March highlights BNP controversy
Tensions between anti-fascist and far-right groups were running high after street fights in Birmingham the previous weekend between football-linked groups protesting against Islamic fundamentalism and young Asian men.
But the atmosphere as hundreds of demonstrators from across Britain descended on the village Codnor in Derbyshire seemed more one of cheerful determination to celebrate and protect multi-cultural Britain than a belligerent mob set on fist-fighting in fields.
The police had clearly prepared for the worst, enacting public order legislation to stop protesters getting too close to the controvertial campers in nearby fields and putting 500 officers on the ground to enforce it.
The media too had turned out in force, with dozens of photographers and TV cameras buzzing around the crowd which waspenned into the tiny Derbyshire village square before the official march started.
It seemed to me that the assembled variety of ages, races and religions perfectly reflected what is great about modern life in British cities.
But many of the uniformly white local residents stood watching from the other side of the main street were unimpressed by the annual invasion.
Veggie pasties and soya-milk cups of tea helped keep the swelling crowd and lingering journalists in good spirits for a few hours of speeches by anyone brave enough to take the open mic, while the police got to put their crowd control practice into action when a few demonstrators made half-hearted early breakout attempts.
And then we were off, down the country road towards the BNP camp, with the media leading the march, their cameras poised to snap any trouble and the placard-thrusting marchers.
Police were everywhere — on foot, in vans, on horses and in a helicopter — while a bizarre radio-controlled flying camera drone buzzed a few metres above the demonstrators’ heads.
Residents looked on with a mixture of bewilderment and resentment over having their quiet existence shattered by hundreds of chanting, flag-waving visitors but the march passed without incident until we got to the police roadblock outside the camp.
This is where everybody, me included, expected any trouble and a few demonstrators did their best to break through in a few brief surges onto the police line.
Four arrests during the minor scuffles tarnished the march a little but police agreed the protesters were mainly peaceful and cooperative.
The march back was more eventful, as the protesters traded insults with BNP sympathisers trying to get to the campsite, chanting “Follow your leader, shoot yourself like Hitler” to one would-be festival goer.
In true British tradition, many marched straight back to the village pub on the market square to reflect on the day’s events, giving at least one local business reason to be cheerful.