Thursday, 2 February 2012

Send in the Clowns: the English Defence League and Leicester

Three Lions on a Jackboot

The English Defence League, as many have observed, lie about their true aims. But I think it goes deeper than that- they lie to themselves.

They are coming to my city this weekend. Last year I watched as they descended on Leicester; wobbly coachloads of them from towns like Bolton, Oldham and Stoke. Seeing them, I realised something I should have before- they were clearly aging football hooligans. For all their talk of Britain's 'islamification', it was clear these men would rather be fighting Chelsea fans. But they can't anymore. The cops have cracked down on that and the clubs have banned them. So focus has shifted.

Take Tommy Robinson (not to be mistaken for the writer of 'Glad to be gay'), founder and leader of the EDL. He was a big cheese in the Luton Town MIGs, a hooligan group that had a lot of merry hi-jinks until the fuzz earmarked £200,000 of taxpayer's money to clamp down of them. Luckily for Tommy, in 2008 the far-right Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun decided to protest in his home town against the Royal Anglican Regiment returning from Afghanistan. He and his cohorts counter-protested and discovered they could stir shit and happily call it freedom of speech. The EDL was born. It's a political career more akin to a toy robot walking into walls than a coherent train of thought.

(An unforeseen eventuality of all this pointlessness was funding from the Tea party of US conservative fame, who lovingly refer to the EDL as 'the lads' and perceive them as a sort of men of Gondor against a notional 'Eurabia'. Thanks, Tea Party. I'd allude to the EDL's similar penchant for Christianity here, but I'd probably fall victim to topic-creep if I did. Suffice to say it's a stark fact that no one, neither Anglican nor atheist, has shown any wish to face.)

But to return to the EDL's flagrant self-deception- do they ever question their own tactics? Do they really think standing in a city centre, shouting, burping and listening to Sham 69 will have the slightest effect on islamic terrorism? Wouldn't a better plan be to, I dunno, form a political lobby calling for greater police and millitary intelligence powers?

Of course not. They just want a memorable ruck and lack the honesty to admit it, least of all to themselves. At one point during last year's demonstration, elements of the EDL crowd started to fight with one another when a smoke canister went off. There's really no comment one can add to that.

Chissits, my Chissits...

Something else I noticed last year- to get attention in Leicester, the EDL have to be imported. Bloody immigrants.

They're here, of course. One only has to read comment sections in the Leicester Mercury or visit the 'Leicester Casuals' website to see that. But they never dominate a local papers comments section like some other towns and the 'Casuals' site angrily refutes the belief its run by one person, which is telling in itself. It'd be a surprise, in a city of near-half a million, if the English Defence League can raise a thousand, or even three hundred, natives this weekend.

There is a generalisation among the capital-focussed national media that all provincial inner cities are 'multi-cultural'. The truth is more complex. Towns where- if my eyes were anything to go by last time- the EDL are prevalent are at heart 'bi-cultural'. Oldham, Bolton, Stoke- these are communities with two primary groups; white english (whatever that term is worth) and south asian muslims. During times of economic uncertainty both sides (though mainly the former) draw tribal lines. A Muslim is, afterall, easier to find on a street corner and brutalise than Fred 'the shred' Goodwin.

It isn't a jumper that fits Leicester at all well. According to various census, we are THE most ethnically diverse place upon the crust of the planet. Trying to be bigoted in any focused way here is a sure way to go boss-eyed. It's also no small potatoes that Leicester's economic base has a way of weathering most storms.

But there's something ingrained and indelible in the character of Leicester people that can never swallow the EDL's narrative whole. Whatever occurs this weekend, I'll stand by that last sentence. For a start, we're probably the least nationalistic, least pro-millitary city in the country. We are cynical of big plans and big planners, distrust anyone who sticks their head above the parapet and if our city's motto wasn't 'always the same' it would be 'Why bother?'. Flaws, perhaps, yet these same characteristics become positive virtues when up against fascism; an indifferent shield against John Bull in jackboots.

Last year at the EDL march, I witnessed a wonderful thing. A lot of city-folk turned up, neither to support the EDL or the UAF's counter-protest, but simply to watch. We hung about, hundreds of us, getting pushed here and there by both cops and breakaway groups of EDL.

At some point, a thug turned on a student guy near me. A policeman stepped in and the EDLer wobbled off down the street with his mates. Then he span around and bellowed 'THIS IS ENGLAND!'

Immediately, a middleage woman- white, working class- called back 'No, this is Leicester!' and a huge cheer arose. The thug's face dropped and he slunk off. We were all immediatly embarrased by our cheer and none of us met each other's gaze. But it also felt very, very good.

This is Leicester. Don't let the EDL think otherwise.

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