London: far-right meeting stopped by antifascists in Lewisham

It’s been a bad couple of months for anti-fascism in London. Over the last six weeks, the baying devotees of the fascist formerly known as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon have descended on Central London no less than three times, in each case facing little to no substantive opposition from anti-fascists. On the most recent occasion – last Saturday’s Free Tommy demonstration — a crowd of between 10,000 and 15,000 was addressed by a litany of hate mongers including Geert Wilders, leader of Dutch Freedom Party, and former deputy leader of the EDL – and Robinson’s cousin – Kevin Carrol. Slap bang in the middle of this whose-who of racist figureheads was none other than Anne-Marie Waters.

You remember Anne-Marie right? She’s the one who, having failed to be selected as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party, decided to join UKIP where she then failed to win either a parliamentary election or the race to become party leader. When not even UKIP members would trust her with the reins, Waters picked up her ball and left, forming her own party – Movement for Britain – so that she could finally live out her dreams of being the big boss.

In the wake of Heidi Alexander’s resignation in May 2018, Waters announced her intention to stand in the Lewisham East bye-election, a seat she unsuccessfully contested for UKIP in 2015. Her new party’s policies are what you would expect from a mate of Tommy Robinson’s who regularly declares Islam to be an ‘evil’ and ‘violent’ religion: mass deportations, mosque closures, a hard-as-nails Brexit and the forcible reduction of fertility rates amongst the Muslim population.

With the bye-election just around the corner, a last minute hustings was organised by local group ‘Bring Back Democracy’, largely comprised of the dregs of Lewisham People Before Profit and their beloved former leader, John Hamilton. In spite of portraying himself as a radical leftist, Hamilton has a well documented history of racism, famously claiming in 2013 that Deptford’s Evelyn ward was ruled by a ‘ethnic mafia’ of Nigerian councillors. It is therefore unsurprising that he saw fit to invite Waters to speak at the hustings, an invite he declined to rescind even after it caused the Labour candidate – and likely bye-election winner – Janet Daby to pull out.

With the hustings scheduled to begin at 7pm, a crowd of 50 or 60 anti-fascists – largely Trotskyists of various stripes – blocked all access to the proposed venue, the Salvation Army Hall on Brownhill Road, Catford. From the off, the crowd were harassed by a small number of alt-right vloggers, including a member of Generation Identity clearly identified as such by his passé hipster haircut and recently shorn neck beard. The cops, however, were notably absent, presenting an opportunity for a full and frank exchange of views with the members of the alt-right’s self-styled media. Whether it was due to the preponderance of Trotskyists or a collective desire to keep the powder dry, the anti-fascists present decided to forgo out-and-out physical confrontation, instead concentrating on obstructing attempts to film them with hands, bodies and placards.

Arriving shortly before seven, Hamilton himself was greeted with loud jeers and chants of: ‘Hamilton, Shame on You!’ Finding his way to the building blocked, Lewisham’s self-appointed saviour of democracy was soon seen whispering into his phone. Was he calling the police? We’ll probably never know, but given his comments to the Newshopper prior to the event, it would come as no great surprise.

When a handful of cops did eventually appear, they sensibly decided not to shift protesters away from the doors, opting instead to open a side gate for the candidates and their assorted toadies to scurry through. The crowd, who vastly outnumbered the police, promptly surged in front of the gate, obstructing any attempt to enter the hall. Tempers flared when both members of the For Britain Movement and the Democrats and Veterans Party (whose candidate is an former cop of 20 years) attempted to push their way through the crowd. Despite clearly fancying themselves as hardmen, the few that made it into the building did so only with significant police assistance. In the ensuing scrum, one anti-fascist was (briefly) detained and many others faced open aggression from both fascists and the cops.

It was not until well past the advertised start time that the police were able to muster enough officers to ensure clear access to the building. By that point, however, there was a sizeable knot of candidates and their supporters hovering outside the demonstration and they were strongly advised by the senior officer present to not even attempt running the gauntlet. Amongst those marooned on the pavement were supporters of everyone’s favourite liberal feminists, the Women’s Equality Party. Not content with merely fraternising with odious radfems, it would appear that the WEP have decided to now share platforms with avowed racists and xenophobes. Upset that they would be unable to proudly watch their candidate speak alongside Waters, the handful of WEP supporters vented their frustration in the form of bellowed missives on rationality, democracy and debate.

A brief lull followed in which tensions between the police and anti-fascists eased somewhat, and senior officers conferred on what on earth they were going to do. Just before 8pm, they announced that the hustings were cancelled, without Waters so much as attempting an appearance. Taking to Twitter after the event, she claimed that, in the interests of her personal safety, the police had advised her not to attend.

As to the safety of her supporters: they were swiftly bundled off site, all the while subjected to a barrage of shouts, chants and, in one case, spittle. After offering a few rather pitiful attempts at clap-back, they eventually heeded the police’s advice and beat a timely retreat. As they disappeared down the road, one Muslim demonstrator could be heard loudly advising them to get home quickly, as otherwise they might miss iftar.

Coming as it did, after a rather dismal few months, this militant – albeit small – action was a timely reminder of the necessity and effectiveness of confronting fascists whenever they attempt to organise. The Battle of Lewisham is now some forty years in the past but maybe – just maybe – some of its spirit still lives on in Lewisham.

Carl Spender