Last Saturday we saw the arrival of The English Defence League (EDL)) or calling themselves the Welsh Defence League (WDL)) in Cardiff for the first time. Towards the end of last year we saw them attempt to have demonstrations in South Wales, first in Swansea and then two weeks later in Newport. In Swansea around 30-40 EDL members turned up, but because anti«fascist protesters had occupied the Square they intended to protest in hours before it became impossible for them to do so. They attempted to march past but were surrounded and had to be escorted from the city by police. In Newport only a handful of EDL members were spotted in the city and didn’t dare to stage a protest as John Frost Square had been occupied by hundreds of anti-fascists,
This Saturday in Cardiff did see the biggest mobilisation of the EDL to Cardiff, which should not go unnoticed. I would estimate that in total there were up to 150 EDL demonstrators. Luckily however they were massively outnumbered by anti-fascists on the day. Some estimates have put it at a 5:1 ratio and I think that is probably right. Once the EDL attempted to enter the area where their demonstration was due to be held a surge of anti-fascist protesters ran the 100 yards down the road to stop them from assembling. The charge was led by members of the Soul Crew (Cardiff City Football fans) who were immediately followed by a wave of other anti-fascists. There was a stand off for some time but eventually we were pushed back by the police and the EDL were taken around to their allotted assembly point in-between City Hall and the Museum.
The EDL stayed there for sometime, it was quite difficult to get a good look at them from here as the we were all in the park enclosed by a hedge lined with police man and behind them a row o riot vans, from what I can gather though the EDL did have their demonstration as planned unfortunately, but not without being surrounded visibly and audibly by several hundred anti-fascists.
After awhile the police began to push us back and it was clear that this was in order to get ready to escort the EDL out of the area. Naturally the police were resisted, there were no violent altercations that I could see but nobody was making it easy for the police to move us on. At this point due to being in the front row I was now penned in, I had the police pushing me from one side and on the other were about 100 protesters, it was obvious at this point that both the EDL and the majority of other protesters were no longer there. As the event had been thoroughly uncoordinated I was not in a position to do anything about it, but where had they all gone?
By piecing together the reports I have since heard and read it seems that the EDL were escorted by the police by but all along the way were surrounded by anti-fascist protesters. I have also hear d some reports which suggest that along the way there were a few points were anti-fascists were able to brake through or go around police lines and get to the EDL although I am not sure if this is true. They were escorted all the way around the edge of the city centre to central train station. Not long after this around 20 EDL members were spotted waiting on platform 6-7. As everyone who uses trains in the Cardiff area will know, platforms 6 and 7 are those which are used for the local lines so it was not simply the case of EDL members being shipped in from across the border although it did seem that the majority of them were from England.
The EDL were forced to go home with their tales between their legs. This was due in part to the fantastic response of the Soul Crew in confronting the EDL. The EDL had seen them as allies previously as they are a football firm, but that was obviously not the case. Whilst in many ways this was a victory for the anti-fascist movement there were also many short comings, I will not dwell on them for the sake of it, however if we are to be serious about confronting fascism in the future then we must take a serious look at the problems and how we can rectify them in the future.
Mistakes were made in the run up to the demonstration, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) insisted on a demonstration starting in Cardiff Bay. Cardiff Communities Against Racism (CCAR) warned against this tactic and argued for a city centre demonstration only as this was where the EDL intended to be. For the sake of unity however whilst disagreeing with a demonstration CCAR agreed to go along with it and heavily publicised the event. Leading up to the demonstration CCAR obtained more information which suggested that the EDL would be in the city centre and once again appealed to UAF to change the plans on the day; once again UAF ignored these warning. The result was that CCAR members acting as spotters on the day were able to spot EDL members chanting on St. Marys Street in the city centre completely unopposed!
At the demonstration itself UAF stewards urged everyone to go behind the fences which the police were using to cordon us in and to keep us away from the EDL. Many anti-fascist protesters refused and for that refusal a UAF steward using a megaphone said “they were as bad as the WDL” But the fact is that if everyone had agreed to go behind the police cordon at the request of UAF we would not have been in the position to confront the EDL and run them out of town as we did.
Another failing was the decision of UAF to remove all stewarding from the demonstration for no conceivable reason, potentially putting many at risk. The real problem was though the general lack of coordination. Information about the EDLs movements was not relayed. As mentioned earlier CCAR spotters had seen the EDL unopposed in the city centre, when this information was passed to a CCAR member at the demonstration they attempted to pass it on to a UAF organiser who response was that he was “too busy to deal with it”. The same can be said about a suspected local redwatch photographer who was spotted waiting near the new theatre as if he was waiting for people. This suggested that the EDL would be coming in via the new theatre, again UAF did not act on this information but the EDL did indeed come from that way.
Failings in communication also affected the ending, although the EDL had left the area surrounding the Park they were being marched around the city centre. Although many anti-fascists were able to follow them all the way to the train station. Many simply did not realise this was happening and at the same time a UAF organiser was still in the park on the megaphone declaring a victory whilst the EDL were being marched through the city centre.
It is clear that the EDL were shamed on Saturday but this won’t be the last time we have to deal with this kind of demonstration and lessons need to be learnt for the future of anti-fascist demonstrations in South Wales and Britain as a whole.