Banning the EDL in Tower Hamlets: a victory for common sense and decency?

August 28, 2011 at 10:31 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, Champagne Charlie, Civil liberties, class, cops, law, London, the cops, unions, workers)

Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles was in no doubt when the news came through on 25 August:

“I’m writing to you to share some great news. This afternoon the Metropolitan Police requested a ban  on the Englsh Defence League march in Towert Hamlets (on 3 September) because of fears that this would whip up tensions in the area and ignite trouble. It seems almost certain that the Home Secretary will agree to the ban.

“This should be welcomed. Whilst the EDL might still decide to hold a static protest they will not now be able to march through  residential areas and, most importanatly, march past the East London mosque. A static protest will be far easier to police and it will probably discourage a lot of EDL supporters from travelling.

“This is a victory for common sense. The EDL wanted to use the march to cause trouble and they probably would have been successful. They have now been foiled…”

We’ve got the banRead the rest here.

My reaction, at first blush, was to rejoice along with Nick Lowles. The EDL are a bunch of nasty, racist, far-right hooligans whose sole raison d’être is to intimidate ethic minorities (especially Asian Muslims), and  generally spread hatred, fear and division. Surely a ban has got to be good news for ethnic minorities and for all the progressive forces (including the South East Regional TUC, Unite, the NUT and various councillors and community groups ) who’ve been calling for it?

But veteran SWP’er Pete Gillard on the United Left discussion list, raised some problems:

“The ban is on all demonstrations (other than funerals and traditional marches) across 5 London boroughs for a month.

“I’m not sure what sort of victory that is. So if the Royal London Hospital announces more cuts next week, health workers won’t be able to demonstrate until October.

“The police are not using their selective powers under the (Public Order) Act to ban specific sorts of demonstrations. Their request for the Home Secretary to ban all marches is an attack on our right to organise.

“Just Imagine if the EDL announce that they plan to march in Manchester a weerk before the TUC demo at the Tory Party Conference. Would we be happy if our demo was banned at the same time as that of the EDL?

“The nature of the banning shows just how dangerous it is to ask a Tory Home Secretary to ban marches under a Tory law.

“The Labour opposition at the time put down an amendment at the second reading of the Bill: ‘This House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, at a time when serious crime has increased by 40 per cent under this Government and the crime clear-up rate has markedly declined, contains no proposals which are likely to be effective in preventing disorder, while diverting scare police resources from fighting crime and at the same time seriously undermining traditional civil liberties.’

“I agree that the use of the Act in this way does seriously undermine civil liberties.”

The AWL’s Elaine Jones, also on the United Left discussion list, put it more bluntly:

“Banning the EDL march will do no good.

“The most recent example is the banning of a planned EDL march through Telford on 13 August. The Home Secretary, Teresa May, banned the march but the EDL staged a static protest in its place. The ‘ban’ did not stop the EDL from congregating, nor did it stop confrontations between the racists and their opponents. Several arrests were made.

“When the EDL was banned from marching in Bradford, their members were bussed into town and forces into a fenced-off car park. These tactics did nothing to stop ‘disorder’.’ Not only did members of the EDL throw rocks, stones and gas cannisters out of their ‘pen’, but a number of them broke out of the enclosure. This advance was only stopped by the quick responses of the local community and anti-racists, who used physical force to repel them.

“The Wellington area of Telford and the city of Bradford are very different places to inner city Tower Hamlets. Wellington and Bradford can be ‘policed’ to such an extent that the risk of violence is diminished. This is not so in large, inner city areas. 

“One last example: the EDL were permitted  a static demonstration in the centre of Manchester in October 2009. What happened? The police erected a steel fence around part of Piccadilly Gardens in the centre of the city. However, rather than being ‘bussed in’ to the protest site, members of the EDL marched from various parts of the city centre (from their assembly points in local pubs). The EDL marched regardless.

