I Marched with the English Defence League (but not in Tower Hamlets)

05/09/2011 08:46 BST | Updated 04/11/2011 09:12 GMT

To the English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson and all the lads and lasses who came to London to make anti-Muslim mayhem on Saturday, it is my duty to inform that you never put a foot in Tower Hamlets - the borough with the highest percentage of Muslims in Britain.

The EDL had bragged that they were coming to the heart of Tower Hamlets - "marching into the lion's den" in the multiracial, multicultural borough. The bags of pork scratchings that were hurled at anyone of an Asian appearance might have got close but the Home Secretary's ban held and the EDL's "static" march was resolutely corralled by the police outside Aldgate station in the parish of Portsoken, several hundred metres within the City of London limit.

Only in the aftermath did a coach-load of foolhardy EDLer's dare to cross the boundary. Coming from places like Dewsbury, Dunstable and Sunderland the IQ-challenged travellers did not grasp that London's East End is, since the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, the historic graveyard of bigots and demagogues. It's where the bully gets bullied.

In time honoured fashion, they received a classic East End reception. Having goaded the locals near to the East London Mosque, the EDL coach with smashed-in windows was forced to stop right outside the Ocean Estate on the Mile End Road.

Earlier in the day the EDL protesters had mocked the police for their perceived lightweight response during the London looting riots last month. But it was 'the feds' who saved the EDL bacon on Saturday night, commandeering a London bus to allow the provocateurs, now cowering in their seats, to scuttle home - Tommy Robinson's war cry at the rally that had declared them "the bravest of the brave" was long forgotten.

Until then the day had gone very much as the police had planned. At Whitechapel 1,500 anti-fascist demonstrators called upon the spirit of '36 and vowed "They Shall Not Pass" but a couple of miles lay between them and the appointed EDL rallying point.

On my way, I popped into a shrine to British radicalism, Freedom Books. Among the tomes on Lenin and anarco-syndicalism I spied a copy of the seminal Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, by Owen Jones, and thought about the EDL - all tattoos and cheap tracksuits - and its claims to be a reaction of white working class communities neglected by successive migrant-friendly governments and angered by the dogma of multi-culturalism.

On a nearby shelf I smiled nostaligically on discovering No Retreat: The Secret War Between Britain's Anti-Fascists and the Far Right co-authored by a true working class hero and a fearless anti-fascist street-fighter, Steve Tilzey. It told a story of a simpler time when the far-right was a thug-ocracy of marauding neo-Nazi skinhead gangs, Hitler worshipping psychos and race-hate fanatics bent on terrorising and bashing blacks, Asians, Jews, gays, leftists and trade unionists.

Today that struggle is shrouded in surrealistic post 9/11 ambiguities. Thus, on Saturday, whilst the Jewish Socialist group joined the ranks of the anti-racists, a 'Jew Division' cast their lot with the snarling bulldogs of the EDL and Tommy Robinson - who bizarrely arrived in the disguise as a rabbi - concluded his rousing of the rabble with a "big-up to Israel...a shining light surrounded by backward 7th century hordes." (Boy! between the EDL and Glenn Beck, the Jewish state really wants to find some new friends).

Police had locked down the EDL rally so tightly that the journalists covering the event could not help becoming inter-mingled with the 500 odd protesters, self- proclaimed "infidels" drunk on cheap lager and primitive patriotism. The atmosphere was edgy and two female photographers were abused as "fucking lesbians". I struck up a conversation with a guy called Colin from Leicester. A former Category A prisoner he was articulate and friendly and claimed the EDL craved respectability and worked hard (but only partially successfully) to steward the rowdier elements with their ranks.

Our chat was cut short as a flying wedge of police drove into the crowd in an attempt to extract Tommy Robinson (aka Stephen Lennon) who was breaking bail conditions, following his conviction in July of leading a street brawl with 100 football fans, by speaking at the rally. Much scuffling, swearing and spitting ensued, providing the 24/7 news monster with its images of the day.

We were briefly 'kettled' by the overwhelming police force before the assembled were marched towards Tower Bridge and away from Tower Hamlets. Wafting my press card in many a police officers face I cut back to the corner where the counter protest had gathered. Placards were strewn over the pavement with photos of Norway's yuppie terrorist Anders Breivik and EDL generalissimo Tommy Robinson. "Different faces, same hatred," was its message.