This Saturday just gone, I had the pleasure of attending a counter-protest to oppose the English Defence League march through Cambridge.
The EDL were marching against the construction of a Mosque in one of the most culturally diverse streets in the city. About 350 people were on the EDL march; according to reports, they mostly arrived by coach and train from other cities, and our city was one of a handful scheduled as part of an organised demonstration.
A thousand people turned out to oppose them, from the city and surrounding towns and villages. Local Muslims, Trade Union representatives, the Cambridge Socialists, Cambridge and Cambridge University Labour Parties and the Member of European Parliament (MEP) for the East of England marched all around the city, in some cases to the applause of onlookers.
As we marched down the final street – the site of the new Mosque – people came came out and gave us bottles of water and samosas, drummers lined the march route and our numbers swelled to about 1500 for the final leg and the Love Music, Hate Racism after-party.
More than 650 officers and staff from six forces policed the event, and did a sterling job, with no violence along our march route and five arrests after the two marches dispersed.
I could never support the things the EDL claims to be against (they were founded in response to flag burning and hate campaigns against British soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan), but their language and actions are loathsome. At the heart of the EDL is a far-right anti-Muslim group, founded by a British National Party member and initially comprised of ‘firms’ of organised football hooligans.
I am proud to live in a city that so resoundingly rejects racism and bigotry, especially when it comes dressed up as patriotism. I love my country and the things that make it great, but the EDL isn’t one of them.