Brendan O’Neill defends EDL’s right to intimidate Muslim community in Tower Hamlets

Brendan O'NeillOver at his Telegraph blog, Brendan O’Neill of spiked, online journal of the tendency formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party, attacks Unite Against Fascism for issuing what he describes as “one of the silliest political statements of the year so far”.

The UAF statement opposes the home secretary’s decision to grant the Metropolitan Police’s application not just for a ban on the proposed march by the English Defence League in Tower Hamlets on 3 September but also for a blanket ban on all marches in five London boroughs over a 30-day period. This has resulted in the United East End march opposing the EDL being prohibited, along with an East End Pride demonstration next month and a march to commemorate the battle of Cable Street in October.

O’Neill sneers: “‘This is a huge attack on everyone’s civil liberties’, bleats UAF, which is weird, considering that they’re the ones who invited the Government to undermine people’s civil liberties in the first place.” He asserts that “UAF has no one but itself to blame for this extraordinary clampdown on the right to protest”.

Although O’Neill invites his readers to conclude that UAF campaigned for the EDL to be banned from marching through Tower Hamlets, he must be well aware that this was not in fact the case. The Socialist Workers Party, which is a major component of UAF, opposes calls for state bans on far-right demonstrations, so a common line on that issue within UAF was impossible. One of the arguments the SWP advances in support of its position is as follows: “When the state gives itself extra repressive powers it will use them against the left. The government brought in the Public Order Act in 1937 supposedly to counteract the rise of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. It didn’t stop fascism – and was used against left wing and workers’ protests for decades afterwards.”

This is a reasonable point. But it isn’t what O’Neill is arguing at all. Quoting UAF’s complaint that “it is our human right to peacefully march in Tower Hamlets”, he demands: “how come UAF has a ‘human right’ to march, but the EDL does not? Are EDL members not human? … What UAF is effectively saying is: ‘We should have the freedom to march, but they shouldn’t’.”

Well, yes, that is indeed what UAF is arguing. O’Neill just can’t see the difference between a march by far-right racists intended to intimidate the Muslim comunity of Tower Hamlets, and the UAF-backed United East End march in which a broad coalition of forces planned to express their opposition to the EDL’s violent anti-Muslim bigotry. From O’Neill’s standpoint, if United East End, East End Pride or the Cable Street commemoration are allowed to march, then the EDL should have that right too.

It’s not very often this website finds occasion to quote Martin Bright favourably, but as he wrote on his Spectator blog in opposition to the blanket ban: “The whole point for those of us advocating a ban on the EDL was that there was a specific threat of violence associated with this extremist view. This new draconian measure suggests the police and government are suspicious of all protest…. While I accept that these are particularly difficult times for the Met in the aftermath of the riots, I can’t accept that all street protest should be off limits. Would I support a march in protest at the ban? Yes, I probably would.”

Predictably, the EDL have posted an approving link to O’Neill’s article on their Facebook page, while Casuals United have reproduced it in full. But it is unlikely that O’Neill will have any qualms about that. Earlier this year spiked published an even more egregious defence of the EDL by Patrick Hayes, who strenuously objected to the imposition of Criminal ASBOs on two EDL members – one of whom had attacked a left-wing photographer at a far-right demonstration against Harrow Central Mosque, while the other had subjected an Asian family to racist abuse as they waited for a train at a railway station he was passing though on his way back from an EDL protest. For spiked, these individuals are not racist thugs whose victims have the right to be protected by the law but rather, as O’Neill puts it, “cranky EDL types” who are fully entitled to express their opinions.

Some of us are old enough to remember the days when the RCP regarded the struggle against racism as one of the central issues facing the Left and set up its own sectarian front organisation, Workers Against Racism, to address it. Along with the RCP’s transformation into spiked, their ultra-leftism has now evolved into right-wing libertarian individualism and today their sole input into the struggle against racism is to defend the “human rights” of racists.

As for the police, the Met’s motives can only be guessed at, but it was clear from the start that they were opposed to applying for a ban on the EDL, and only did so after the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, threatened legal action. So you might be inclined to see their insistence on a blanket ban as an attempt to deter further calls for action against the EDL. It will also be revealing to see how the Met polices the EDL’s static protest. They have the power under Section 14 of the Public Order Act to insist that the protest is held on the outskirts of Tower Hamlets, well away from the East London Mosque and the neighbouring Muslim community against whom the EDL’s protest is aimed. On present performance, however, it seems highly unlikely that the Met will use that power. More likely they will escort the EDL to a protest area near the centre of the borough, so that the EDL effectively get to stage their march through Tower Hamlets anyway.

The West Yorkshire Police have set an example of how the EDL should be dealt with. Not only has the Chief Constable, Sir Norman Bettison, lobbied the government for increased powers to use against the EDL, but when the EDL demonstrated in Dewsbury in June he refused to let them hold their protest outside the town hall and used his authority under Section 14 to keep them penned in the station car park, away from the town centre and the Muslim community they hoped to intimidate.

It is disgraceful that the police force in the UK’s capital have proved so reluctant to take similar effective action against a gang of violent racists who are invading London in an attempt to threaten Muslims and poison community relations. It is also shameful that neither the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, nor his deputy mayor for policing and chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Kit Malthouse, have provided any lead at all here. If Ken Livingstone was still mayor you can guarantee he wouldn’t have sat back and allowed the Met a free pass over this issue.