The EDL are already crowing about what a good time they had in Leicester yesterday. It certainly turned out better than Bradford for them, but Bradford was so pitiful that that isn’t saying much. They never got to Highfields or St Matthews which were well defended by the local community. They were rounded up onto their coaches by 4.30 and sent home. Most of the local community were disgusted by their presence, as reflected by the diversity of the people who came out to protest.
The first thing that was noticeable on the day was how dead Leicester city centre was. There was an almost total absence of black and Asian people on the streets. It wasn’t just the threat of a mob of racists coming to town that had made some people stay at home in fear but also the disgraceful scaremongering that had been waged by the police and the local council. It seems messages had been sent round all the schools, community centres, places of worship and even hospital staff, that people should stay at home. It’s just as well not everyone did or the EDL would have been rampaging through their streets. As usual Searchlight/Hope Not Hate contributed to the state’s strategy by organising events on the days before and after the EDL’s riot.
It was clear from fairly early in the day that most of the EDL were kettled in a few pubs near St Martin’s Square. We skirted round the Humberstone Gate area and headed to Highfields to see what was going on there. Hundreds, probably thousands of local people were gathered along all the entry points to the area from town. People we spoke to said that the local community had spent days preparing to defend themselves and working out a strategy to protect their neighbourhoods. Fortunately it wasn’t necessary.
Meanwhile the EDL were kicking off with the police in town and smashed the windows of the International Arts Centre. Cheers lads, that’s really one in the eye for Islamic extremism. Some of them broke out of their pen sometime between 3 and 4pm and fought with riot cops on Charles Street before heading out towards the ring road and (surprise, surprise) Highfields and one of the city centre’s biggest mosques. A group of mostly Asian and black local youths who had been waiting outside police lines tried to get down to the ring road to confront the EDL. I don’t know how many actually broke out of the kettle but by this point there were less than 100 of them. That was more than there were in the anti-EDL group who retreated up Humberstone Road where they had plenty of back up. The EDL chased after them but were soon beaten back and ended up trying to go through the retail park where they got beaten up by riot cops. As far as I know that was as far as the EDL got. There were still groups of stragglers drifting around, giving it the big one to local Muslims whilst protected by cops with batons.
There was a tense stand off whilst police kept back the angry crowds of locals on Humberstone Road and locked down all access roads into Highfields. We tried to help isolated groups of local people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time: an Asian mother and her daughter trying to get home to Highfields from town and a couple whose car was on the other side of the police cordon and needed to get home to Loughborough. Once again it was clear that the biggest effect that the EDL coming to town had had was to make people who weren’t white afraid to walk around in their own city. This is the real reason they are a threat, and the reason that the tactics of the authorities and community leaders help the EDL.
As we waited for an opportunity to get through the cordons and head back to where the EDL were chased, more and more small groups of locals youths were coming back to the ring road. The police had begun bussing the EDL out of town and the coaches were attacked by missiles and abuse. One of the coaches stopped at some lights and EDL began pouring out to attack the locals but quickly turned tail and jumped back on for their own safety.
That was pretty much the end of the day’s events. We wandered back to Highfields to make sure that no EDL members had got through which they hadn’t. The police were trying to get people to go home but the locals were, unsurprisingly, suspicious of police claims that the EDL had all gone home.
So the street fighting faction of the EDL will, no doubt, be pleased that they managed to get a good ruck with the OB and march around town. They even got to chase a few local people (sorry, “MDL”) for a few seconds before getting chased back again. That might be enough to stop them attacking their own stewards next time. The keyboard warriors are already mythologising what happened as honest Englishmen defending their country from hordes of Islamic extremists rather than a bunch of racist thugs from out of town turning up to attack a local community.
But what are their leaders really playing at? They are trying to have it both ways, making a lot of fighting talk about how they are refusing to work with the police before leading their members into a big steel cage again. They said they would march one way or another and they did get to break out but that was in spite of deals made between the leadership and police. The EDL is full of internal contradictions: “peaceful protesters” who always fight the police, “anti-racists” who try to chase and attack non-whites, “the voice of the working class” who attack working class communities and call everyone who criticises them “commies”. They are just managing to hold it together for now but we can exploit those contradictions.
A few things are worth noting for future info. We spotted a few coach company names on the day. A lot of them were from Confidence’s Coaches, a Leicester company, which could have been hired by the police to take them, but we also saw a Ribble Valley Coaches (Preston, Lancs) one. It is probably worth making some polite objections. There were also a lot of very obvious EDL spotters wandering around town and even in small groups on bikes with mobiles. Might be worth thinking about a strategy to deal with them in future.