“Asking the state to ban the EDL from marching does nothing to prevent disorder and the risk of racist violence. In inner-city areas  a ban is particularly ineffective. If the EDL wants to march through Tower Hamlets, the police will not stop them. In fact, there is a risk of more than one march to the ‘static protest’ point.

“We should be opposed to the granting of any powers to the state to regulate, infringe upon or prevent political activity – they will use any powers at their disposal against our organisations. this is particularly important to say at the moment when the overriding ‘popular’ dynamic in the aftermath of the riots flows in favour of ‘law and order.’ There is already mass popular sentiment in favour of policing powers and granting new powers to deal with ‘trouble makers.’

“Against the calls to ban the EDL march, the growing ‘law and order’ tendency and the untrustworthy powers of the state we should organise for working class self-defence and mobilise the trade  union movement against the far right.”


  1. Jim Denham said,

    Janine writes:

    There will still be a mobilisation next Saturday in Tower Hamlets. The EDL are still having a static demo (and as I imagine they will be escorted to it by the police, it may in effect be a march anyway), and there will be a big anti-EDL mobilisation. Obviously, we would go in any case

    One thing, though, is confusing me. Unless my memory is deteriorating faster than I thought, I could have sworn that the SWP has repeatedly called for the state to ban EDL and other far-right marches. Yet now they seem to be saying that they oppose state bans, and that the general ban on marches proves why! So … Is my memory failing me, or has the SWP done a U-turn? And if it has done a U-turn, did it have a thorough democratic debate in doing so, and is it going to account for the change of line? Or will it just act as though it opposed bans all along?


    • Geoff Collier said,

      Janine’s memory must be deteriorating more rapidly than she imagined. As far as I recall the SWP have generally called for mass opposition to far right marches. That doesn’t mean that such opposition is always possible.

  2. skidmarx said,

    Good post. When I first saw it I thought it was going to be an uncritical repetition of the HnH position, and was pleasantly surprised to be found wrong.

    I think there may have been times when the SWP hasn’t actively opposed calls for bans on fascist marches, without ever initiating such calls.

  3. Harry White said,

    There is an English Nationalist Alliance march in Westminster on Saturday. I haven’t seen UAF / SWP / HnH saying anything about that one.

    But as regards Tower Hamlets, banning other marches along with the EDL demonstration should be the least of people’s worries. The banning of the march, coupled with the insistence of the EDL that they will be in Tower Hamlets means no one yet knows where they will turn up. And unless they’ve invented teleportation the EDL will have to walk to where their static demonstration will take place – a march in all but name.

    More seriously, though, the EDL’s longevity has been due to them never meeting serious street opposition. The BNP were smashed off the streets by AFA in the 90s, which played no small part in their turn to electoral politics. The EDL by contrast have had things largely their way. Talking to people in Tower Hamlets, there are a lot of locals who want the EDL to bring this on. I think people are missing the absolute visceral anger there is in the community which only wants them to turn up to be vented.

    The left’s very big on the spectre of the Battle of Cable Street, and rather smaller on actually re-enacting it. People living in Tower Hamlets, and especially the borough’s young people, have rather less reluctance to physically oppose any EDL incursion. So, while supporters of the SWP and UAF will be in Weaver’s Fields on Saturday, any attempts by the EDL to hold a static demonstration will be opposed by force by local youth. This isn’t a threat, it’s a recognition of what will happen. The choice for the left, for local community leaders, for local trade unionists, is whether they stand with these brave people against the EDL or whether they stand in Weaver’s Fields listening to speeches about why they’re right to oppose fascism without lifting a finger in the defence of the area.

  4. Alan said,

    If you leave us alone most of us will peacefully demonstrate and then leave. Most EDL do not really want a violent confrontation, they just want to be heard.

    We have stewards and police that will deal with our own troublemakers, but if you violently oppose our point of view we will have no choice but to defend ourselves, naturally.

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