They formed in June 2009 and since have been staging demonstrations in towns and cities across England; support for them is ever growing, to the point where they are now the largest right-wing group in the country. They emerged here in Luton and have staged some of their events in the town centre. Their effect on the town and country is noticeable as their large scale support and ability to bring somewhere as diverse as Luton to a standstill. They claim that they are against Islam in its 7th century form yet also the teachings of it along with Sharia Law. They can be recognized by their sinister chanting of ‘E-E-EDL.’ Of course, they are the English Defence League.
Founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon is a former member of the British National Party, but that’s alright he assures us he is not nor ever has been a racist.. He founded the EDL in 2009 following the disruption to the Royal Anglian Regiments homecoming parade through Luton town centre by a group of Muslim anti-war protestors. Lennon, who goes by the pseudonym ‘Tommy Robinson’ after a leading figure in football hooliganism of his hometown Luton, felt that these protests were offensive and disrespectful of British soldiers who put their lives on the line to fight. Thus the English Defence League was born from a culture of right-wing views and hooliganism. Another issue is with the overall origin of the group. That its founder directly descends from a family of Irish immigrants and there is a sense of irony in the name English Defence League.
On the 5th May 2012 the English Defence League staged a demonstration in Luton town centre as a way to celebrate their third year in existence. The estimated cost of this demonstration to police has been said to have exceeded £600,000 after it was given the ‘ok’ by the Home Secretary Theresa May. Police erected a steel fence to prevent conflict between the English Defence League and the counter protest led by Unite Against Fascism. The turnout of EDL support reached around 800. There was disruption from the EDL whom, many were drunk, and some violence broke out leading to bottles being thrown at police as well as fireworks and smoke bombs being set off. The image of the EDL following this demonstration is that they are a group of racist, drunken, violent, football hooligans.
More recently, the English Defence League’s deputy-leader Kevin Carroll stood to become Police & Crime Commissioner in Bedfordshire on the 15th November 2012. Carroll stood in the name of the British Freedom Party; a right-wing political party with no representation in any legislature. Following a streak of poor results in local elections in 2012 the Police & Crime Commissioner election was a success. In an interview on the campaign trail Carroll told a local journalist that campaigning in Muslim areas would be a ‘foolhardy errand’ as there would be a lack of support. The question to be asked should surely be that if the English Defence League and British Freedom Party are not entirely anti-Islam and only are against the minority of individuals who do take an extreme approach, what have they to worry about?
The victor of the election; Labour’s Olly Martins had a message for the EDL in his acceptance speech by saying that they should ‘crawl back into the dark hole from whence they came.’ He also commented that the majority of people in Bedfordshire see the group for ‘the nasty, racist organization that it is.’
So the English Defence League. Do they truly speak for the people of England? A definitive conclusion cannot simply be one person’s word alone. In my eyes they are only a Daily Mail headline away from being the new Blackshirts and after the Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby the EDL’s outburst has caused attacks on mosques, racial hatred on social media and again another hit on the Muslim community. I would encourage all to stand up to fascism and to spread the word of the threat that groups such as this can pose to the diversity and multi-cultural society which has been built. If people wish to side with the EDL, praised by Anders Breivik, there is little to do other than educate them on what Islam really stands for and how such a small minority of Muslims have extreme views on society yet have regrettably tarred the entire Muslim community with the same brush.
Jamie Scott, AS Politics Student