Thursday, 16 April 2009

Luton - Bank Holiday Monday

There's a lot to rage at in Luton at the moment - the financial crisis is biting and even the local football team has dropped out of the football league due to the Football League docking 30 points. So when the opportunity came to show displeasure at authority for allowing extremists to hurl abuse at the Royal Anglian Regiment, 150-strong mob duly turned out in the town centre on Bank Holiday Monday. From the start it became clear that this was not an exclusive far-right rally. Most of those attending were from various football tribes, with the majority made up of those Luton Town fans who couldn't be bothered to see the home game just down the road. The target of their wrath wasn't easy to make out. A few days previous, a Borough Council committee had decided that local Islamaphobe blogger Paul Ray could not hold a St George's Day march through the town due to the lack of notice.

This was a very sensible decision by virtue of the wealth of out-of-town troublemakers that follow in Ray's wake. By reading the variety of placards present on the day (above), the council, police and MP Margaret Moran all received some blame. The police tactic of "kettling" received another outing, with officers surrounding the demonstrators and hemming them in to a small area. No permission had officially been given to march, so movement down the town precinct was not permitted.
Just after 2.00pm people carrying placards appeared and the crowd began to gather. Soon there was around 200 people who came from nowhere and that crowd was in no mood to listen to the police informing them that the protest march could not go ahead and was illegal. The police moved infront of the marchers as they moved from Park Square trying to stop them but the protesters broke through and were being chased by police and also officers on horseback. The protesters wanted to get to the Town hall but they were stopped by a strong line of officers and police vehicles. Now they were all infact penned in from the front and back, there was now to be a stand off.

Ten National Front supporters turned up including their Chairman Tom Holmes, which probably made it their biggest turnout in many a month. To their horror, one placard (above) read "NF Go to Hell" (can we borrow it please) and sensing that today would not be their best day for recruitment, they decided to leave and lick their wounds. Much discussion has subsequently gone into the nature of this placard. It was clearly an attempt by the organisers to distance themselves from far-right politics and indeed, conversing with a number of demonstrators on the day, they gave little evidence of a racist motive. However, the BNP put a good deal of effort into promoting the march and clearly hope to benefit from the resulting publicity. However, the only sign of known supporters on the day was YBNP Bedfordshire organiser Chris Mitchell (below, wearing cap, facing camera) who turned up with his less-than-conscious black Arsenal chum, Godfrey Faulkner (below, wearing cap, facing left) on a road trip from Leighton Buzzard. After being penned in for two hours, the police let the demonstrators disperse before the end of the Luton home game.

In total, six people were arrested after dispersal. The local press wrote balanced accounts of the events, but the Daily Star chose to stay true to their Islamophobic stance, giving the demonstrators free rein to say that they were "reclaiming the streets" from the extremist demonstrators.

Local anti-fascists hope that this event will lance the boil of street-level dissent over that fateful day in March. Paul Ray has signalled his determination to stage a "March for England"-style demonstration in Luton for early June, but his ham-fisted attempts at public relations will hopefully cause this venture to come off the rails. We are also mindful of the need to use language that accurately describes the nature of those taking part. Those taking part on Monday were not "BNP" and some would bristle at any "far-right" label. Negative coverage of the troop parade has clearly mobilised a number of locals to act in this manner, but it would be counterproductive to brush these individuals into the same camp as the BNP.

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