photograph: Steve Eason
Heavens knows the Tommy Robinson fans are miserable now. That’s why they’re sharing pictures from Egypt in 2011 rather than London yesterday.
There were somewhere between three and five thousand Tommy Robinson supporters on Whitehall. That sounds like an impressive number, except that it’s barely a third of the crowd that his followers turned out in June.
The Robinson fan club can’t share pictures of Whitehall from above, because the truth that picture would reveal is that the numbers mobilised by anti-fascists were almost as large as those turned out by the right. Four thousand in London to celebrate Trump? It’s not much to celebrate when 250,000 people opposed him the day before.
You could hear the Robinson fans as they joined their protest singing “Hey, Tommy Tommy.” A brutal two hours later, having endured some of the dullest speakers available to the international right, they headed towards the tube: grim faced and miserable.
This movement is losing energy fast. Its rank and file know precious little of their leaders. And they have more defeats ahead of them than victories.
Once again, the core demographic was men in their fifties. They were in their club strips, singing their fan songs. But to the Arsenal fans who were there with their Gooner, chants; how do you think Michael Thomas would feel if he knew you’d been there? Or Mesut Ozil; or Granit Xhaka? Don’t tell me you know about football, if Tommy Robinson is the only name you know.
The strangest thing about the present incarnation of the far right is the vigour with which its leaders insists that they are the world’s only campaigners against the problem of child sex abuse (by Muslims).
It’s a demand that appeals to a group of people with deep insecurities and who are prone to wild visions of alliances between the state and Britain’s ethnic minorities. But if this was truly a movement of justice for the victims, where are the victims? Where are the nurses who’ve sat with them, shared their pain, held their hands? Where are the dozens of local people who actually exposed the injustices in Telford or Rotherham?
What both the left and right learned yesterday is that while Robinson is in prison, and his movement is in the hands of people who have no bigger ambition than another street meeting, another bore fest, its prospects are strictly limited.
If they weren’t so busy glassing a mixed group of male and female trade unionists as they drank in a pub, you could almost feel sorry for them.
My love goes out to my friends and comrades who were there standing up to them. To the comrades from Plan C and AFN who are trying for the first time in a decade to recruit a new generation of people to the anti-fascist cause. To the trade unionists who were there, who recognise that justice comes fighting the rich and the state, rather than making yourselves into a street army for the right.
To all the people (whatever group they came with) who built the human barricade that for one hot afternoon held back this new incarnation of the right. My heart goes above all to those – from both demonstrations – who cheered as the two marches of anti-fascists joined together. That’s what the united front means in 2018.