the vacuum left by New Labour’s betrayal of the working-class