EDL March to Tower Hamlets

Kevin Carroll and Tommy Robinson in Bermondsey

I’m not sure how to take the news that both ‘Tommy Robinson’ and his sidekick Kevin Carroll have both defected from the EDL, though Tommy’s comment that he was tired of being associated with morons who advocate violence against Muslims was welcome if puzzling. It seemed to come from a very different man to the one I’d heard speaking to a right-wing crowd only a few weeks ago, a crowd which had been vociferously shouting anti-Muslim chants and trying to intimidate the people of Tower Hamlets.

It isn’t as if the EDL has changed. Key supporters have always included people with some rabid racist views, with plenty of former members of the BNP and National Front among them. Tommy and Kevin would have to have been marching blindfold and brain-dead not to have been fully aware of them. But it would be churlish not to welcome their conversion, however tardy it seems.

Unlike some on the left, I’ve never felt that every single person who marched with groups like the EDL or March For England was an irredeemable racist. Over the years I’ve had discussions with many of them, and  occasionally found some points of agreement as well often having to make clear my disagreements with openly racist views.

Many I think have simply been misled by the constant propaganda of newspapers and even ‘respectable’ media and political parties over migration and immigrants as well as other issues – as for example the continual use of terms such as ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘benefit scroungers’ . Some of the things they feel strongly about are legitimate, but too often they have been persuaded to blame other disadvantaged groups rather than the real causes and those who really aren’t in it with the rest of us, who manipulate our lives for their advantage.

But on September 9th, things were still as usual, with the EDL meeting in Bermondsey, ready to march across Tower Bridge and into Tower Hamlets. Bermondsey is I think where I first seriously photographed a racist march, and was perhaps an appropriate starting point, with a long history of racism among the poor white working class. The EDL seemed to be on their best behaviour, though the large number of police around undoubtedly made me feel rather safer as I walked, along with other photographers, into the centre of several hundred supporters, some of whom were happily playing up to the media, shouting slogans and making gestures to the cameras. It was a different atmosphere to that at some previous EDL events I’ve covered.

Once the march began to get ready to start, the atmosphere changed rather, with a little aggravation, particularly from some of the stewards, and the policing was also sometimes over the top. The police made it hard to photograph during the march, continually pushing photographers further and further in front of the marchers – at one point on the other side of Tower Bridge we were still being told to move back when we were a good 50 yards, if not a hundred in front of the marchers.

It did place us in a better position to rush towards a counter-protest which made itself known by throwing some rather ineffectual red smoke flares when the march was still perhaps 300 yards away. Police let us through without any checks to photograph the anti-fascists, but I made the mistake of trying to go around a different route back to the EDL protest, and missed the actual confrontation – around 50 yards apart – of the two groups. I’ve not seen any pictures of this and I think police probably prevented everyone getting close enough to take them.

The only good pictures I’ve seen taken on the actual march were by a colleague of mine, who decided to get inside the march before it started and stayed in there for some time. I did something similar with a National Front march in Bermondsey back in 2001, and like him, had some problems with arguing my way out through the police cordon when my presence inside became a little problematic.

Almost as the march reached its destination, I did manage to take a few pictures standing on a raised flowerbed a little to the side of the march. A couple of TV crews also took up position there, and this perhaps made the police decide not to clear us. I think many of the marchers welcomed seeing us there, giving them something to do on what had otherwise been a fairly uneventful march, though not all the gestures were friendly.

I took a few pictures as marchers arrived for the final rally, but it was difficult to find a good viewpoint, and after taking pictures of both Tommy and Kevin speaking decided to leave. There were an impressive number of police lines to get through between the EDL and, around a quarter of a mile down the road, the mass of people of Tower Hamlets who had come out determined to stop them. My press card got checked at least half a dozen times, but got me through.

Photographically most things were straightforward, though because of the policing I did occasionally find myself wishing for a 1000mm lens or perhaps a drone carrying my camera. It was one of those times when I sometimes regretted not having brought my monopod and cable release to lift up the camera so I could photograph over the heads of police, as a few photographers and videographers were doing. It would be a little extra weight, but apart from the lack of control over framing (which even a camera with tilting screen would not greatly improve) the main thing that stops me is not having a monopod that fits inside my camera bag when folded.  Perhaps I should do another search on what is available.

More pictures at EDL March Returns to Tower Hamlets.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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