'Parallels' between rightwing groups planning protests in Muslim neighbourhoods and Oswald Mosley's incendiary marches
A cabinet minister last night raised the spectre of a return to 1930s fascism, warning of "parallels" bertween rightwing groups planning protests in Muslim neighbourhoods and Oswald Mosley's incendiary marches through Jewish areas of east London in the 1930s.
Announcing a government drive to address issues alienating white, working-class people at risk of being "exploited" by the far-right, John Denham, the secretary of state for communities and local government, singled out protests being organised by the English Defence League.
The group, has organised a number of protests in recent months which have turned violent. It is to hold events in Manchester, Leeds, London and Bristol in the coming weeks. Yesterday small groups of EDL supporters gathered for a protest outside a mosque in Harrow, north-west London. They were confronted by at least 1,000 anti-fascist protesters. Police arrested 10 people after clashes, nine of them for allegedly possessing weapons. No injuries were reported.
"I think the English Defence League and other organisations are not actually large numbers of people," Denham said. "They clearly though have among them people who know exactly what they're doing. If you look at the types of demonstrations they've organised … it looks pretty clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke and get a response, and hopefully create violence."
He pointed to historical "parallels" with Mosley's events. "You could go back to the 1930s if you wanted to – Cable Street and all of those types of things. The tactic of trying to provoke a response in the hope of causing wider violence and mayhem is long established on the far-right and among extremist groups."
The so-called Battle of Cable Street occurred in October 1936, when Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, attempted to lead his supporters through a Jewish area of the East End of London, leading to violent clashes.
EDL's supporters include known far-right activists and football hooligans, filmed at recent protests chanting racist slogans and making Nazi salutes. Next week senior police officers from across the country will meet to share intelligence on the EDL, amid fears that a volatile mix of extreme rightwing activists, and counter-protests from leftwing groups and locals, could result in serious disorder.
The National Public Order Intelligence Unit monitors extremists, and is producing an intelligence briefing on the group's activities ahead of the meeting, to be chaired by West Midlands Police's Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe. She policed the EDL's last two protests in Birmingham, which resulted in pitched battles with local youths and 125 arrests, and which were marked by an "escalation in criminality". "If the EDL come back to this city in future I've got more of an evidence case, and intelligence to arrest them a lot earlier, to prevent a breach of the peace," she said.
Today the EDL gathered outside the Harrow mosque to mark the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
In the past month, the home secretary, Alan Johnson, has twice used public order legislation to restrict far-right marches. On one occasion, in Luton, his "banning order" resulted in a three-month prohibition of all marches in the town.
Denham praised the home secretary's action, but said there was a need for a broader strategy from government to "undercut issues that racists try to exploit". Ministers would in the coming weeks unveil a government-funded programme targeted at mainly white, working-class communities, he said.
"You need to be prepared to let people's real underlying fears and concerns come out, but address them frankly and openly," he said. He gave the example of perceptions of unfair allocation of council housing and new jobs, and said there could be changes at street level to allow local people to "influence and shape" how resources are distributed in their area.