Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Well connected

English Defence League remix a familiar tune

At first glance the newly founded English Defence League (EDL) might appear to have its origins in the disturbances surrounding the parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment through Luton on 10 March this year. Indeed, Nick Griffin, the British National Party leader, was right for once when he identified the town as providing the organisational hub for the League’s shambolic anti-Islam demonstrations.

However, an investigation into the background of several high-profile EDL members shows that their activities are only the latest manifestation of a historical link between Luton Town football hooligans and far-right politics.

EDL makes three claims very publicly: firstly, that they are very distinct from the BNP; secondly, they do not advocate violence; and thirdly that they are opposed to racism. There is clear evidence to show that these declarations do not stand up to examination.

BNP links

Leaked documents written by Barry Taylor, a former Milton Keynes BNP member, reveal that the hooligans – otherwise known as the MIGs (Men in Gear) – played a key role in the local BNP branch. According to Taylor:
A lot of the activism and support in Luton was due to the group of friends known as the MIGs. When Nick Griffin made a visit to our area in February 2007 the MIGs were not invited. Subsequently they discovered that they had been excluded from the guest list and were very disappointed. This was a very disrespectful way to treat our allies. The ‘loss of face’ that this caused for their leaders caused them to stop attending meetings and also prevented their campaigning on our behalf in Luton. These men had previously represented about 50% of the available workforce for Luton.
Luton English Defence League activists Matt Unsworth (top) and Davy Cooling (bottom)

One of these MIG activists was Davy Cooling, who lived in Luton at the time although he has since moved to Daventry, where he works as a council driver. A fully-fledged BNP member, Cooling is now a key activist in the EDL Luton “division”. This is demonstrated by his status as administrator of the Luton division’s Facebook group. Cooling still shows interest in the party, as shown by his posting on the Facebook site of the BNP’s 2009 Red, White and Blue Festival, which said: “I may attend, it will be my first one – what’s the score?”

The positioning of a BNP member at the helm of the EDL’s core division runs contrary to the League’s strenuous attempts to distance itself from far-right political parties. As far as Luton is concerned this was compromised very early on when a man arrested twice for using foul and abusive language during EDL demonstrations was revealed to be David Tull, a well known former National Front member.

Promotion of violence

The EDL makes great play of being innocent bystanders when violence kicks off at its demonstrations. Indeed, it put much of the blame for the disturbances at its Birmingham event of 8 August on the presence of Unite Against Fascism. However, the UAF has not been visibly present during the two disturbances in Luton, particularly the May event when 300 EDL activists went on the rampage overturning cars, smashing windows and attacking passers-by.

Sean Walsh, a Luton EDL activist, uses the EDL Luton division Facebook page to suggest some particularly dangerous tactics to use against the police when being hemmed-in. Walsh suggests:
if the police make a square surrounding you the protesters should all be in organised groups specializing in their strengths and weaknesses there should be a core of strong people (heavy infantry) with the ability to penetrate a weak point in polices defences with a wedge attack and create a opening and be able to hold the opening for the other protesters to break through the opening. Adaptability is the key.
Interestingly, Walsh is a signed-up member of the Bedfordshire BNP Facebook group.

Promoting racism

Matt Unsworth, a 19 year-old EDL member, made strenuous attempts to introduce a “cultural” dimension to the demonstration in Luton that was scheduled for 19 September before it was banned. He sought to secure the Leeds-based singer Anglo-Saxon to play a gig in Luton that evening, with a Facebook message that read:
Respect to you for sticking to what you believe in and I admire your work. You are a credit to soceity! [sic]. Also I might get you to come down to Luton for a show in September on the day of the protest if you are interested?
It is fortunate for Luton that Anglo Saxon was not available on that day, as the singer was arrested in 2007 for incitement to racial hatred for the lyrics of his song, This is England:
Is this the land you want to leave to your children They bleed the state and ask for more …They took the passport, they took the pound And now they’ve bombed the underground.
It is very hollow for the EDL to make banners bearing the slogan “black and white unite and fight” if at the same time they seek to promote artists who spread the creed of race hate.

Unsworth attracted the attention of the national EDL leadership through his attempts to book Anglo-Saxon, in particular a shadowy character called EDL South, who clearly has a key role in the organisation. Soon after his encounter with EDL South, Unsworth created a new Facebook persona by the name of Luton English, separating his feverish political postings from the social chit-chat. No doubt he is following instructions from his new political masters.

A tragic pair

Peter Fehr, the BNP’s Luton organiser, often moans about the lack of activists and so, as for those who have gone before him, it is easy to see how attractive the MIGs must appear as a readymade street army. Like a moth drawn to the flame, Fehr retains a fascination for the rough and tumble of marches, banners and “well-directed boots and fists” that Griffin claims to have left behind.

If you sign up to the MIGs though, you inherit all the baggage that comes with them and boundaries between the two organisations are becoming increasingly blurred. The EDL has the destructive street muscle but ill-defined politics. Luton BNP has the hate-inspired ideology but a handful of activists.

It is our job to ensure that on the streets and through the ballot box we defeat both sides of the same coin.

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