Sussex Police have revealed that they will not be paying for coaches for “groups” travelling into Brighton for the March for England on St George’s Day (27th April). For “groups“, read: fringe fascists loosely connected with what’s left of the English Defence League. People like those photographed here (from their 2012 day out at the seaside). People too disreputable even to make it into UKIP ~ although they do try and have had to be specifically banned from membership. This is the sixth year they’ve brought their brand of xenophobia to spoil our normally loved up seafront.
It has been nationwide police practice to provide coaches for far-right organisations to protest in our city centres. They wave a practice manual at you, if you ask, which officialises this policy. Public policy and Human Rights mean that the police must facilitate public protest, so the argument goes. Therefore, when a few face a crowd of thousands of jeering, booing, overwhelmingly hostile locals, the few fascists require protection. So far, so good. However, when the protection is extended to transport, it is our taxes being spent helping the far-right travel to protest. It is a ticket too far.
For the first few years, Brighton’s visiting Englanders tagged along with some other event and destroyed it along the way. Then they launched their own version three years ago. Consequently hundreds of people turned up to show their deep and heartfelt opposition against them. The police rounded up the enraged locals into a number of fiercely contested kettles. The fascists were encouraged to go for a beer and then allowed to go on the rampage.
The following year, Sussex Police took a different approach. Interventions by a broad range of public figures, including the local MP, Caroline Lucas, worked. The police agreed not to kettle those united against fascism. The resulting March for England was cut rather short, not far down Queen’s Road, when a number of particularly small, skinny and generally weedy looking twenty something anarchist types kept getting under the hooves of the police horses. Say what you like about the black bloc, they are brave.
I confess I used to parade myself on St George’s Day, around Brighton. For my sins, I was in the Boy Scouts. Although my folks teased me at the time, saying the Hitler Youth League was modelled on the Scouts, huge crowds of counter-protesters didn’t rain contempt on our parade. It just wasn’t that kind of day out. I’ve no idea how many kids are in the local Scouts these days or whether they could muster as many as we had in our ranks. Certainly, they’d like to carry on. Last year they decided to postpone their annual event, again, lest their flags somehow got conflated with the March for England’s.
Last year, Sussex Police thought that they had cracked the problem by providing transport for the March for Englanders, into Brighton. The usual 100 or so marchers confronted the usual vast crowd of complainants by parading up and down Marine Parade. I contacted the coach company to ask them if they knew that their bus was being used to transport people promoting politics not dissimilar to Adolph Hitler. They said that they did not. Apparently they contacted Sussex Police to inform them that they did not want that kind of work again. After their parade, most of the visiting protesters (only eleven or so live in Brighton) declined the coach back to the secret rendezvous point. They preferred to maraud around town, looking for beautiful people to beat up. The police declined to stop this general affray because, “the march is finished, the operation is over” and “we can’t force people to travel on our coach.” At least that’s what their officers on the ground said.
This year, it seemed prudent to ask Sussex Police, in advance, to name the coach company it would be using. We’ll skip the prevarication involved. The estimable @MrDrem made the relevant Freedom of Information requests, in so doing persuading the police to accept FoI requests via twitter. A couple of days ago, Brighton & Hove Bus company was named but it turned out that they have only got the gig to transport the police about. One hurried apology later and it turns out that there are no plans to bus the little Englanders anywhere.
So there’s a public health warning out for Brighton on 27th April 2014. If you were thinking of a nice day out at our legendary seaside, it’s probably best not to bother. That’s because Sussex Police, in collaboration with ‘their partners’, have decided that you, the cash rich tourist, the Boy Scout or the seafront business owner are less important than a tiny and rather tawdry gaggle of brutish left-behinds, whose arrival will inevitably lead to the closure of the town centre for most of the day. They spent £500,000 facilitating this closure last year. Er, … you will see us at our outspoken best. Do try not to get caught up in the evening’s running battles!
Last year Sussex Police were kind enough to answer a bunch of questions I posed about the March for England. They were pretty sketchy about which other venues were considered. Preston Park is often used for large scale crowd events. It is near a train station, it is close to the city centre and experience shows that it is easy to fence off. Furthermore, lots of police vans could be parked all around it and there are big fast access roads. It is a far better location to protect a few EDL stragglers from a few thousand counter-demonstrators. Apparently this year the police considered forcing the fascists up onto Kemptown Racecourse but dismissed the idea. Another wasted opportunity. The Boy Scouts could have had their parade back, on the day they’ve marched for decades. The tourists could have swanned about town spending their cash and our town centre businesses could have a break.