Thursday saw a small but lively anti-war demo outside Bristol’s Arnolfini, the venue for the second of the “leadership debates” between Brown, Cameron and Clegg. It made enough of an impact to get onto the BBC News, and the protest forced the police to cordon off the building and the surrounding streets. Mounted police and police in riot gear were present, while (in a rather absurd touch) a boat manned by officers with sub-machine guns patrolled the harbour.
The real downside to this demo was that a group of around ten EDL thugs were able to mingle with the crowd, threatening and abusing demonstrators and openly attempting to start a fight. They were escorted by police officers, who made no attempt to arrest any of them, but eventually walked them to a bar right in the middle of the demo, from which position they were able to continue shouting obscenities and provocations at the protesters with impunity. They stayed until they finished their drinks and were ready to leave. Police officers were seen laughing and joking with them throughout these events.
Later there was some trouble, with the police reporting six arrests – though who was arrested and why isn’t clear as I write this. I suspect the people arrested may have been members of the anarchist group that tried to follow the EDL as they moved off. Maybe it was actually the EDL who were busted, but somehow I doubt it.
The police not only failed to enforce the law in a situation where the EDL were acting in an openly provocative, threatening and abusive manner – they actually seemed to be happy for the EDL to act as a catalyst in turning a peaceful demonstration into a violent one. I’ve been an activist for 30 years, and don’t have any illusions about the role of the cops, but even I was shocked by what I saw. I believe that the collusion of the police has implications for how we deal with the EDL threat. That threat is small at present in Bristol, but it’s essential that all Left and labour movement events are carefully stewarded from now on. Click here for mugshots of some of the EDL knuckle-draggers.