For many weeks a broad alliance of Tower Hamlets politicians and others has been pressing for a planned march through the borough by the English Defence League to be banned: a recent letter to [the] Guardian seeking this goal was signed by the borough's independent mayor Lutfur Rahman, his opposition Labour group leader Josh Peck, Liberal Democrat councillor Stephanie Eaton, Jewish Council for Racial Equality director Edie Friedman and the borough's two MPs Jim Fitzpatrick and Rushanara Ali; a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May asking her to stop the march was signed by Rahman and supported by local authority leaders from across England, prominent trade unionists, a variety of Jewish and Muslim leaders (including the chair of Whitechapel's London Muslim Centre), the Canary Wharf group, London Citizens and the secretary of the Southern and Eastern TUC LGBT network.
Rushanara Ali raised the matter with David Cameron during last week's Commons debate about the recent riots. There are rational fears that the already incendiary potential of such a march, set for 3 September, could be heightened by any residue of the violent atmosphere that has so recently disfigured London's streets and the discovery that the extremist Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik was an admirer of the EDL.
The driving purpose of the EDL is to intimidate Muslims, and, of course, many Muslims live in Tower Hamlets. The letter to May claimed that the EDL plans to "target one of the largest mosques in the country" - a reference to the East London Mosque - and to incite hatred and division. There can be little doubt that any such action by the EDL would greatly foment tensions, risk leading to the street clashes EDL supporters (and some others) crave and leave a poisonous legacy.
The Home Secretary's response will be strongly influenced by the view of the Metropolitan Police. On Friday she prevented an EDL march through Telford planned for the weekend, though a "static meeting" was still held in the town. One consideration for the Met is likely to be whether a static meeting or demonstration would represent a greater threat to public order than one that moves through an area and is then gone.
Another must surely be that with uneasy calm restored in the capital another outbreak of disorder is even more undesirable than usual, no matter how confident senior officers may be of containing it. More prosaic matters, such as the size of London's police overtime bill at a time of budget constraints or the fact that many officers must be very tired, might come into the reckoning too.
I agree with those who think the march should be banned for all the reasons they give and in particular because of the message a ban would send to local people. It would show that the authorities are on the side of those striving to preserve and enhance the largely good community relations in a poor and diverse borough that has suffered from simplistic media mischaracterisations and unwelcome provocations. For example, the East London Mosque and lesbian and gay groups have been engaged in delicate negotiations following the appearance of hate stickers declaring "gay-free" zones in the name of Allah.
The politics of Tower Hamlets, both in the Town Hall and the wider community, are immensely complex and sometimes fractious. The display of unity against the EDL march in these volatile times is something the government and the Met should nourish by acting to stop the march from taking place.
Dave Hill's London Blog