This is a write-up by the Anti-Fascist Network on the 9th of December demonstration against the so-called ‘Brexit Betrayal’ March. It was original published on the AFN’s blog here.
The ‘Brexit Betrayal’ March
Tommy Robinson’s attempt to officially link up with UKIP and use the Brexit chaos to springboard himself into position as leader of some sort of right-wing Brexit resistance appears to have stalled somewhat. The ‘Brexit Betrayal’ demo seems to have got about 3000-5000 people out and didn’t really have a lot of energy. Despite a coming together of UKIP, the DFLA, Tommy’s fan-base and the Brexit vote a mere two days away, it failed to muster the energy or numbers that we had feared.
A few days prior to the demo Tommy Robinson had said: “If we pull off Sunday you will see the launch, and the momentum will build, for a revolutionist populist party and political movement in this country”.
Thankfully this didn’t look like the beginning of a far-right revolution. Compared to the ‘Free Tommy’ demos earlier in the year or DFLA demos from last year, this was small numbers. 3-5000 people turning out for a fairly explicitly far-right Islamophobic demo in central London is however, still very disturbing and not to be treated lightly.
For a demo ostensibly about Brexit there was an awful lot of fuming about Muslims – from the outside this would seem like an unrelated issue as most Muslims in Britain are British and most EU migrants are not Muslims, but of course hatred of Muslims was the real fuel behind the whole thing. Robinson attacked the “Islamisation” of Britain. On the march people talked about moving out of areas because they were becoming “swamped” and describing Islam as “poison”.
It was a real coming-out party for UKIP as an explicitly far-right political party. Previous to this Gerard Batten had spoken at ‘Free Tommy’ events but now UKIP was calling a demo under its own name, headlining Tommy Robinson and welcoming all the usual fascist hangers-on of Tommy’s fan-base. So we saw a ‘Jo Cox false flag’ placard, people holding signs saying Lügenpresse (‘lying press’ – a Nazi-era attack on the media that has been picked up by the alt-right), lots of flags from the white nationalists Generation Identity, and as always – people pulling Nazi salutes.
Hearteningly quite a lot of UKIP members, MEPs and key figures such as Farage, David Coburn and Paul Nuttall got their resignations in early before the demo, sparking a mini-exodus from the party. So it may be that Batten’s gamble on the Tommy Robinson movement being the new base that will revive UKIP will turn out to have been a miscalculation.
The enemy doesn’t arrive by boat – He arrives by limousine
By most estimates the anti-fascist crowd equalled or outnumbered the Tommy Robinson mob with numbers estimated from 3000 to as high as 15,000.
Our march, led by the Feminist Anti-Fascist bloc was loud, strong, vibrant and diverse. And there was a huge turnout by Labour Party members and supporters of Momentum as part of a broad coalition of groups who had responded to the call-out ‘No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain’.
In a reversal of previous arrangements the anti-fascist crowd was given the larger north end of Whitehall by the police and the far-right demo had the smaller southern end.
Nothing extraordinary happened on Sunday, but as probably the last anti-fascist mobilisation of 2018 it is worth remembering our starting point earlier this year and putting things in context. The simple fact of having a large anti-fascist mobilisation that outnumbered the far-right might seem like something we would take for granted, but this was very much not the case 6 months ago.
2018 saw a series of huge far-right demonstrations in central London, which were the largest far-right street mobilisations this country has ever seen. In May, June and July demos centring around Tommy Robinson pulled up to 10,000 people at a time to events that were often characterised by violence, including the notorious attack on RMT trade unionists drinking in the pub. These rallies often had some serious money behind them and were slick, branded events with a huge stage and TV screen like a pop concert. They attracted far-right Islamophobic speakers from across the world to rally round the martyred Tommy and his freeze peach.
In this context Sunday was very significant. We managed to build a very broad coalition of Labour, left, trade union and other progressive organisations that could bring significant numbers on to the streets and we managed to outnumber and out-organise Tommy Robinson and UKIP even with all the American financial backing he has and the threat of the Brexit vote looming as a spur to his supporters. Ukip has partially imploded over becoming the Tommy Robinson party – significant numbers of members, MEP and key figures have quit over the direction Batten has set for the party.
That we have managed to turn it around to this extent in six months is a testament to the hard work of many comrades who cooperated to make this happen.
However, this isn’t the end – Brexit day is still in March. The far-right are still going to try and mobilise around whatever chaos happens between now and then. Tommy Robinson is still a figure of huge popularity with access to significant resources from international far-right backers. We need to start organising and thinking now how we can respond if and when there’s a bigger, angrier ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march within the next 6 months. We need to be able to outnumber the far-right, practically be able to block and disrupt their mobilising on the streets and change and seize control of the public narrative.
We need to keep building coalitions, keep building numbers and build a counter narrative: Migrants are not the enemy – Muslims are not the enemy. Feminism, not racism is the answer to rape and sexual exploitation. More borders and isolation will not protect us. Solidarity is our weapon.