Organisers of Saturday’s march through Portsmouth had promised a peaceful protest and vehemently denied any racist intent.
But the actions of some of the people who snaked through the city centre on Saturday showed exactly why so many are worried about the group that calls itself the English Defence League.
Whatever the stated aims of the EDL – and they are still hard to understand – the ugly truth is that the organisation attracts some people whose intentions go beyond placard-waving and exercising their right to protest.
Those members were the ones chanting abusive slogans about Allah as they made their way through our multicultural city’s streets. They were the ones who paused to jeer at an Asian family who appeared on their balcony to see what was going on outside their flat. And they were the troublemakers who tried to run at police to get to counter- protesters who were making their case for tolerance and equality in the Guildhall Square.
Credit is due to the police who contained a difficult situation.
We have no doubt that without their carefully-planned operation, informed by knowledge gained from similar protests elsewhere, matters could have turned out a great deal for the worse.
We know there are EDL members who march out of a genuine sense of patriotism and pride in our country.
It’s something that we as a historic city with a naval tradition pride ourselves upon.
But we would suggest that there are far better ways to express that pride and passion than to associate with a group that has often found itself at the centre of questions about the overt racism of some who march under its banner.
There is something of an irony about the sound of people who came to our city from Brighton, London and beyond telling Muslim people who live here to ‘go home’.
The clear message from the majority of people from all creeds who are proud to live in our great city is clear.
They are the ones who belong here – and it’s the EDL who are not welcome.