This is a brief “diary” of my day.
Arrived in city centre about 10.40. Walked around centre. Perfectly quiet and peaceful, few demonstrators of any persuasion, but quite a lot of police, well set up.
Found things to do for a while, then did my walk in reverse, still not much happening, so I went and had a bacon sandwich (just to show which side I am on) in the Acropolis Café, whose proprietor had decided to ignore all the warnings – all power to him!.
Things were beginning to get off the ground, and I decided to station myself at the best of a poor selection of viewpoints.
The EDL coaches were slow to arrive, and I suspect it was at this point that some of the younger element in the EDL crowd began to get a bit restless.
However, almost all was peace and light until smoke bombs began to be thrown. One account in the press says the first came from the “UAF”. I do not know. (I have found that the press refuses to say “Muslim youth” or “Pakistanis” in this context. It's as if they have been told not to use these terms. I could see no evidence of UAF anywhere near, though, to be fair, I could not see everything.)
None of this was any worse than at almost any demo where strong feelings are being expressed.
I could not hear the content of [the speeches], so cannot comment. I do think there were elements in the EDL who just wanted a scrap, and I did see it when some “broke out”, which is surprising given the sheer numbers of police. More on that later.
There was obviously some bad stuff going on round the corner from me, so I couldn't see it. The police where I was drove us higher up the street, so there could be no link-up. The trouble was from “UAF” or “antifascists” (i.e. young Muslims). Their “Allahu akbar” was very clearly heard. I don't think that's one of the UAF's slogans. I also heard offensive chanting from some EDL demonstrators. If the EDL claims to be “anti-Islamic extremism” but not “anti-muslims” this should not happen.
I chatted quite amicably to a Muslim former Lord Mayor of Bradford, also to a well-known local T.U. Leader, and a Labour councillor (a typical southerner Grauniad reader come up to show local people how socialism should be done Oop North). Also a few ordinary Muslims. I chatted at length to a young woman (careful!), and it was not until we had been talking for some time that she felt able to say how bad she thought things were in Bradford. I had given no indication that I was anything but a card-carrying Guardian reader. (By the way, “Jesus” himself appeared around this point. Only Bradfordians can know who I mean). Later, I had a similar long chat with a coloured lad (what other term can I use? I simply don't know if he was south Asian in origin, and why should it matter?) Again, he didn't know me from Nick Lowles, but became quite eloquent on the evils of Islamic extremism and shariah law. I had only spoken to these two at random, and had expected the coloured lad to be a Muslim, which it turned out, he clearly was not. These were both random conversations. They show that, at least, it is wrong to assume that everybody on the other side of the police lines was a so-called “antifascist”.
Slightly before this, the breakaway group of EDL “supporters” (I think they were a local gang, who have probably not until now had anything to do with EDL) had made their appearance at the top of the Railway Station entrance. They were clearly looking for trouble, but the riot police contained them.
However, this was the spark for aggressive behaviour from the UAF, sorry, Muslim youth, who had been hanging around beside me all afternoon. It looked quite nasty for about half an hour. A Muslim community leader, who I took to be a mullah, but turned out to a prospective local council candidate, for the...LibDems, succeeded in calming them down, to some extent. In any case, the police had formed a solid barrier.
Also there was a “peace warden”, white, who tried to do his bit, but was ignored. There was also a left-wing “peace” activist called “Mr. Butcher”. I shook his hand, and said “Hi, ****, I think the police are doing a great job”. That caught him out! He's still trying to puzzle out who the **** I am, since I'm not in his list of fellow-travellers!
Shortly after this, realising that the police had done such a good job (given their numbers, they should have), and that nothing untoward was going to happen, I made my way home.
My comments on the demo: the EDL is going to have to re-think this. No-one can blame the public for thinking that this is a “hate mob”, when that is what I, too, saw. It only takes 20 to have this effect. Even from a distance, I could see that some “EDL” people were ignoring and even attacking their own stewards. That said, the way the event had been “bigged up” by the T&A almost guaranteed that there would be trouble. I think a lot of potential EDL supporters stayed away because they thought there WOULD be big trouble.
The EDL leadership has to ask: what was the aim of this demo, and was it achieved? A neutral observer would have formed a very poor picture of the EDL. The people I saw close up were clearly rabid racists. Whether things would have been better if the march had been allowed, I can't say.
Press reporting: as I was there, I am better placed now to comment. I have mentioned above the unwillingness of the media to use a correct description when describing action by Muslim youths. Are reporters under orders not to use this term, and, instead, to talk about “UAF” or “anti-fascists”, when, as I could see with my own eyes, this is simply a wrong term for the counter-demonstrators? From my viewpoint, which was not perfect, I saw no UAF... the UAF's [demo] was a damp squib (i.e., they were not able to get hand-to-hand contact with the EDL, which was their intention, as on previous occasions). Good.