April 22, The March for England comes to Brighton for the fifth year running and once again Brighton says, why? What do they want with us? Have they been watching Quadrophenia or the remake of Brighton Rock? Do they hanker for the days when gangs of white boys hurled deckchairs at one another in fights about Brylcream, or razored-up rivals for control of the race-track betting?
In seaside spirit we went along to see which side turned out the sexier looking thugs, expecting it would be the lads with the pound-shop English flags draped over their shoulders. We already knew that the big unwelcoming committee would be made up of angry young crusties with an officer class of Old Trots who used to bore us in pubs in the eighties. Since The Greens got control of Brighton council, the crusties have been flocking in to occupy empty shops where they set up endearingly silly enterprises as the fortunes of barbers and perfumiers go sharply downhill.
We think it must be these green activists the nationalists are talking about when they say the town has been taken over by degenerates – is there any other over-represented group in Brighton that might qualify? No wonder they are angry, lining Queens's Road from the station in their thousands (approximately 8 anti-marchers for every nationalist trying to make it to the Clock Tower) shaking their dreadlocks and waving their fists and making a terrible racket with whistles. The vicars in straw hats who have come out can hardly get in their chants of Fascist Scum, Off Our Streets.
The nationalists (about 150 of them) were a bit of a disappointment - unless you are turned on by expressions of strained indifference crumbling into outright fear. Protected by a fat yellow line of coppers on overtime, they got bolder when their march was diverted down Church St due to Queen St being blocked by anti-marchers doing battle with mounted police. Stranded, pepper-sprayed and denied their show-down at the Clock Tower, the antis were in no doubt whose side the cops were on.
The nationalists (about 150 of them) were a bit of a disappointment - unless you are turned on by expressions of strained indifference crumbling into outright fear
Meanwhile, in the narrow defile of Church St, the nationalists were enjoying the quiet and hurling a few insults at sleepy Brightonians who came out on their balconies to see what was going on. The flag-draped women marchers looked happier than the shaven lads, maybe they are more used to wearing flowing robes like red and white flags or, being a bit dumpy-looking, were just enjoying the attention. Being traditional too, the women wouldn't be expected to fight, if it came to that.
It didn't come to that. After an anticlimactic stand-off in Victoria Gardens when everyone shouted themselves hoarse, the nationalists were off again, back to the station, escorted among their enemies, one primitive life-form moving through another in a cell-wall of police. And we have to say, the hordes of EDL we were promised on the anti-fascist leaflet never arrived. We call that misleading advertising.
'Don't come back!' The jubilant victors shouted, finding at last the epigrammatic postcard style of the seaside. The vicars had already gone off to lunch – someone, inspired by Father Ted, had brought a cardboard placard saying Down With This Sort of Thing in blue biro. Someone else, finding it abandoned, scrawled Down With Fascists over it in black marker.
There was no shouting through megaphones (except by the police), not much in the way of missiles being hurled and at the end of the day only three people had been arrested. But lest the March For England in Brighton should seem like a lot of fuss about nothing, let us not forget that on that same Saturday the extreme right in France got 18% of the vote in a national election. As the state grows more stingy we must also regret the need to send several hundred tax-funded peacekeepers(not to mention their hay-guzzling horses) to protect a few angry kids.
Then there is the damage done to England's national day and emblem. Strange, the day after so many pubs and cafes put out signs saying Fascists Not Served Here, to see the leper badge of St George once again becoming a symbol of pride. On April 23 the English flag popped up all around Brighton, flying on buildings that had banned it the day before. A fine example of defiance.
As for the nationalists, all things considered we have to hope that they really don't come back. But if they do, we might like them a whole lot more if they sang us some nice songs. It's not hard to make a prettier sound than a thousand people blowing whistles.
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