The English Defence League (EDL) have, over the last year had a series of “Big One’s”, whether it be Bradford, Luton, or, yesterday, Tower Hamlets. These were demonstrations which were due to send a spear to the heart of Muslim communities in major cities and ignite a sense of what the EDL stood for. On each of the previous occasions the EDL had been seriously neutralised by the Police, with Bradford deteriorating into a rubble throwing shouting match and Luton being a damp-squib.
The definition of success for an EDL event seems to be that the event has actually taken place, that there has been substantial civil disruption, and that they have been given the opportunity for a sing-song, and speeches. Success does not seem to depend on engaging with the public and converting those who are not already part of the membership. Surely the purpose of a march or demonstration is to connect with people who have not already heard the message, and to spread the word. Unfortunately the EDL have not grasped the subtle art of politics.
The raison d’etre of the demonstration on the 3rd September 2011 was to march through Tower Hamlets and confront the Muslim population, and to walk past the totemic East London Mosque on Whitechapel Road. Although the official march was banned, and it was not entirely clear whether they ever seriously intended to go into the heart of Tower Hamlets, they were allowed to walk from Liverpool Street station to Aldgate. The numbers at the station, initially, seemed to be quite small, but they did swell considerably at the appointed hour outside Aldgate station. The numbers were probably of the order of 1000-1500 judging from the aerial shots.
It is well documented that the EDL enjoy a few pints before a demonstration and this was transacted at a number of pubs throughout London, the main one being at Liverpool Street station. As the numbers increased and the Police prescence became more evident, the adjacent road attracted some Muslim youths, and UAF supporters – this gave rise to the traditional cross-shouting in a “panto” style. The EDL quickly defined their true credentials by throwing loud bangers into the crowd which included members of the public with complete disregard for anyone’s safety. They were not under any threat from anyone, being completely secured by Police.
The EDL were allowed to leave at a controllable pace. A number of vocal altercations took place which amounted to nothing more than stand-offs. The crowd were allowed to walk through the back streets to the agreed meeting point, where speakers were established, together with a podium for the speakers. The meeting point was by Aldgate tube station and the London Clearing House which was on the outskirts of the “City of London” and not exactly the Muslim heartland of Tower Hamlets. They were nearer to the “Gherkin” on St Mary’s Axe than they were to the East London Mosque.
Despite being banned from attending EDL marches, and various other restraints, Tommy Robinson ( aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) made an appearance in disguise as a guest Rabbi speaker. The “reveal” on stage, gave him the opportunity to goad the authorities as he openly admitted his guilt to contravening his bail conditions. The crowd were charged by a few dozen Police who surged through to arrest Robinson. He was snatched and taken into an Indian restaurant for his safety.
Regular attendees at EDL demos will know that there are unsavoury characters who are within the membership – there was the usual verbal threats and arguments with photographers, although attempting to set light to one, and aggressively shouting at another “Fuck off, you Iranian cunt” is hardly justified. I was also aware that a female photographer, was verbally abused as she was not English, and reference was made to her alleged migrant status. All of these I witnessed – there were other anecdotes which I cannot vouch for.
Later in the evening an EDL coach was making its way up Whitechapel Road, for an unexpainable reason, presumably to taunt the Muslims outside the Mosque from a safe distance. This proved to be misguided and it was attacked from the outside by the youths. Despite the emotions there was little to justify this, and judging by the extent of the damage to the windows there was every possibility of someone being seriously hurt.
The EDL contine to claim that they are the innocent party on all of these occasions which is delusional in the extreme. It is without question that the turnout was much better than it has been of late, but the behaviour and focus remains as uncontrolled and random as ever. No attempt is ever made to articulate a sensible discussion on their views albeit through an alcohol-fuelled haze.
This was not a demonstration in Tower Hamlets and did nothing to confront the Muslim population and in no way did it live up to the bravado discussed heavily on the EDL forums. The EDL will see this as a success, mainly because it happened; for the rest of the population it will be seen as another expensive outing for a self-righteous group with no support outside of its tight demographic membership.