Report on Newcastle mobilisation against the EDL

19 05 2014

A brief reflection on yesterday from North East Anti-Fascists:

The English Defence League’s mobilisation in Newcastle yesterday was choreographed around the theme of their latest bogus non-campaign to tackle Asian grooming gangs. It goes without saying that we feel the exploitation of this issue and the use of emotive images of children, leading the observer to consider sexual abuse to be quite sickening. Sickening, given that the fascists use this issue to spread fear, hatred and division, sickening, given that (thankfully) this represents zero and nil campaign in reality, sickening in the lack of consideration for the survivors and victims, evident in the careless treatment of this issue. North East Anti-Fascists have already highlighted examples of sex offenders within the English Defence League/fascist spectrum and have speculated on the use of this issue as cover for abusive behaviours within its own ranks.

Their mobilisation was largely ignored by the local community and it was left to the usual gathering of misfits, misguided and psychotics from across the region and as far away as Scotland to make up the numbers. It was overwhelmingly male and there no whiff of grooming issue gaining any traction that may have attracted families or new faces. Their well inebriated number probably amounted to 400-500, probably outnumbering slightly the counter demonstration, however it was the Police who came firmly on top with an operation that was fully in control, allowing little space for manoeuvre on either side. It contrasted poorly to their day out last year where in the aftermath of the murder of Lee Rigby, our gathering of 700 was heavily outnumbered by 2,000 from their side. It was clear also that in sharp contrast to last year, that the EDL did not have the sympathy of the local community.

EDL failure, in favourable circumstances of a right wing climate of fear and suspicion around immigration, stoked up by UKIP and mainstream discourse, can then perhaps offers us some small crumb of comfort. There are major concerns however that North East Anti Fascists have consistently highlighted, which we feel need to be addressed in advance of a roll of the dice falling to the advantage of the fascists, once again.


North East Anti-Fascists making a stand in Newcastle Saturday

The main organisers of the counter demonstration, with significant resources available to them, evidently did a poor job. Newcastle is a city and regional centre and being unable to exceed the fascist mobilisation is a clear disappointment. In addition to the EDL having the upper hand numerically, we need to consider the National Front having taken the Monument, the week previously. Networks of the radical left, the Asian community and others were simply insufficiently mobilised. Alarm bells should be ringing fiercely and the cause for us to seriously consider how and why we organise.The lack of urgency, required of the situation seems to reflect an official movement and leadership in clear decline. Official stewards acknowledged to us that this was poorly organised event and it was certainly directionless, politically speaking.

Longstanding problems with the Newcastle Unites/UAF approach, with its politics of control and cop collaboration were once again a factor, if not quite reaching the levels of farce achieved last year. Lines of communication seemed to be deliberately closed down and two separate marches were ultimately shambolic, with the dispersal point leaving our number potentially vulnerable. It was fortunate for us that the fascists seemed not to have their wits about them, however it is not good politics to rely upon their stupidity for our security. The Nationalist bloc will pick up on this weakness and with successive edging ahead of our side will itching for a direct confrontation with us, although it will doubtlessly be teenagers or Muslim children who will be targeted first.

In an atmosphere of going through the motions, the palpable lack of energy on the demonstration was telling and affected our contingent also. Despite this being a beautiful warm sunny day, there was no carnival of resistance feel. North East Anti-Fascists provided much of the flags and banners on display (antifa, anarchist, Unite Community etc), certainly beyond the proportions of our number, however there are big learning points for us also and by our own standards this was not a day we could claim as peak performance. Making a fist of it, we placed ourselves strategically on the demo and faced the fascist directly, as well as conducting our usual ground level intelligence operation throughout the day. Our book bloc shields were tried out and should be seen as symbolising our intention to innovate and experiment with tactics. Improved and developing collaborations on the ground with AWL activists, in particular is something we will also be seeking to develop as we incrementally build trust amongst key activists for future actions.

Our next operation in Middlesbrough on 28 June will require tighter organisation from us and more groundwork also. We will making this a priority call out for anti-fascists across the North and beyond. The key to success, however, will be making links with communities across the north east, largely through the networks we have through Teesside Solidarity Movement and other networks of support we are patiently building up.

Yesterday, the opportunities for doing anything interesting were limited and we need to talk this through, however clearly we can and need to do better. Alone, we cannot overcome the crisis of a political left that unthinkingly seems willing to cede ground to both capital and street fascism. We can however point to the truth of what is happening in our analysis. We can continue to energise and mobilise and the patient slow but steady growth in personnel and capacity for action suggests perhaps that we aren’t going away.

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