Parliament Road became no-man’s land on Saturday as anti-Trump and free Tommy Robinson demonstrations stood off against each other. A physical manifestation of the ideological battle happening in the UK these days between left and the right.
Upon leaving Westminster underground station, I was quickly moved to the sidelines and away from both protests as police forcibly broke up a scuffle between the two sides. Police on horseback had to be called in to create space so that pro-Tommy Robinson protestors could be ushered to the correct sight. Afterwards, police led the way for people to attend the left-wing ‘unity’ march that kicked off day two of the protests against Trump this weekend.
The second round of anti-Trump protests on Saturday had a smaller turnout than Friday’s mass protest. But it would be wrong to assume that it was less powerful. The general air of the protest was characterised by tension, with one commentator telling me that it was a huge difference from the feel on Friday:
‘yesterday had an almost carnival feel to the proceedings’.
Police lined on both sides of the protestors, effectively caging them in away from tourists and right-wingers looking for their pro-Tommy Robinson crowd on the other side of the street. Anti-fascist movements — such as the Socialist Party, Trade Unions, Stand up to Racism and Love Music, Hate Racism and others — chanted out responses to their protest leaders’ calls; amplifying the already military feel of the day’s proceedings.
Unlike the previous day’s protests which had been awash with colour, humour and interesting signs; the picket signs on Saturday were more sombre — decrying fascism in the UK and denouncing both Tommy Robinson and Donald Trump.
On the other side of the battle lines was the right-wing, pro-Trump and free Tommy Robinson protest. If the anti-Trump protest was filled with tension, this was not the case with the free Tommy Robinson crowd.
Upon entering the sight, it looked less like a protest and more like a festival — something that made the clashes I witnessed earlier and the ones that followed, all the more shocking.
Speakers took to the stage in turns to the crowd’s screams, as if they were bands entering the stage at Glastonbury. This image was made even more real as girls waved ‘Britain loves Donald Trump’ flags and ‘free Tommy Robinson’ signs, as though these were their favourite singers’ names. People could be seen picnicking with their families as young men sunned themselves without their shirts, while others gathered around coolers of Strongbow and Stella.
If you’re like me and come from a seaside city or town, this sight would have been reminiscent of home. The only difference being the startling odd swastika tattoo, intermingled with the usual British bulldog and British flag tattoos on pale skin. These belonged to spectators sunning themselves, whilst waving British and American flags and avidly listened to the speakers talk about the government’s corruption and media bias.
Terry, a Tommy Robinson fan from Manchester spoke to me regarding his thoughts on freedom of speech and hate speech:
‘Where did the word Islamophobia come from? It’s just a word made up to shut us up’.
He also gave his views on freedom of expression:
‘If I walked down Manchester in a Union Jack flag I would get stick for it’.
Many, like Terry, don’t see themselves as deserving the label of racist that is so often attached to them once people hear their views.
‘We just want what’s ours back’
Terry told me when we discussed immigration. And, maybe this argument is deserving of some thought given the fact that much like the left-wing protests happening down the street, all different races and skin colours could be seen standing side by side in camaraderie at the right-wing protest.
If Saturday showed anything about the UK its this, we are in an idealogical war between the right-wing and left-wing, and Saturday marks the battle lines being drawn. What happens now is uncertain given that neither side is willing to back down, and both are too busy drowning each other out with chants and blame — spewing rhetoric over everything that is wrong with this country.