The death rattle was ringing out limply in London on Saturday.
This Saturday, the English Defence League had intended to stage a heroic return to Walthamstow in order to prove that they are still a far-right street army to be reckoned with, rather than a racist, drunken roadshow stumbling around the country getting laughed at.
At their last, ill-fated trip to Walthamstow in September, the EDL had to be frogmarched home by the police before their leaders had even been able to deliver their usual incoherent speeches, after anti-fascists surrounded their rally point and showered it with a hail of bottles, bricks and two-fingered salutes.
Humiliated, the EDL leadership announced that, rather than spend the afternoon of Saturday, the 27th of October in Norwich, which had been the plan (bad luck, Norwich), they would return to Walthamstow to prove, against all prior evidence, that they can march in East London without having their arses handed to them. This playground display of hubristic machismo was dubbed “Walthamstow – The Return”, making it sound like a straight-to-DVD Rambo sequel.
“The Return” never actually happened. The preceding weekend, leader Tommy Robinson was arrested three times on three separate charges and is currently in custody. The police, presumably bored of spending their weekends chaperoning a bunch of racist man-children, asked the Home Office if they wouldn’t mind banning the march. The Home Office agreed, presumably tired of paying the police’s overtime.
Rather than staying at home and brushing up on their sorely lacking video editing skills, those members who hadn’t already realised that the game is up and joined the ever-growing ranks of disaffected ex-EDL mutineers did the only thing the police allowed them to do, which was to stage a static demonstration in Westminster.
What with it being a busy tourist Saturday in the shadow of Big Ben, at times it became difficult to work out which people wearing Union Jack paraphernalia and giving the “peace” sign were racist goons, and which were confused Japanese tourists.
As the EDL failed to fill the police sanctioned playpen, the extent of their downfall hit home. At their peak, they get a couple of thousand idiots onto the streets. I've covered many a political demonstration, and this is the first one where I’ve actually head-counted the attendance, which I figured to be approximately 85. As if that wasn't embarrassing enough, one moron decided to break out the Nazi salutes while wearing a Remembrance poppy, much to the confusion of his pals.
The demo felt like a vigil for Tommy Robinson, whom they were touting as some kind of far-right Aung San Suu Kyi. But the idea that he’s a “political prisoner” is bullshit – having been bailed after being arrested for planning to occupy a Mosque, and again when he was arrested in connection with an assault on his nemesis Sayful Islam, he was finally remanded in custody when he tried to enter the US with a fake passport. Which is a pretty surefire way to land yourself in prison, whatever your beliefs.
Even the anti-fascists in attendance looked like they pitied their foe, but they managed to overcome their sentimentality and get on with the important business of telling them to fuck off.
The demo reached its climax when an al-Qaeda flag was set on fire. Unfortunately for the EDL, the flag they'd chosen to bring along was tiny, and only took a few seconds to burn. The guy wearing the strange Union Jack gimp mask looked pretty humiliated.
The "demonstration", such as it was, was over, so the EDL marched to the same pub they had started the day in. I imagine it was a novel experience for the bar staff, who are presumably more used to serving straight gin to jittery Lib Dem party hacks after a hard day’s “fagging” for their Tory overlords.
They may not be shaking up the body politic any more, but the EDL may yet succeed in giving Olde English cider’s head of PR a heart attack.
At this rate, that’s about all they’re going to achieve. It’s probably only people who were stupid enough to get an EDL tattoo that are still desperately trying to make it work. Which is not to say that we can get complacent about racism. An animal is at its most dangerous when it’s cornered, and with both the EDL and the BNP in disarray the far-right is certainly that. Kevin Carroll – another EDL top dog – is running in the election for Police and Crime Commissioner in Bedfordshire, so I guess we’ll find out if – despite everything – the EDL is speaking for some kind of “silent majority” of bigots.
More likely, those people are as much a figment of the EDL’s collective imagination as the imminent implementation of Sharia law in the UK.
More EDL disasters: