Manchester City Council


The unwelcome arrival of the EDL in Manchester has once again prompted a debate about freedom of speech and the right to peaceful demonstration.

The first time they paid such a visit, the Council, myself included, sought to have their demonstration banned, but the then Home Secretary made it clear that there were no legal powers to do that. The arguments around this are something I struggle with a lot but the conclusion that I have come to is that on this occasion the law was probably right, and the Council probably wrong.

The issue is this, we can't argue for rights to protest and to freedom of speech but then say it only applies to people whose views we're not too uncomfortable with. The views of the EDL are odious in extreme, they are fundamentally anti-English, and are contrary to everything this great city of Manchester stands for. However, partly because of some of the things this great city stands for, we have to accept, however grudgingly, that they like me have that right to free speech and to protest. Of course the law does not allow an unfettered right to free speech and with regard to the EDL we need to ensure GMP rigorously apply the law on issues like incitement and racially motivated crime.

There are of course many Mancunions who will want to demonstrate against the EDL. Regrettably some of those counter-demonstrators will have no more love for democratic pluralism than the EDL and will be equally bent on causing trouble so it's worth asking the question, what form would an effective protest take? Whilst I understand the desire of many to stand behind a police cordon hurling abuse at the EDL I've come to the view that it is not only not an effective protest, it is exactly why the EDL are here in a place where they have no substantial support. Far better to turn our back on the EDL. Starve them of the oxygen of publicity. Let the police police them but otherwise just get on with our cosmopolitan lives that the EDL hate so much.

That's why I will be at the Hope not Hate vigil at the Cathedral this afternoon, why I won't be in Albert Square tomorrow, and have added my signature with a number of others to the letter below.

"The right to peaceful protest lies at the heart of democracy. It gives those who feel disenfranchised a voice and can make those in power listen.

But one of the side-effects is that sometimes we have to put up with people we disagree with.

The EDL has decided to come to Manchester this weekend. The law protects the right of anyone to come to Manchester and the law protects the right of anyone to protest peacefully.

They can come - but they aren't welcome.

Greater Manchester is a place that is proud of its diversity, proud of its inclusion and - most of all - proud of its welcoming spirit. Manchester is renowned across the world as a place where people are made to feel at home wherever they come from. It goes to the very heart of what it means to be a good Mancunian and for that matter, a good Briton.

But we can't welcome people who spew hatred and racism. That's the EDL's message, distinctly un-English and certainly un-Mancunian. It is in stark contrast to the vision of hope and acceptance that runs through Manchester's DNA. Despite abhorring their views, our great tradition of protest, free speech and democracy means we do have to tolerate their presence, even though it is distasteful.

So how do we respond to the EDL? What is a good Mancunian response? We strongly believe that the best thing to do is to simply ignore them. Come into Manchester as usual on Saturday: go to the cinema, go shopping, go for a meal, go for a drink and just don't acknowledge the small band of people who have nothing to do with this city or what it stands for.

Turn your back as they have their moment of noise and be assured that they will go back where they came from soon enough. Our police and city council are well versed in dealing with these matters and have a clear plan in place to minimise disruption to the city. They can be trusted to protect us. They have also made clear they will not tolerate any violence and action will be taken against anyone who breaks the law.

Events such as these are highly emotive and sensitive and polarise views of individuals. It is important that those seeking to counter-demonstrate do so lawfully, responsibly and in the spirit of the ideals they come in the name of.

But the last thing the EDL wants is to be ignored. The clearest signal we can send is to do just that"

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The blog of the leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Richard Leese.

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