Analysis: Cambridge EDL March and counter demonstration

14 July 2011

Despite several arrests, the English Defence League’s planned march in opposition to the building of a new £13 million mosque in Mill Road, and the significantly larger counter-protest it attracted, went ahead with little drama last Saturday.

The afternoon was punctured by only a handful of violent outbursts. There was some agitation between police and protestors, several incidents of bottle-throwing, and stall owners on Sidney Street had their own Korans hurled at them. At least seven arrests were made, for offences ranging from the “drunk and disorderly” to the more serious “public order offence”.

The individuals arrested included a 36 year old man from Norwich, on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly, an 18 year old man from Peterborough on suspicion of affray; and a 28 year old man from Cambridge, arrested on suspicion of a racially-aggravated public order offence.

Nonetheless, Inspector Robin Sissons of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary said: “In the end it was a largely peaceful protest with only minor disorder and some minor disruption to residents, visitors and businesses in the city.”

Turnout for the EDL demonstration has been estimated at about 200, somewhat lower that the 400 figure EDL leader Tommy Robinson previously said he was expecting. Most appear to have been from outside Cambridge, arriving especially for the protest.

The group congregated at Queens’ Backs to begin the march at 2pm. Their conspicuously ‘out of the way’ route– through Silver Street, Pembroke Street, Corn Exchange Street, Benet Street, and then back down Silver Street for a finish on Queen’s Backs, was followed by a rally on Queens’ Backs, where not much more than 100 of the protestors gathered around a podium, encircled by rings of police and curious tourists. The speakers seemed raw with emotion about the loss of family, friends or acquaintances in the July 7th bombings, and from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which some of them had previously served in the military. Such losses were blamed on the so-called Islamification of Britain. Angry chants of “E-E-EDL” and “Burn the mosques!” could be heard.

The Cambridge demonstration coincided with similar protests by the EDL in Middlesbrough, Halifax and Plymouth.

Both the EDL march and counter-demonstration were closely policed by over 650 officers from six different forces including Warwickshire, City of London and Suffolk, who lined both routes. In addition, the existing Mawson Road mosque, which is set to be replaced by the much larger Mill Road mosque to serve Cambridge’s 4000-strong Muslim community, was cordoned off from the EDL.

As expected, there was a far greater mobilisation for the earlier “Unite Cambridge” counter-protest by supporters of anti-racist group Unite Against Fascism and the Trade Union Council, which grew through the course of the day from 300 to 1,500. Avoiding any violent clashes with EDL members that occurred previously in other cities, the counter-protest followed an altogether different route. From 11.45am protestors marched from Market Street to Sidney Street then St John’s Street, Market Square, Sussex Street, King Street, New Square, Fitzroy Street, Burleigh Street, Norfolk Street, Gwydir Street, and finally Mill Road near the site of the proposed mosque. A loud chorus of “Whose streets? Our Streets!” was repeated.

East of England MEP Richard Howitt spoke at the counter-demonstration. He argued: “We publicly attest that the EDL is not welcome in this city because we cannot let the poison of their ideas seep in to the body of our community.

“I am proud to live and work in this, the most international of cities, where one in 10 of my neighbours comes from black or ethnic minority communities.”

Cambridge MP Julian Huppert previously condemned the protests. He said: “Our city is a very special place where people from a diverse range of nationalities and cultures live and work together. This multi-racial mix makes our city very unique and we are proud of the strong community spirit that exists here.

“We want to promote and protect that diversity and there is no room for people who don’t understand our city’s special qualities.”

EDL have since hinted at the possibility of a further march in Cambridgeshire. Ross Ground, a member of EDL’s Cambridge Division, told Cambridge News: “I cannot confirm there will be a march in Ely but members of the East Anglian branch who came on Saturday said they were looking into it if the plans for a mosque go ahead.”

Jack Euesden & Judith Welikala

Image: Jemima Willcox