I’ve got an article on page 35 of Today’s Guardian responding to Nina Power’s earlier piece which argued that the ban on the EDL’s march that I, along with an overwhelming number of local residents and organisations, campaigned for, was a mistake. I’m reproducing it here:
Nina Power rightly identifies the motivation “to harass and intimidate the local Muslim population” that lay behind the English Defence League’s plan to march through London’s East End and Tower Hamlets this coming Saturday (Let the EDL racists march, 30 August).
She is, of course, right to be concerned that, although I pushed for a ban specifically for the EDL march, the ban has now been extended to all demonstrations in our area for the next 30 days. But when she says “this could include East London LGBT Pride, a march against cuts to Homerton hospital, and, most ironically, an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle of Cable Street”, she is wrong to lump what the EDL was planning with traditionally peaceful demonstrations.
I led the demand for a ban on the proposed EDL march, and was grateful for the support of local MPs, councillors, as well as civic, business and trade union leaders across the country. I did so, not on grounds of economic cost, but out of fear of the mayhem that could be sparked by EDL supporters in our diverse communities.
We have all worked hard to create today’s One Tower Hamlets, which is why the response to the EDL was so vehement. Faith leaders from all denominations supported my call, as did the LGBT community. And while Power says “those who abhor the EDL and everything they stand for should come out on the streets to oppose them if they can”, I am confident I will receive their support again when I urge people from outside our community not to come and protest unofficially. The safety of our community remains paramount. I salute the memory of the defeat of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in Cable Street, but we don’t want violence to be re-visited on our borough.
Power asks: “Is banning marches the best way to tackle racists and fascists?” My belief in civil liberties is just as passionate as hers and I will always support the right to protest peacefully. But there is a clear difference between marching peacefully to make a point, and marching provocatively, seeking confrontation, as the EDL has done here in the past. Indeed, Power herself refers to the EDL’s recent excursions, saying: “The group violently attacked an anti-racist meeting in Barking in May, hospitalising a female NHS worker.”
She neglected to mention the Northern Ireland experience, where marches are sometimes banned when clearly organised to provoke communities – but where blanket bans are not a matter of course, and marches and demonstrations are not banned on grounds of cost.
So while I applaud the Metropolitan police and the home secretary in listening to the many voices from our community in banning the EDL march, I will support the right of community organisations to hold some of the events that Power fears might be banned. However, I feel sure that good sense will prevail, and that the authorities will be capable of distinguishing between community events and demonstrations designed to whip up racial and religious intolerance.