A grassroots organisation in Yorkshire is leading a campaign to ban far-right group, the English Defence League from staging a protest through the centre of Bradford.
Hope Not Hate’s ‘Bradford Together’ campaign is calling on the Home Secretary to block EDL attempts to inflame tensions among Yorkshires’ BME communities with a petition carrying tens of thousands of signatures, which will be presented to Theresa May during the parliamentary recess.
The campaign has already won the support of leading figures from all the political parties, the Bishop of Bradford, the Muslim and Sikh communities, several trade unions, Bradford University, the Labour-led council, the local primary trust and other community groups.
In Whitehall, a number of MPs are lobbying the home secretary for a ban and this weekend, the organisers and their volunteers will take the message and their petition to shopping centres, estates and local community events.
Hope Not Hate founder Paul Meszaros said:
“We don’t think the EDL should be allowed to march in Bradford. They are trying to provoke the Muslim population and whip up the tensions that existed leading up to the Bradford riots in 2001. We simply cannot afford to allow a repeat – our city suffered for years and years and another disturbance could be even more damaging. I would like for someone to explain how it could possibly be good for race relations in this town to have thousands of racists rampaging in it.”
The 2001 riots in Bradford were a short but severe period of rioting which occurred as a result of heightened anxiety between the BME communities and the city’s white majority. They were stoked by stand-offs between the Anti-Nazi League and far right groups such as the National Front.
Bradford is just one UK city that the EDL target with its intolerance politics of the Islamic faith, however the group poses a national threat with demonstrations in other cities with sizable BME communities, such as Luton, Dudley and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
Bradford Together aims to connect the diverse communities within Bradford to deliver a unified anti-fascist message and develop better relationships and understanding between the groups.
“We want to build a really cross-community campaign. We want 25,000 people signing the petition. We want to show that the people of Bradford – white, Black, Asian, Christian, Muslim, young and old – want hope not hate.” Mr Meszaros added.
Ranjit Arora, a Bradford resident and participant on the 2010 OBV MP Shadowing Scheme, has joined the campaign to halt EDL plans. She said:
“I feel very cross about this. Bradford is a harmonious community and we have all learned to live together. My neighbours are surprised that the EDL demonstration is still on the cards. I was around at the time of the Bradford riots; it was really horrendous and it can’t be allowed to happen again. Everyone I have spoken to is very much against the EDL coming here.”
Hope Not Hate Yorkshire is an operation primarily involved in working against the BNP and other far right groups. Its website carries the organisation’s objective to ‘counter racism and fascism in elections and beyond’.
The campaign organisers are also looking at legislative mechanism such as the Race Relations Act.
A Home Office spokesperson advised that there are limited powers to ban marches, processions or demonstrations. He said:
“The law is clear that the Home Secretary can’t ban marches unless the order is made by police advice. If and when that request is made the Home Secretary will consider it. Also, the English Defence League does not march; it undertakes static demonstrations, making it [even] more difficult.”
“Neither the police nor the Government have any powers to ban a static demonstration unless it is on private property. While there are no powers to ban an assembly the police can place conditions or restrictions on an assembly if they think it will result in serious public disorder, cause serious disruption to the life of the community, cause serious damage of property, or the purpose of the organisers is to intimidate others.”
Paul Maszaros is fairly confident that they will force the Home Office to act. “It isn’t guaranteed that we will get a ban – but it is likely. The chief executive of the council has said to us that he favours a ban. We are in ongoing talks with the police. Ultimately the Home Secretary has the final say…” He said.
Mr Maszaros concluded: “How can the Home Secretary ignore the wishes of a whole city? We do not believe that Government cannot act There are some who talk about the protestors’ human rights and freedom of speech, but what about the human rights of the people of Bradford to not live in fear?”