April 19, 2009
Posted by Antifascist
Mr Griffin and his deputy leader Simon Darby were among up to 20,000 people who turned up at the parade through West Bromwich yesterday. The far-right politicians claimed to be there in non-party political capacity and were without any party paraphernalia, but they both attacked Sandwell’s Labour council for severing its ties with the event over fears it had been hijacked by extremists.
Councillor Derek Rowley, Sandwell’s cabinet member for safer communities, said the pair’s attendance proved the council right in its decision to cut funding for the march, which last year stood at around £10,000. Instead, the authority organised its own fun day this year in Dartmouth Park with Keith Chegwin top of the celebrity billing on Saturday.
He said: “Clearly the parade has been infiltrated by right wing extremists and they were bound to say they weren’t being political.”
Mr Griffin said: “I’m here as an Englishman, not to be party political.”
The attendance of the far right politicians came after an alleged leak of a BNP “war book” calling on extremist skinheads to cover-up their shaven heads in a bid to look more respectable.
Trevor Collins, from parade organisers the Stone Cross St George’s Association, said he couldn’t prevent Mr Griffin from attending the march.
“We couldn’t say to Tony Blair ‘you can come’ and then say to someone else ‘you can’t’ - because then we’d be being political,” he said. “If they come without being party political, then there’s nothing we can do - it’s a democracy.”
He added: “It doesn’t matter what colour you are or where you’re from, what matters today is what’s in your heart. It’s about being English.”
The parade was rescued after local businessman Chris Kelly, from Keltruck, stepped forward with a promise of cash to fund the parade’s legal requirements such as insurance, security and road closures.
Celebrity guests on the march, which started at around 10.30am in Westminster Road, included journalist Adrian Goldberg, former West Bromwich Albion footballer Bob Taylor and marathon runner “Blind” Dave Heeley. Heading the march were armed forces veterans including retired parachute regiment soldier Gordon Griffiths, from Walsall.
The 83-year-old, who served in Italy, Palestine and Egypt among others between 1945 and 1950, said: “It’s been smashing - I marched all the way. Everybody’s been cheering and had their flags out.”
Inspector Howard Lewis-Jones was drafted in from the West Midlands Police HQ in Birmingham to oversee more than 40 officers keeping law and order on the day, which ended with a fair in Dartmouth Park. He said: “It’s gone extremely well. It’s been very well organised right from the speeches at the start to the march itself.”
He added that a small number of cans of alcohol had been confiscated.