Be Nicer, Please

Unite Against Fascism placards
I marched against the BNP this morning. Well, when I say marched, I mean I stood around in the cold for about four hours and yelled “nazi scum” several hundred times but saying “marched” is so much neater.

The demo was organised by Unite against Fascism and Yorkshire and Humberside TUC to counter the support the BNP were scheduled to provide for leader Nick Griffin and Mark Collett during their a preliminary hearing for their upcoming trial. They’re up on multiple charges of inciting racial hatred, related to the BBC “Secret Agent” documentary about the BNP shown last year.

We arrived at the Leeds Crown Courts at about 8.30am and planted ourselves inside the hippy enclave. There were, perhaps, about 50 people on each side and about 100 police. We bought some badges and chatted to the people running the stall for Unite then stood further into the “crowd”. The amount of people there was disappointing; even the steady trickle of newcomers didn’t swell our numbers to any considerable degree: sure, there was more of “us” than “them” (and that was the most important thing) but not enough to give me a huge level of confidence.

Leeds Student Assembly Against Racism, 2 Nov 2005Then the students arrived. When I described it like that to John in a post-protest analysis session, he said it was wrong to say that as it downplays everyone else’s involvement: he’s right because at the same time as the students arrived, lots of other people did too (predominately Union groups and the lovely Mister SleepyKev) so it wasn’t just the students that did it but, sheesh, their arrival was impressive. Picture the scene: a narrow alley way between two multistorey buildings. On one side a group of the “master race”, uniformly white and so intelligent that they’re holding aloft a banner featuring a George “big fat leftie” Orwell quote (ie, them), and on the other side, a rag-tag bunch of hippies, punks and commies, some of whom were NOT EVEN WHITE (us). We had been there for about half an hour, trading chants and jeers, but from my perspective, it felt like we were just going through the motions. Then a slow cheer went up from our side. Past the BNP, at the other end of the street, a procession rounded the corner, led by a banner proclaiming they were the Leeds Student Assembly Against Racism. “Woo!” we said, thinking ‘ooh that’ll double our numbers’. And they kept coming around the corner. It wasn’t just University of Leeds students, student groups from all around the region: they had gathered at the students’ union and walked down together from there. And still they kept coming around the corner. My guess, and I’m not great at guessing this type of thing, is that there was at least a couple of hundred of them (if I’m wrong, my figure is probably lower than it was). The cheers that went up from our side were deafening – particularly our chants joined with those of the new populace.

Leeds Student Assembly Against Racism, 2 Nov 2005As I said, that really downplays the involvement of all the other groups that arrived at the same time but in my mind, that was when it turned into a bigger! better! louder! protest. We, about a thousand of us by this point, stood and chanted for about four hours in total and didn’t hear anything back from the other side. We didn’t know whether this was a matter of acoustics or whether we were truly shouting a hell of a lot louder than then: at one point, Kev and I walked around the block so we were at the other end of the street, behind the BNP; we were very pleased to hear that you could hear all of “our” chants, even though “we” were further away and we couldn’t hear anything coming back. While up there, we walked by a policewoman explaining to two other random women what was going on; she said, and I’m only paraphrasing very slightly, “the students have come out against the BNP” – and you thought *I* was focusing on the students’ role too much.

So anyway, we were there and vocal for about four hours. It rained. It was sunny. We booed. We cheered. I got sore legs and feet. It was much like any other small peaceful protest that has ever happened really. Oh, and John took lots of pictures.

At about noon, we did actually march – but only for about two minutes – from the Crown Courts down to the Art Gallery for the lunchtime rally. Trade union leaders – and a couple of people from Unite – spoke but we were cold and hungry by this point so we bailed after about half an hour. The rally was more public though and it attracted the attention of more passers-by (the courts are further out of the centre and the only people not involved that knew about the activity were the solicitors gawking out of their building across the way).

The political canvassing by leftist parties was more obvious at the rally than during the rest of the protest (and that’s not to say it was missing earlier on either) and it really bugged me. From my student protesting days (protesting as a student rather than protesting about them), I developed a very thorough loathing of the SWP and similar organisations and today didn’t serve to quash my attitudes towards them. Unite against Fascism aims to bring together a broad spectrum of groups from across the left and centre of the political spectrum – but the only people canvassing on the day were the far left: if (new) labour or the lib-dems had been so blatant, I’m sure people would have been annoyed. I realise such protests are their (the far left’s) main recruiting ground but I found it annoying: at the rally, speakers were doing their turn and the recruiters were just circling, seemingly oblivious to the event. Maybe I’m reacting more to it than I should because of my issues with them in general but it just seemed .. rude.

