The tiny but good humoured UAF event at Vale Park, whilst basically irrelevant, was no bother at all. The EDL have been trying to build numbers on their outings, so will doubtless be disappointed by a modest turnout. There was only one public order arrest, with a small number of others for offensive weapons and, inevitably perhaps, one drunk and disorderly EDL member. There’s always one. The day demonstrated great patience, professionaism and good humour from our police and emergency services. An Al Jazeera reporter commented, on the basis of experience all over the world, on the “gentlemanly” way TVP had approached a pretty daunting task.
Above all, the day saw a basically good humoured, cohesive community cope, mainly cheerfully. Most people, wisely, stayed away. I feel really sorry for the town’s small traders, innocent people, who have lost thousands of pounds so that EDL could indulge their ignorance and insecurity in public.
One or two aspects of the day struck me as quintessentially Engish.
- We believe passionately in free speech, in the town John Hampden and John Wilkes served as MP’s. This particular exercise cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions, taking into account lost income to local businesses on a bank holiday weekend. If EDL’s views reflected local reality, they wouldn’t have to bus in people from all over the land. The 50 odd EDL members in the town can’t be expected to cough up the £20-30,000 each their antics have cost their neighbours, I suppose, but the idea was, understandably, expressed by various locals during the day. Balancing the right to free speech against the right to get on with your life unmolested was the original wingnut dilemma I discussed last week, and things seems to have worked out relatively peacefully, if unfairly weighted against local traders.
- The power of Twitter was demonstrated interestingly when silly rumours started up mid-aftermoon that someone had firebombed the mosque — this on the back of various tales on the streets about stabbings in the town over the previous few days — all rubbish. Enough is enough, so Fr Shane and I went down to Havelock Street for a very English Nice Cup of Tea with the Mosque president, a photo of which we tweeted straight out, to demonstrate that we weren’t actually in a war zone. Samosas followed soon after.
- As the EDL went home (by way of some high jinks in Morrison’s car park) I noticed boarding coming down from the Green Man in the Market Place.
Like Noah’s dove returning to the ark, this was the first true sign of normality’s return, and it was great to have a pint in there as it reopened at 6·00. Nice pint, too.
- A more public all-clear came at 7·00, as bellringers met at St Mary’s to ring the Church bells. A couple of bottles of Champagne were opened and shared. The mp3 below records the happy sound of some changes rung, along with a small amount of associated ribaldry. “Thanks,” said one local resident. “This means we’ve got our town back.”