The Home Secretary should lift the ban on marches in Bradford this weekend or risk making protesters more radical, according to a think-tank. Banning protests by extremist groups is an ineffective way of combating their ideology, Demos said.
The warning comes as police in the West Yorkshire city prepares for clashes between the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism this weekend, despite Home Secretary Theresa May authorising a blanket ban on marches in the city.
Jamie Bartlett, a researcher at Demos, said banning the march “could push members of the English Defence League into more radical groups like Combat 18 or the Racial Volunteer Force”.
He said: “Far from being destructive, protest can be an important outlet for that anger and frustration that could tip into violence and helps people to feel a sense of belonging to the society in which they live. The Government should show that being radical or extreme is acceptable in an open and free society like the UK. The same rules must apply to everyone, whether they are radical Islamist groups or the English Defence League.
“Preventing non-violent protest means others do not have the chance to counter-protest and demonstrate the strength of opinion against them. There may be some clashes and serious disagreement but this is part of living in a liberal society.”
It appears to have escaped the attention of Demos that the EDL have not been prevented from holding a protest in Bradford.
Section 13 of the Public Order Act gives the home secretary the power to ban public processions but not public assemblies. The same rules do “apply to everyone”. The EDL, along with “radical Islamist groups”, have been allowed to stage provocative demonstrations that pose a threat to public order, so long as their demonstrations remain static. This is what the EDL now intend to do in Bradford on 28 August.
As Weyman Bennett of UAF has been reported as saying, Theresa May’s ban on public processions in Bradford “would not be effective as the EDL, escorted by the police, would make a ‘de facto’ march from Bradford train station to the city centre for their static protest”. To which it might be added that, on past experience, once the EDL have been penned in at their assembly point there is every possibility that they will try and break through police lines and go rampaging through the streets of Bradford, as they did in Dudley in April (see picture).
What is in fact needed is for Section 14 of the Public Order Act to be implemented to prevent the EDL holding static protests in areas where they pose this sort of threat to the public.