Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The EDL and other strange happenings

Saturday was an odd day in Bristol, since we had the the privilege of being visited by the English Defence League (EDL), a right-wing group which allegedly claims to 'protect' the UK from radical Islam. In practice, they tend to smash things up. There was also a counter-demonstration. All this coincided with the annual Gay Pride Celebration. It looked like a lively day on the streets so I decided to go and see what was happening.

To start with, I went to the Park where the anti-EDL demonstration was taking place. There were a few hundred demonstrators and at least as many police. From the start, it was pretty surreal. First thing I witnessed was some bloke screeching 'fascist' at a bored-looking Copper. "Did he just call you a fascist?" enquired a bystander, no doubt confused as to who he was protesting against. "Something like that," quipped the policeman, in a strong Welsh accent, "English isn't my strong point."

I don't honestly think anything summed up the contradictions any better. I walked down the road, where a massive barrier was preventing the two sets of demonstrators from meeting. All you could see of the EDL was a few St George flags waving behind the barricades. The whole of Queen Square (incidentally, the site of the 1831 Bristol riots) was blocked off by police. I wasn't really clear who was protecting who: were the police protecting the city from the EDL, or the EDL from the city? There were only about 300 EDL and about 500 counter-protesters. Some of the counter-protesters were clearly peaceful, while others just wanted to fight the 'Fash'. I'm really not in favour of that, since I suspect that's exactly what 'the Fash' would like most of all.

Half of the centre had been shut down, and the place was crawling with cops. I saw not only the local police, but also vans from Gloucestershire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Leicestershire, West Midlands and Northants, as well as Wales. A friend said that she had spoken with some from South Yorkshire. Mostly, they were looking bored, and sweating in their riot suits. Clearly somebody has, ahem, read the riot act after last summer's disturbances, and I couldn't help feeling they were using this as a test run for their new procedures.

Apparently, all this cost half a million quid, but personally, given the number of police and vehicles involved, I suspect it must have been more. Now, to me, this raises all sorts of interesting questions. At a time when everything is being cut back, why are we wasting all this money? Lots of people think the EDL, and their marches, should be banned. I'm not much in favour of banning marches. Once you start it with one thing that 'might' be a public order risk, it's easy enough to move onto another. We do live in a democracy, and people have a right to protest. Aha, goes the argument against that: experience has shown that the EDL aren't really interested in protesting, what they really want is to smash things up. Again, this is a dangerous argument. If any cause is associated with violence, once, at a demonstration, then that gives a reason to ban it next time. And on large marches, there are often unwelcome visitors, even when organisers intend to protest peacefully.

Would it have been better to have let the EDL go ahead with their march, and ignored them? This would probably have saved a lot of time, effort and money. But then again, a lot of people felt that it was important to make a statement that they weren't welcome. I think it's uncontroversial to say that they weren't: Bristol has very good community relations.

photo: wikimedia
So in a way I can't see any way out of the conundrum except doing what was, in the end, done. However, I'd really like it if that half a million bill didn't come out of your granny's home care budget. So I've got an idea of who to send the bill to: this man.

First, he can afford it. Second, I feel there's a strong argument for saying that the EDL are in a way, Tony's love-child. The entire Blair/War on Terror era was characterised by total doublethink on immigration, and Islam. First, he wanted cheap labour for his booming Britain, so immigrants were welcome. Vast sums of money and proselytising went on persuading everyone how happy we would be to live in a cheerful, multicultural society. Anyone who opposed this was a dinosaur, and a racist. No-one was allowed to mention that this might affect the housing, services, or job chances of those who were born and bred in Britain. Simultaneously, and schizophrenically, we were invited to join in the clash of civilisations that was being waged in Muslim countries, led by the Americans. On the one hand, we were expected to be nice to the Muslims on our doorsteps, and on the other, not bat an eyelid as we bombed the crap out of their cousins abroad. Now, frankly, it takes a finer intellect than you'll find in the EDL to make sense of that one.

The EDL might be lunkheads, but it was the politicians of the last decade that gifted them an excuse to ruin people's weekend with their silly manoeuvres. And at the end of the day, the EDL will go back to drinking lager in their horrid semis in Luton, while the people who handed them their excuses will carry on flying First Class. And the rest of us will just go back to our lives, and cough up the taxes for the mess they caused. Responsibility, eh? Marvellous thing, innit.

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