It’s all gone quiet over there
After all the hype, ominous predictions and sleepless nights for West Yorkshire Police officers with good memories the English Defence League’s self-proclaimed ‘big one’ in Bradford was a damp squib.
The EDL promised what they couldn’t deliver. They wanted a turnout of several thousand and the opportunity to provoke Bradford’s Asian population into a re-run of 2001. Estimates for numbers on the day range between 700 and 1000. Any figure falling within that range is a disappointment for them.
The turnout at Bradford seems to confirm what I’ve suspected for the last couple of months, that the EDL is losing momentum. The demo received huge publicity in the run up to the event and took place on a Bank Holiday when few people will have had work commitments.
The EDL tacitly acknowledge this, releasing a statement today containing none of the usual boasts about a huge turnout and humiliated opposition. Instead there’s an extended whinge about how neo-Nazis keep turning up to their peaceful demos and causing all the trouble.
Attendance appears to have peaked at the demo in Bolton earlier this year where 2000 turned out. Since then their ‘march and grow’ strategy has run into problems.
Since their first outing in Luton last year the EDL has relied on each demo being bigger than the last. While sister organisations in Wales and Scotland were unable to gain any traction, in a just few months the EDL went from being a serious irritant to residents of Luton to a group capable of calling a demo anywhere in England and expecting to see a thousand people turn up. Where’s it going wrong for them?
More of the same
One of their problems is the same as that encountered by the Stop the War Coalition. Not only are they running out of locations to march in but the demos all follow the same pattern. Endless, similar demonstrations eventually start to demoralise people, no matter how strongly they feel about the issues.
Add to this the fact that most EDL supporters have little previous political involvement and so are more likely to be prone to cynicism and defeatism after setbacks. A dud demo (such as the second outing at Dudley or the failure to show in Whitechapel) can have a big impact. Following the demo at Dudley the EDL leadership in the form of Tommy Robinson (otherwise known as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) released this complaint:
The mood of members seems to have been somewhat low since the Dudley demo. Ok lets look at this yes we had one bad demo we were screwed over and lied to by the Old Bill. But one bad demo is all compared to how many good ones guys?
Tough luck Tommy, you’re only as good as you’re last game remember.
The other factor which will potentially put the brakes on the EDL is the leadership themselves.
It’s best to characterise the EDL as a loose coalition between elements of the far right and football hooligans. This involves little in the way of organisation, people are mainly mobilised through existing personal contacts and Facebook. Apart from a general hostility towards Muslims there’s little ideology involved.
The EDL leadership are keen to change this and have been trying to link up with the wider anti-Islam movement in Europe and the genuinely deranged right-wing fringe in America. For example, one of their main Stateside groupies is blogger Pamela Geller, whose book they are touting on their website, who actually seriously claimed that Obama was the secret love child of Malcom X. I think the wider agenda of some of these fruitloops will go down like a pint of cold sick with most supporters of the EDL.
Where do they go from here?
Back to Luton. The next big EDL demo is scheduled for the town where it all started. I’d be surprised if this went ahead. All marches in Luton were banned for three months last year following their last mobilisation there. A static demo is more likely.
The EDL isn’t going to disappear. If the momentum doesn’t pick up again in Luton (large-scale confrontations with Asian youth in the town isn’t unlikely) they’ll gradually dwindle back to the status of irritating rather than threatening mob, albeit one with the potential to act as an immediate focal point if something major happens, a repeat of 7/7 for instance. Without the excitement of a big demo less politicised supporters will drift away.
The other possibility is that contacts with the wider anti-Islam movement progress beyond the flirting stage and a smaller, more defined organisation which has a wider range of political positions than ‘Muslim bombers off our streets’. Since they are already infatuated with Dutch politician Geert Wilders it wouldn’t be a huge leap for them to graduate into the political arena.
What isn’t going to happen is a swing to the right. Most of the organised far right has been looking on the EDL with barely concealed envy or salivating at the prospect of all those young men joining a demo with them at the helm.
Eddy Morrison (who comments online as ‘Erik Eriksson’) the current leader of the National Front is fantasising about the latter. Thankfully, apart from the BNP whose interests lie elsewhere at present, no fascist group in Britain has the organisation capacity or the competence to organise a piss up in a brewery. I have more chance of becoming England manager than the hapless muppets of the NF taking over the EDL.
I would tentatively guess that in 6 months time EDL demos will be attracting about the half the number they do now. This shouldn’t be any grounds for complacency. The rapid rise of the EDL could easily be repeated in future and, with the added bonus of brand recognition, there’s no reason why their numbers would stop at 2000.