The English Defence League Come to Bradford 2010

As Bradford slowly began to emerge from the legacy of the 2001 riots a new threat would emerge to test its new found resilience to extremism.  That threat lay in the declared intention of a new far right group, the English Defence League, (EDL), to hold a march in the City.  The EDL, partly emerging from the disintegrating BNP, showed no interest in electoral politics, preferring to concentrate its energies on the streets by holding increasingly provocative demonstrations.  Chants such as 'Allah is a paedo' were common and many of their events would turn violent with EDL supporters, usually fuelled by alcohol, attacking either the police, left-wing counter-demonstrators or sometimes themselves.

It was only a matter of time before the EDL would come to Bradford and in 2010 they announced that they intended to hold a march in the city that would see them walk through a predominantly Asian area, down Manchester Road into the City Centre for a rally.  The EDL were absolutely clear about their intentions.  There was excitement on their website and the Bradford event was called 'The Big One'.  The EDL and its supporters were explicit in seeing Bradford as an opportunity to cause trouble.  They regarded Bradford as being an Asian City and saw in its multiculturalism much of what they feared and despised.  Whilst Bradfordians of many different backgrounds looked back with fear to the riots, the EDL and its supporters looked to them for inspiration.  They were convinced that they could come to Bradford, create disturbance and violence and then benefit from the subsequent fall out.

However this cynical racist plan did not recognise the hidden strengths in Bradford or the resilience that had been carefully nurtured in the years after 2001.

Hope not hate in Bradford were determined that the EDL would not get their way.  The first reaction among many was to convince the authorities that the route of the proposed march was too provocative.  The EDL had designed it to be so.  How to stop the march or 'ban the EDL' was the question.  Our democracy rightly defends the right to peaceful protest, but what should our response be when extremist protestors are intent on causing violence and racist mayhem? 

While the lawyers wrote their opinions, we decided that our intervention had to be to both oppose the march but also act to bring Bradfordians together.  We were determined to resist the EDL's attempt to divide us and cause trouble but we were equally determined that this could only be done by building alliances and bringing people together.

To this end we quickly held meetings with the Council, with the Leader, Deputy Leader and senior officers.  It was apparent that they shared many of our concerns but they did not have the power to ban the EDL march.  We then met with the police, who impressed upon us that they had learned many lessons from 2001 and wanted to work with Bradford's communities to ensure that we had no repeat of those days.

After liaising with the Bradford Council for Mosques, the Bishop of Bradford and many other community activists and organisations we decided to launch a mass petition to call for the march to be stopped.  These days online petitions have become very common but in 2010 they were less common.  However we wanted our work to be of value in reaching out to people and bringing them together. Stated frankly we could have gone around the inner city areas of Bradford and collected a large petition but that would not have represented all Bradfordians and it would have risked the appearance that only part of our population opposed the EDL.  We needed therefore to get it out to much wider circles.

 

The Bishop made sure that it was circulated to all the Churches while the Council for Mosques took it to the Mosques.  Hope not hate supporters went door to door asking people to sign and were met with a very positive result in some of the deprived estates away from the City Centre. 

We were still worried that we might not be getting the message out widely enough although by now we had the local community radio, BCB, making appeals on our behalf.  We then went to meet the editor of the local paper, The Telegraph & Argus. The T&A is still the most widely read paper in the City and its opinions matter.  We appealed to the editor that his paper had to play its part in the defence of our city and to our delight he agreed and the paper ran the petition every night for three weeks.  The T&A knew they would have some negative reaction for their decision to run the petition but their bravery was rewarded by the thousands of positive responses that were received.  We always believed that these were the most valuable additions to the petition because they required a lot more effort; cutting out and posting back, than other means.  This was Bradford's 'silent majority' responding and the pressure for the march to be banned was growing.

We were able to present our petition to the Home Secretary and eventually the march was banned, however the EDL were still allowed to have a 'static protest'.  Yes, it is incredible that the authorities can deem a march to be too provocative, racist and violent to go ahead but still allow a static version to proceed in any case!  No one can know what would have happened if that EDL march had taken place, but it would not have been pretty and getting it stopped was an important victory.

 

Just as important was the way it was done.  Because the petition had reached out to so many people there was a clear sense in the City of a resistance to the EDL who were now seen as outsiders intent on coming here to cause trouble.  Bradford had made it clear that the EDL was not welcome.

However the EDL would still arrive for their static demonstration.  It was agreed by all parties that the best place to put them was in Bradford's infamous 'hole in the ground' – a space that now indeed has the long awaited Westfield shopping shed.  The EDL wanted one of Bradford's prized civic spaces but we were intent that that would be denied to them. If a gang of racist hooligans had to be allowed here it seemed fitting that they should go in the hole where they could be boxed in by the police and where their poison could be largely contained.

 

Most important of all, on the eve of the EDL event we held a unity event under the banner of Bradford Together. We saw that we needed to give all those people who opposed the EDL an opportunity to express not only their opposition to racism but their commitment to making our City better and stronger.  Representatives from every conceivable background spoke to call for unity and to eschew the division and violence of the EDL.  The event concluded by everyone joining in the singing of 'we shall overcome' a fitting message for the time.

 

On the day itself 5,000 individuals turned up with the EDL. Hardly any of them were from Bradford and, inside the hole in the ground and right on cue, they behaved with the racist imbecility that we expected.  They fought with the police, they fought with each other, they shamed our City with their filthy racism and they confirmed to the majority of Bradfordians why they were not welcome here.

They wanted disorder but they were the only ones to be disorderly and when it was time the police bussed them out.  The following day we went back to the hole and the Bishop of Bradford blessed it, a symbolic cleansing of that space.  Every subsequent EDL incursion has been smaller and smaller.  The coalitions that Hope not hate built strengthened our collective ability to respond to these provocations.  There is still much to be done in Bradford but the Hope not hate approach to working with communities, not just shouting lazy slogans has paid dividends.

In 2001 images of Bradford on fire were shown across the world, the City was on its knees whilst the extremists delighted in it.  The final blog from Hope not hate on the day the EDL came to town was pictures of Asian families taking down food to the police lines to thank them. What began as a threat became an opportunity for Bradfordians to come together and celebrate their love for their great city.