Link to my piece on Labourlist which attempted to explain to outsiders why the ban on the EDL march was so important
To deserve people’s votes, to merit elected office, you have to be able to keep people safe, and when the people you represent are fearful, or feel under threat, you need to be clear about how you are going to do about it. That is why we, as Tower Hamlets Labour Party, worked with Hope not Hate and a coalition of local organisations to collect the 25,000 signature petition that saw the EDL banned from marching in Tower Hamlets, and why we asked questions and put pressure on the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and police until the ban was secured.
It was inspiring to talk around my ward, Mile End East, after the recent riots, and talk to people, across communities, about the organisation that swung into action when it was needed. Older men stayed out on the streets, not looking for trouble, but not accepting it either. Women worked together to make sure everyone else was safe and inside.
Inspiring, but sobering as well, because that knowledge of how to deal with trouble was developed through necessity.
Searchlight was started in Tower Hamlets by east end Jews who came back from fighting Nazis in Europe to discover fascists marching through their home streets and beating people up. In the 1970s and 1980s racist attacks led by the National Front saw anti racist community organisations and action committees develop in response. Bangladeshi children would be let out of school early to avoid trouble, with mothers, fathers and older siblings walking together to pick them up together for safety. The early nineties saw a massive concentration of BNP activity in Tower Hamlets, and massive local organised response. This link includes descriptions of some of the worst attacks local people, mostly Bangladeshi, had to deal with. Huguenots, Jews, Bangladeshi – the people of Tower Hamlets often came here because they were escaping racial and religious persecution. They developed local ways of standing up to it.
This march had to be banned. The great story of Cable Street in 1936 is the unity of the east end anti racists, Irish dockers, Jews, trade unionists, communists and the Labour Party, standing together to stop the fascists from marching. For me, there is a greater lesson – never again. The Battle of Cable Street represents the heroism of the people in Tower Hamlets, but that heroism was necessary because of the failure of police and government to make us safe. The people of Tower Hamlets had to protect themselves that day because the police decided to protect the right of the fascists to march. It is right to be proud of the fight that expelled the racists from Brick lane, from Millwall and from Cable Street, but it is right to recognise the huge price that was paid, in literal physical terms, with the well known racist murder of Altab Ali, and in terms of the women and men who got into trouble, got criminal records, had their futures damaged. It is right that we now demand that the police, the council, the government, protect local people – we should not have to fight and protect ourselves.
Politicians have to be able to keep people safe. We also have to be able to build a future for our children, to pass on a better life and greater opportunities to the next generation. We did that, in Tower Hamlets, whilst Labour had power in the council and government and whilst violence was not a routine occurrence on our streets. GCSE A*-C pass rates have multiplied in Tower Hamlets since 1998, partly because of national government funding, more because of a massive collective community effort that saw a huge increase in the number and diversity of local people becoming school governors, targets set and a drive for excellence that teachers, parents and students were all a part of. We will do everything we can to ensure our young people have a bright future. When meeting and talking with local groups over the last few weeks the determination is absolutely clear; this generation will not have to fight racists and fascists – their lives will be better. It is the police and other authorities, not the sons and daughters of Tower Hamlets, who must take on responsibility for keeping hate mongers off our streets.
A number of people from outside Tower Hamlets have offered their opinions across the media over the last few weeks, saying we should be able to cope with the EDL marching, that their right to march was more important than our right to safety, that if they were violent they would just show themselves up, that we should all hold hands to stop them passing, that it was our responsibility to fight and “get” them. Those people were wrong. If a racist, Muslim-hating group of violent thugs is allowed to dominate our streets again, we will stand up to them again, and our community will have to deal with the consequences again. Over the last decade that we have had the same peace on our streets that everyone else expects, the people of Tower Hamlets have come closer to accessing the opportunities we all deserve. Labour politicians get elected to use the power of the state for the betterment of our people.
We are never able to be complacent about the possibility of racists, fascists coming from outside and breaking our peace. There were issues last summer, when the EDL threatened to come and march and tensions rose as a result, and over the last few months there have been incidents of drunken racist slogans being chanted and local Muslims being threatened.
The campaign to ban the EDL from marching in Tower Hamlets was successful. As I write, the two demonstrations – EDL and UAF – went off with limited incident. Although there has been some trouble this evening, I hope it remains relatively calm. The police did all they could within the law, and our next step is to look at campaigning to strengthen legislation around hate based static demonstrations.
If it had been needed, the people of Tower Hamlets would have been out on the streets in their tens of thousands today, stopping the violent, racist, Muslim hating thugs from threatening us. As it was, most people were able to happily go about their daily business, having united and campaigned through democratic means to stop the EDL through the rule of law.
¡No pasarán! They shall not pass.