As a photojournalistic experience the following of the EDL is becoming photographically bland, albeit that the events always have some degree of surprise and interest. There is only so many times that one can photograph a crowd of people with flags marching a short distance through the streets of an English city. The members of the EDL , whoever they may be, are very ambivalent over whether they like having their photographs taken, and whether we as photographers are considered to be “scum” or “leeches”.
I had an interesting chat with a couple of guys from the EDL who, initially, were very antagonistic towards me, given that I was wandering around in their mustering area, by the designated pubs. I received the usual vitriol about not being welcome, being a commie, and a pre-determined view on what I was planning to do with my photos. Fortunately these guys were mature, hadn’t had too much to drink and we had a very amicable conversation. I did point out that their concern that the press branded them all as right-wing racists, was the same as them branding all photographers as “commies/lefties/biased”. Fair point – I feel – which they accepted.
The more we talked and the more they realised that my intentions were genuine, and I was there to observe, the more, I sensed that they could see that I had my own perspective and that I was not part of the “NUJ campaign”.
They expressed their views with great passion, and emotion, and they had a great longing for the time when one could be proud of being English, in a land, that respected that nationality. A land that rang to the music of Vaughan-Williams and Elgar, where the years of tradition were evident in the culture of the villages and cities of the country. A land where the sudden rise of state-driven multi-culturalism has diluted, and potentially, dis-enfranchised those people who have an attachment to the history of the country. An environment where they feel that the other cultures do not respect the indigenous traditions, and social norms, and modes of conduct which we would be expected to recognise if we were elsewhere.
This is an undertsandable position, and people are entitled to take a view on what they consider to be their preference, and different people accept change and assimmilate it at different rates, and in different ways. It is perfectly understandable that the “wrongs” that they see are embodied in an “outside community” – that is almost natural – it is evident in all walks of life. It is deep in the human psyche that we are cautious of people who are different – different colour, different attitude, different nationality, different appearance, different religion and culture. It is therefore only to be expected that division is evident.
Such differences are only reconciled by talking and recognising that the “others” are real people, and share a lot of similarities.
I was asked if I felt more comfortable walking in amongst the EDL or the UAF; I answered honestly – the UAF. I think that this surprised them – their understanding was that the UAF was predominantly Muslim youths who would be anti-white. I’ve been on many demonstrations, including Muslims Against Crusades with Anjem Choudary and have never been directly intimidated ( I am aware that it does happen), whereas on all EDL marches I , and my colleagues, have been directly intimidated for no good reason, other than by association with the NUJ and mainstream media.
There are clearly a number of the EDL guys who are friendly and will engage in conversation and not brand all photographers as “scum” – but unfortunately for them, the EDL is a very broad “church” and, by their own admission, it does attract a number of unsavoury characters who keep each event on a knife-edge with it being “spring-loaded” to deteriorate into a “punch-up”.
At today’s event, as Tommy Robinson spoke he referred to a posting by a member called “Alan Smith” who had made some assertions that the leadership were police informants – needless to say Tommy was not very complimentary. He stated that these sorts of comments were only meant to be damaging to the organisation. Bizarrely, it transpired that Mr Smith was actually in the crowd and the group surrounding him gave him a bit of a rough time. Robinson continued to vilify this person in a way that only fuelled the situation, and despite Mr Smith’s wreckless view on his own safety, could have resulted in serious harm coming to him. The consequential effect of this was that it got very tense inside the demo area, and everyone surged forward which was causing much distress to a lot of people. A number of the attendees had to be removed from the pen for their safety, and the barriers were eased to allow people to escape and re-join at the back. This was not a good moment for Tommy Robinson – his actions incited this, and potentially could have caused harm to his own supporters. I understand that as Smith got out, a scuffle ensued between him and Robinson which resulted in Robinson being taken away quickly by his security – towards the police cordons. After a few minutes, of collecting his composure, he left the area – he sounded philosophical about what had happened as he walked past me.
The speeches continued, including a brief speech by the Mother of Charlene Downes, who was murdered in Blackpool, allegedly by a couple of Muslim men. This was followed by music..and the final rallying call was given by Kevin Carroll. The rally dispersed peacefully, although another EDL dissenter made himself known in the crowd and he effectively “threw himself to the pack”….a few minutes later he was taken off very quickly by the paramedics.
After each event I go to, I always come away with a slightly different perspective from what I’ve seen before. I always enjoy the opportunity to talk to people, especially the EDL, as it provides another piece of insight into this organisation. It is an organisation with many agendas, many causes, and many views on how to achieve its spectrum of objectives. At one end it contains the ex-football hooligan, who is seeking any opportunity for conflict and a fight – at the other end are concerned members of the community, who have a legitimate viewpoint and feel that no mainstream party is listening to them. Somewhere in all of that is another stream extending from racism, to xenophobia, to fear/suspicion/mistrust of outsiders.
This is a lively cocktail and becomes condensed into a stereotyped EDL member much to the frustration of many – including the two guys I spoke to. It is easy, intellectually, and lazy to discredit all points of view with a single swipe, even those which, at first sight, we might not like. It has always been my view that the EDL is not a homogenous group, it has a thuggish, criminal element – but it also has an element that have a right to be heard, and represented. It is extremely sad, and disturbing that they are aligning themselves to the only available alternative. The EDL as an organisation will have no credence whilst it conducts itself in the way that it does….the mainstream parties need to listen, and engage with some of the issues raised and start to be brave on some of the cultural issues.
It is always a fine line between being strident on cultural identity and perceived racism, and one that the EDL are addressing in a very cumbersome, and ham-fisted way. The mainstream parties shy away from this great taboo, a potentially explosive subject – but the longer they leave it the more toxic, and violent the outcome will be.
Links to the complete set of photos from EDL at Blackburn HERE