Opposing the March For England in Brighton
MFE fact file
March for England Briefing
The weekend around St George’s Day will once again see the arrival of the March for England in Brighton. As with each time in the last four years there will be a counter demonstration. This briefing by Brighton anti-fascists aims to give a quick overview of this controversial event and explain why we are opposing it.
Who are the March for England?
The March for England (MfE) is both an event and an organisation. Although the annual march in Brighton is the main public event organised by the group, their banners can be found at many other right wing protests across the country.
MfE’s central claim regarding the Brighton march is that it is ‘a harmless family day out’. We consider that to be far from the truth.
MfE membership overlaps significantly with other groups such as the English Defence League English Nationalist Alliance, Stop Islamification of Europe and Casuals United. Their focus is on a sense of English rather than British identity, and opposition to Islam. They have also recently started to get excited about a possible war with Argentina.
They are best understood as a far-right splinter group, part of the ‘counter-jihad’ movement currently on the rise in Europe. Of course the counter-jihad’s most famous exponent to date is Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer.
Although the MfE claim to simply be patriots – what they mean by ‘english values’ swiftly degenerates into racism, specifically (although not limited to) anti-muslim statements. They conflate the activities of a tiny minority of pro-sharia law activists with the entire Muslim population. The word ‘muzzie’ , the modern day version of ‘paki’ is never far from the discussion on their forums or facebook profiles.
During their last outing in Brighton the MfE openly displayed English Defence League flags and chanted “Allah is a paedo” – a nonsensical and offensive slogan. The display of a pink LGBT union flag notwithstanding they also directed homophobic abuse at passers-by. This year there have been desperate pleas by organisers to make this a ‘no colours’ event i.e that EDL members should leave their flags at home. Brighton anti-fascists anticipate that these pleas will be ignored.
In June 2009 the March for England organised a protest in Luton, to counter an earlier demonstration by Muslims against returning troops. The event ended in violence with Asian owned businesses attacked- Daily Mail report
Subsequently long term MfE spokesman and organiser ‘Pompey’ Dave Smeeton denied having anything to do with organising the event.
It was this riot that gave birth to the English Defence League, of whom many if not most of the MfE membership are enthusiastic supporters. English Defence League demonstrations are a by-word for drunken racist hooliganism.
Since then March for England have been a constant presence on English Defence League demos – as these photos of a recent event in Barking show
For the purposes of demonstrating in Brighton the MfE try to distance themselves from the the more overtly violent street groups – however as this discussion on Casuals United shows – this is for show only, MfE are well aware that a total ban on the EDL membership would significantly impact on their turn out.
History in Brighton
Why do MfE come to Brighton? As far as we can tell the majority of those who can be termed organisers live in Portsmouth. They congregate annually at the train station for the simple reason that the majority of them travel from outside the area for their day out by the sea side. The local membership of the EDL consists of less than a dozen people.
The answer is because they consider Brighton to be a centre for ‘anti-english’ activity. They come to Brighton specifically because of it’s reputation as a tolerant, cosmopolitan, left wing city. They are aware that their message isn’t welcome but delight in bringing it here anyway. They do this under the guise of a ‘family fun day out’ – something a swift glance at the profile of those attending shows is very far from the truth.
Their first Brighton outing was in April 2008 and was unopposed . Eyewitnesses reported racist abuse directed against the public, but we have no direct (i.e recorded) evidence for this.
2009 saw another largely unopposed demonstration.
This year saw the first significant counter-mobilisation by anti-fascists to the MfE as by then it was seen as a front group for the then expanding EDL.Unite against Fascism (UAF) staged a counter demonstration against the MfE, taking the form of a rally opposite the King and Queen pub on the Old Steine, the end point of the march. Other non-aligned anti-fascists actually joined the MfE, by taking them at their word as being anti-racists and joining their parade to announce why . They were roundly condemned by the MfE on the day and received a great deal of abuse for handing out a leaflet celebrating a different kind of pride in Englishness (see “England For All”, right).One MfE marcher, Ryan Williams from Dorset plead guilty to assault (in October 2010) following an incident on this march.This intervention by antifascists provoked the English Nationalist Alliance, a more overtly racist grouping run by Bill Baker, to return on the Monday of the August Bank Holiday weekend. This time round the ENA mustered around fifty supporters and due to a large mobilisation by Sussex Police were able to march from the train station to the Old Steine although their march was re-routed due to action by anti-fascists. Chants on this march included “You lot all take it up the arse” and “Allah is a paedo”. Although this wasn’t billed as an official MfE event it still features on their website.One prominent member of MfE – Steven Sands was arrested for GBH after knocking out and hospitalizing an anti-fascist protestor during an ambush outside the Fountainhead pub. Charges were subsequently dropped despite the fact that at least one police office recorded having witnessed the assault.
- October 2010 – the English Nationalist Alliance attempted to disrupt a SMASH EDOdemonstration with leader Bill Baker saying “SmashEDO is an organisation funded by Palestinian Exiles and Islamic groups to generate socialist political activities against companies that provide military technology to our armed forces so as to weaken our capabilities in carrying out military activities in the Middle East conflict and Afghanistan.” The organisation claimed to have infiltrated Smash EDOs ranks.Although organiser Bill Baker didn’t actually make it on the day, MfE steward Mark Crosby was involved and was arrested for Affray.
On April 5th a mob of around 30 EDL including known faces from the March for England such as Mark Crosby attacked a meeting being held by Unite Against Fascism on the subject of ‘Defending Multiculturalism’. Only the determination of a handful of people on the door prevented them gaining access.Just three weeks later, Brighton saw a huge mobilisation by Sussex Police to push the MfE through town during the Royal Wedding bank holiday weekend. They were met at the station by a significant counter-mobilisation of over two hundred. However a large police operation escorted the right-wingers through town while holding the counter-demo in a pen.
March 17th Brighton EDL, headed up by none other than Mark Crosby staged demonstrations outside a book launch and later met up at Churchill Square to harass the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s stall. Three of them were arrested.
We stand in opposition to the March for England not because we are anti-free speech. We have no problem with anyone celebrating their national, regional or ethnic identity or criticizing organised religion. We are not calling on the police or local government to ban this march. However we believe that ideologies of hate flourish when they are ignored and want the people of Brighton to show that the hate speech of the English Defence League isn’t welcome here or anywhere. The MfE were given the benefit of the doubt the first few times they appeared in Brighton, a mark perhaps of our city’s laissez-faire attitude and reputation for tolerance, however they’ve used their platform to spread a message of hate and that we should not allow.
We aim to bring the people of Brighton out onto the streets to let the MfE know exactly how welcome they are.