Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Luton's version of the Cairo spirit

The eyes of the world these days are on Tahrir Square in Cairo. But when it comes to protest, that’s not the only place where people have been taking to the streets recently. We’ve had our own moments of excitement in Luton too.

From mid-morning last Saturday, there was no way to drive into the centre of town. Shops, sports centres, public places generally had shut, on police advice. And the police themselves were swarming like bees. From fourteen forces around the country they came, in their coaches and their lorries, and they gathered in our little town, imposing in their determination and their displays of hardware. I particularly liked the horses. There were whole truckloads of them and they poured through the streets in impressive numbers.

Eat your hearts out, Mounties.
The cavalry patrols the Luton streets
What was the cause of all this frenetic activity, rumoured to have cost £800,000?

The English Defence League was marching through our streets. Now the name suggests something innocuous, doesn’t it? Perhaps an organisation dedicated to protecting the language of Shakespeare, or the tradition of long summer evenings watching cricket while drinking warm beer.

Not so: this is an organisation as concerned with rights as those mass movements in Cairo. Except that in the case of the EDL, they want to take rights away rather than demand they be granted. They don’t like immigrants, you see, by which they principally mean that they don’t like people whose skin colour is darker than is usual among Anglo-Saxons (a previous wave of immigrants, accepted far more readily in this country, because they arrived with swords and axes). 

It gets particularly bad if people who have the gall to have the wrong skin colour also insist on adhering to Islam. This is a definite no-no to the EDL, who would rather they felt under no special obligation even to remain in the country.

Since Luton has rather more such people than many other places – a small minority, of course, but a bigger one than in most English cities, with nearly one in five residents being descended from South Asian immigrants – the EDL felt that it would be good to get their message out here, where they could cause maximum offence without having to walk very far. 

Unite Against Fascism organised a counter demonstration.

And the police were there, closing roads and shutting shops, to avoid any serious damage being done.

In the end 1500 EDL people showed up and 900 counter-demonstrators. By 4:00 it was all over. We’d spent the day in London, so apart from having to catch our train from a different station, we barely noticed the event.

But, hey, at a time when we’re talking about those great protest movements bursting out all over the Middle East, let’s not forget that we had our own little incident too. Nice if it had been about increasing freedom for all instead of reducing it for a minority, but you can’t have everything.

At least the police did their job properly, if expensively. Perhaps we ought just to be thankful for such small mercies.


Anonymous said...

Nous au village aussi l'on a
de beaux assassinats!


David Beeson said...

Good old Georges - he knew a thing or two