Every year on the first Sunday after St George´s Day (23 April), the March for England takes place in Brighton. Some people mark it in the calendar as a celebration of English patriotism, others cross it as a racist and fascist event.
It brings to the city, nationalists from across England to march, local anti-racists and anti-fascists groups to counter-protest and the security forces from all around the country to keep both groups apart and avoid violent clashes.
This year, about 200 people have taken part in the main nationalist march and between 400 to 500 counter-protesters have turned out to oppose them, welcoming them with the musical rhythm of Black is Black and several banners saying ‘Racists are not welcome here.’
One of those banners is held by a young girl on the seafront, who prefers not to be named. She says without taking her eyes off the march, “everything they say about being not racist or facist, is a complete lie. You can look at what they write on Internet and forums. This is just a front for their very racist and violent groups. They are not welcome in Brighton and they come here purely to rile people because they know this is a multicultural and liberal city.”
A few meters from where the girl stands, Mark Able hands out flyers against the march and copies of the Socialist Worker newspaper. He defines the event as “a horrible, racist and facist march that we keep having to put up with every year in Brighton even though very few Brighton people, if any, want it here. They come down and try to intimidate people but we always get a good turn out of anti-fascists and anti-racists.
John, who takes part in the march wearing a St George’s Cross flag as a cape, opposes and rejects all that has been said above. He explains, “the March for England is a day to highlight traditional values, cultural heritage and to remember the past. It is a celebration day”.
However, there doesn’t seem to be much joy and celebration. Hundreds of security personnel confine the nationalists inside a line of police, then police vans, and mounted policemen create another circle and finally, barriers are displayed along the seafront to separate both groups as much apart as possible.
Michelle Banks, all dressed up in white and red colours, says “I come down to Brighton from Somerset every year and used to do it with my kids, but not anymore as the confrontation has become worse”.
When asked, why not march somewhere else where they could do so without such opposition she responds, “the opposition we find makes me to want to come to Brighton even more. It is a free country and it is our right.”
In the city there is general consensus to reject this march. The main parties in the city held a meeting weeks before the event took place calling to ban or move the march somewhere else. Their message was clear. ”Please, don´t come here. It is not about politics. Your union does not represent our city and you are causing trouble”, affirms Lianne De Mello, from the Green Party.
Parties and community groups state that the march only causes problems for residents, intimidating the diverse communities of Brighton, disruptions for tourists, businesses and public transport, as the march takes place in the city centre. Last year, the police operation alone cost £500,000.
The stand that the police have taken is to maintain the same route as previous years. “The police keep them confined to one place in order to control them and limit the amount of trouble that can be caused. They march and then they head back to the train station and leave the city at the end of the day until the next year”, concludes De Mello.