There is something deeply worrying about this.
Council appeals to Alan Johnson to ban right-wing protest
Manchester City Council has called on the Home Secretary to ban a right-wing protest planned for next month.
Now, leaving aside whether one agrees with the EDL protestors or not, if Alan Johnson has the power to ban a protest entirely, for whatever reason, what does it say about our ancient right to free assembly?
Councillor Jim Battle, deputy leader of Manchester City Council, said: ''Wherever the so-called English Defence League have gone, there has been violence and disruption to ordinary people who just want to go about their business."
This part of the councillor's reasoning is perfectly understandable. It would seem that he wishes to minimise disruption and danger to local residents, a laudable aim.
It's then that he goes a bit off the rails.
"These people do not have a legitimate cause – they merely wish to vilify, insult, intimidate and provoke one section of our community. That isn't protest or legitimate democratic debate and it certainly is not welcome in Manchester."
How is Councillor Battle qualified to look into the minds of those who wish to protest and decide if their motivation for it is legitimate or not? He may feel that they are merely out to cause trouble, but that is a matter which can be addressed, prior to the event, by the police liaising with the organisers and also with those who fear that they may be vilified or provoked.
Mr Battle goes on to say that the council is 'standing together with faith groups and city centre traders', yet have they discussed their concerns with the protest organisers? If so, there is no indication of it. If not, then they are coming at this from a one-sided perspective.
He states that:
"Wherever the so-called English Defence League have gone, there has been violence and disruption to ordinary people who just want to go about their business."
That is undoubtedly true, but the police have three decades of experience in handling groups of football-style hooligans, which the troublesome element of the EDL appear to be. The rozzers would be very confident in their ability to contain such a threat.
The problem, as far as one can see, at previous EDL events, has been that they have succeeded in provoking a reaction from an opposing faction who are equally enthusiastic at the prospect of a 'right good ruck, innit'. So wouldn't Manchester Council be better served 'standing together with faith groups' in advising those who might react adversely to the EDL protest to just not bloody well do it.
That way, the right to assembly would be protected and the result would just be a bit of shouting and football chant rhetoric.
Once we start banning such rallies on the basis of a perceived illegitimacy of those involved, it opens the door to protests being prohibited simply because we don't agree with the point of the protest itself.
Which is probably the underlying case here, if truth be known.