It is these issues with the far left that have kept me off the streets and getting involved with any organised hoohah for the past five or six years. That and a combination of laziness and my overriding political framework being firmly based in cynicism. But I’ve realised of late that I do really care about what’s going on in the world and being cynical isn’t really helping: I just end up madly frustrated and it makes me want to drown things. I have two options: either stop caring or do something to about it, just so I can feel that I’m at least trying to help. With a partner like John and a non-negotiable interest in the world around me, I can’t see the former happening any time soon without, perhaps, a lobotomy so I have no choice but to go for the other option. I’ll be there again in January when Griffin and Collett’s trial starts. I’ll just wear more comfortable shoes next time.

(Oh, the BBC wrote a short story about the day but it is barely an article – the only “news” it presented was that we were there and even then it was inaccurate as they were far too many police to allow for any “clashing”. Bah.)


  1. It sounds a great demo – I couldn’t make it as I was at work unfortunately but have been on previous ones.

    There is another report of it, which estimates almost 1,000 anti-fascists protesting, here:
    and another bloggers comments here:

  2. I had to be in work at 9 so couldn’t make the morning event: did hear the student march as it went past Leeds Met and very impressive it sounded. I did make the lunchtime rally and that was very impressive as well. Two points:
    1) not really convinced by the figure of a 1000 (or more) people there: certainly nowhere near that at the rally.
    2)and despite their over-exaggeration gene the SWP ought be defended just a bit, yes they might be annoying, but they played a central role in organising and building the event. It would have been smaller and probbly less dynamic without them. Some of the best speakers at the rally were from the SWP (even if they don’t like to say so nowadays): Yunus Baksh at the end was a star!

  3. Badmat:

    1) I’m not an expert at guessing numbers so perhaps the thousand is wrong – but there were more people (I think) at the protest than at the rally: we were really quite squished together at the top end. It is hard to get a perspective on that sort of thing when you’re in the middle of it though.
    2) As I mention above, I suspect I’m overly harsh towards the SWP because of my previous involvement with them (about 7/8 years ago) and I tend to use the acronym as shorthand for everything I don’t like about the militant left (which is wrong but, bah, they scarred me pretty bad). Perhaps the people I knew weren’t representative of the rest of the party – I *did* go to a week long conference though so I met quite a lot of people and I’m not just judging the whole party on a dozen people from the local branch. I think my point still stands though – even if the speakers were from the party itself – canvassing while the speakers were doing their thing just seems rude to me. It seems rude to the speakers and distracts the audience from what they’re saying. But as I said, maybe I’m just overly sensitive.

    Thanks for your comment :)

  4. Dan Aberdeen

    5/12/2005 at 2:34 pm

    Hey Lou
    it may not be relevant, but I broke hand playing rugby on wednesday. Love the site. I would have been there – but I was shivering in aberdeen pretending to do student things. Boo suck to the BNP!!!

  5. Terryfitzpatrick

    1/2/2006 at 11:01 am

    I have only just come across this site and recognize the youthful vitality that I had as a young anti fascist thirty five years ago. I am sceptical of just how useful the kind of protests that we have seen in Leeds were. Because UAF is controled by the SWP it hasn’t moved on from the tactics of the late seventies and early eighties, waving placards and shouting. What the protests might also have done is to have given Griffin and Collett grounds for appeal in that they have given out leaflets urging the jury to convict, somebody needs to put their brain in gear. I am campaigning for a memorial to my friend Blair Peach who was killed by the police at Southall in west London twenty six years ago april coming. A met policeman smashed his skull in when they launched an attack on us while they were protecting a National Front march that we were trying to stop. He is now almost forgotten by the anti fascist movement and I am looking for support for a plaque in a library in East London where he taught handicapped children. I have just returned from investigating people trafficking from Africa into Europe and my first article can be viewed on www Put Blairs name into search engine, there are a number of articles about that very violent time. Please publish my email addresswhich is hosted in Spain and is secure. Terry Fitzpatrick

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