"Pegida UK" got off to a slightly limp start in Newcastle this weekend. In Germany, the right-wing Pegida movement has seen tens of thousands of bigots take to the streets against what they see as the Islamification of Europe. This got Islamophobes in the UK excited, so they tried to mimic the success. Their first demo happened on Saturday in Newcastle and 375 people showed up. About 2,000 not-racist people turned out to throw them an un-welcoming party.
Pegida were made to hold a static demonstration in Bigg Market. They flew Union Jacks and England flags and were surrounded by police tape, like it was a Jubilee party where a crime had taken place. Speeches were made on both sides and Pegida had a better sound system despite their small numbers. In broken English, a Pegida speaker from Germany questioned who the "real" Nazis were, because of her country's own laws against displaying Nazi symbols. There was a flag of the Greek neo-Nazi Party the Golden Dawn on display, as well as a National Front flag. Maybe those guys are the real Nazis? There was also some Sieg Heiling, which was a bit confusing, given the Israeli flag with a rainbow flag-combo also being flown.
The larger counter-march started at Gallowgate and weaved through China Town, ending up at Monument. With St James' Park, Newcastle United's football stadium, looming over, black and white banners reading "Newcastle Is United" could be seen alongside old Mineworkers' trade-union banners as a Hare Krishna band played.
The demos didn't pass without incident – there were five arrests on the day. One of them came after a heavy-set bald guy started screaming and shouting at the speakers at the anti-Pegida demo. It seemed that he was a Pegida supporter who had infiltrated the crowd. He was hauled over by the cops and cuffed pretty much immediately.
After about an hour, which included some vague attempts on behalf of Pegida supporters to break out of their playpen, things died down and people started to head home. They had been around for long enough to confuse some passing stag-parties in super-hero costumes and Newcastle United fans.
So will Pegida grow in the UK like it did in Germany? Obviously it's hard tell after just one demo, but on Saturday they looked more like a re-brand of the EDL in terms of style and message, than anything genuinely new.