London can’t afford to let the EDL march

EDL Dudley2Well, that’s the title given to a letter from a number of Labour Party luminaries published in today’s Guardian, which calls for a ban on the planned English Defence League march through Tower Hamlets on 3 September.

This really is a stupid and entirely counterproductive letter. It completely omits any reference to the political objective of the EDL march – namely to intimidate the Muslim community of East London – and opposes the march purely because of the cost of policing it. It seems to have escaped the attention of the signatories that there is no legal basis for imposing a ban on those grounds.

Section 12 of the Public Order Act gives the Metropolitan Police the power to impose conditions on a march, with regard to the time, place and route, if it is believed this is necessary to prevent disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation. Section 13 specifies that if the Met Police commissioner believes the powers under section 12 will be insufficient to prevent the march “resulting in serious public disorder” then s/he can apply to the home secretary for authorisation to impose a banning order.

So there is no provision under the Public Order Act for a march to be banned because it will cost too much to police it. The grounds for a banning order are that the march may result in “serious public disorder”. And given the record of the EDL, there is very good reason to believe this is what will happen if they are allowed to march through Tower Hamlets on 3 September.

But the Guardian letter states that the signatories “have no doubt that the Met could contain this demonstration”. In other words, they are saying they believe there is no threat of serious public disorder, in which case there would be no basis for a banning order. With this ill-thought-out intervention they have undermined the campaign for a ban on the EDL march and provided the Met and the home secretary with the perfect excuse to allow the march to go ahead.