'EDL are splintering and demoralised'

Issue section: 
(385)

Kelvin Williams, UAF photographer

When Tommy Robinson and Kevin Caroll announced they quit the EDL it was greeted with acrimonious disappointment by the foot soldiers. The constant opposition they faced was the chief factor in them drawing the conclusion that the street movement was no longer working.

I have been scanning the EDL on Facebook for some time now and what we were seeing even before the resignations was a steady decline in interest. In September they had 22,000 hits and by October it had dropped to 6,000. The murder of Lee Rigby had a dramatic impact on the organisation. Even though they were able to briefly revive their fortunes, it was short lived as the level of opposition to them was too great.

My role of the past three and half years was to monitor the EDL demonstrations, getting up close to them, taking pictures of their protests. It can get very daunting having to be that close to them, as inevitability you become a target. I was struck by the sheer levels of aggression and the numbers they could turn out, underlined by this deep conviction that "Sharia law" was about to be imposed on Britain and that the Muslims were taking over the world.

On some of the demos they attracted many young people; others were full of thugs. It varied from protest to protest. There were definitely a large number of hard core racists and fascists on their demonstrations. The only coordination that went into these protests was the date, time and place. Once they gathered it was often chaos, with different groups vying for control. Often they were simply disconnected groups that could not cooperate with each other. This was one of the weaknesses of the EDL. There was little internal cohesion.

Often you could see the splits and tensions break out inside their demonstrations. There were constant power struggles and divisions between the outright Nazis and fascists and those who were part of the main grouping. Over the years there have been many leadership battles. "John Snowy Shaw" in Dudley fell out with Robinson over money. More recently "Paul Pitt", the one-time south east organiser, was pushed out. As was Tony Curtis, an eloquent and confident speaker, and a natural replacement for Robinson.

Robinson had been attempting to push the EDL into a different direction for some time. But this was about his personal ambitions. In truth UAF succeeded in pushing the EDL into a political ghetto. When their campaign of street demonstrations hit a wall there were attempts to do other "work" like raising a petition against Halal chicken being served at KFC. But this failed because every time they faced opposition.

I went to Nuneaton to cover the homecoming parade by the Gurkhas in 2010. The EDL turned out, but because there was no counter-protest they were given the run of the city. On the day the police advised minorities not to enter the town. When there were no counter-protests the EDL could roam at will. It was clear that UAF protests frustrated them.

What I noticed most was the way in which the EDL were policed. It seemed the police were there to facilitate their protests, by providing buses or "escorting" them to a "static protest", whereas they policed the UAF in order to neutralise us. Many people were frustrated because they wanted every protest to be a "Lewisham", a chance to physically stop the EDL. In the end we had to learn the art of patience, and of building up our forces.

It is not true that Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts fascists in the 1930s appeared on the Monday and by the following Saturday we had the Battle of Cable Street. There were many smaller protests in between, it was a long drawn out fight. Since their disasterous attempt to protest in Tower Hamlets the EDL have been reduced to the dregs. During the last demo in Bradford, a tiny affair, they were playing their standard CD compilation to the crowd. One of the tracks is a tribute to Tommy Robinson. It was greeted with silence, then boos before being taken off.

The EDL never recovered from the defeat in Waltham Forest. Robinson had just launched the British Freedom Party, a new direction in electoral work. They were full of confidence. I remember the look of horror on the face of Peter Mullins, the leader of the BFP, when he saw the scale of the opposition. The EDL are splintering. We tainted them as "racist and fascist" and they are in disarray. But we must not forget that Islamophobia is widely accepted, and the dangers from the far-right remain strong.