On Saturday, I was walking through Manchester town centre when I stumbled upon an impromptu English Defence League gathering at Piccadilly Gardens. About 60 EDL supporters had met up to march to St Peter's Square war memorial, where they planned to deliver a series of speeches honouring Lee Rigby, the British army drummer murdered by Islamic fanatics in Woolwich, South London last Wednesday. Joining them for the day was a similar number of protesters from Unite Against Fascism. They weren't there to hold the EDL supporters tight and tell them everything was going to be OK.
Once we'd all arrived at the war memorial, the speeches began. The EDL members laid poppies and wreaths; antifa sang a bunch of songs about hating fascists. Many of the EDL mourners grew visibly agitated but managed to remain calm and keep quiet – whether that was because they were under police orders to do so, I don't know. The UAF started a chant of: "Bastards, turn this way!" as the EDL delivered their speeches with their backs turned to them. It wasn't classy, but then I guess neither is attempting to co-opt a dead British soldier as a symbol of Islamophobia.
As the EDL finished their speeches and began to disperse, the chants of, "Whose streets? Our streets!" got too much for one female EDL member, who broke their silence by shouting, "No respect, no fucking respect!" at the UAF protesters. It was strange to see the EDL acting the more civilised of the two parties – it was completely out of character, they even shook the hands of the police officers as they filed out.
As the EDL ambled off, the UAF were held grumbling at the side of the road for about 20 minutes, the police refusing to let them leave en masse in case they gave chase to the EDL and caused an incident. The UAF took this to mean that the police were favouring the EDL, but in truth they had just spent an hour or so screaming at people trying to hold a remembrance ceremony, so you can understand why the police's sympathies may have been exhausted by this point.
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