Following the English Defence League’s static demo in Leicester on Saturday, the Guardian published a scaremongering piece by Labour MP John Cruddas warning that the EDL are now a bigger threat than the BNP and that they could become a legitimate political party echoing the success of European far right parties and the American Tea Party. Crivvens! Calm down! Seeing as the BNP at the moment is about as likely to win as many seats as the Society of the Undead, this is fairly obvious. Also, as most active anti-fascists know, the Labour party has as much a clue about street politics as they do about running an economy. The view from London and the view from the streets on regional counter-demos is very different.
The idea of the EDL becoming a legitimate political party is problematic in many ways. Like UKIP or the BNP they will be seen as a single issue party who have very little to offer in the way of practical political solutions to a global economy in crisis and the effect that this has on our everyday lives. Most people realise it is not ‘Islam’ that is cutting jobs and public services, slashing benefits, dishing out City bonuses, and failing to deal with inner-city problems. It is not ‘Islam’ that is pushing up the price of food and other essentials or making the trains run inefficiently as ticket prices soar. It’s a little bit more detailed than that but in the fascist tradition the EDL are offering very simple solutions to very complex problems: get rid of the Islamic Extremists and things will ok! Hmm … not even naïve, just stupid.
Turning up at static demos, getting drunk and fighting the cops is one thing but political campaigning takes lots of time delivering boring leaflets, canvassing people who in many cases will be openly hostile, and organising meetings in community centres where policies are discussed in the most tedious bureaucratic manner. Will the ‘foot soldiers’ of the EDL have the stomach for that? It is doubtful. Even if they did get council seats they would no doubt behave like the BNP councillors do: once they realise that council work is more to do with lamp posts and dog poo than starting a race war or combating ‘Islamic Extremism’ they rarely have the stomach for a 2nd term. That is if they have turned up at all. The EDL will need people with previous organisational skills who know how to organise information distribution, i.e., not just Facebook, but mostly they need to understand how to relate to the media in a civilised manner, i.e., by not threatening or attacking journalists as they are doing on their forum. If political efficacy is all about how you are represented in the media then attacking the people who are in control of these representations is a tactical calamity. They have done themselves no favours with their threats to NUJ members. The EDL will need to put across reasonable arguments about a plethora of issue, not just ‘Islamic extremism’, with people who do not look like psychotic thugs, who have no criminal records and who can actually string a sentence together. Looking at the EDL at the moment, this looks a long time coming.
The EDL have got a serious PR problem. All they have achieved is media splashes of drunken white thugs fighting the police and getting battered and arrested. They have achieved little more than public disorder and have not seen one ‘extremist’ identified, deported or arrested, despite their endless boasting. They are blatherskites who have done nowt but annoy people.
Whatever they say on their forum or Facebook the people who know about them either couldn’t care less if the cops batter them, are not remotely interested, or see them as a rowdy bunch of alcoholic idiots. The EDL have caused violence at nearly every demo and this does not help to attract the public. Folks don’t like violence on their streets. It’s not nice. Even Nick Griffin realised that the BNP needed to move from violent street confrontations to a more electable Euro-Nazis mode. The EDL Party will attract the same nutty racists and disenfranchised working class voters as the BNP (UKIP are too posh for the estates up North!) and politically would have as much impact as Griffin’s mob, i.e., very little.
The EDL were arrested, kettled and battered on Saturday by the cops which was a result compared to ‘the big little one’ at Bradford. Leicester Plod was going on about how this was the biggest police operation in 25 years so they should be ashamed of themselves . Well they didn’t do a very good job of it if that is the case. They let the EDL run amok as accounts from YouTube videos show, they let a few EDL out to kick in windows and attack Asian people, and they completely failed to contain the ‘static’ demo even with the help of 1,400 cops from 12 or 13 other forces from round the country. A very poor do: result? EDL 1, Plod 0. If the EDL achieved anything it was giving plod a bit of exercise but how this combats ‘Islamic Extremism’ is vague. This is a good account of anti-fascist activity of the day.
The EDL’s relationship with the cops has broken down it seems. YouTube clips show the stewards completely unable to control their ‘lads’ and many EDL are against liaising with Old Bill anyway. The vast majority of the violence was between EDL and cops rather than EDL and anti-fascists and they came off worse. On the EDL forum they admit that they have no control over the violence and that it is inevitable. Of course it is! That’s why they turn up in the 1st place.
This is not to play down the threat posed by the EDL. Anti-fascists must respond wherever they gather. There is a dual strategy at the moment with the UAF demonstrating and getting media coverage and more militant anti-fascists and local folk who are out and about on the streets unwilling to be kettled in. The EDL are looking to European racists like Geert Wilders and to the American Tea Party and probably hope to emulate them. However, these organisations are not a bunch of pissed up football lads kicking in windows and attacking anyone who is not white. They behave a wee bit more respectably and have serious political and economic influence. They also know how to play the media. Unlike the EDL. That the EDL could be backed by more nefarious forces is not unfeasible but there electability following the predictable drunken melee on Saturday will do them absolutely no favours and they continue to look foolish and politically naïve.