At the English Defence League Cambridge Branch demo on 23 February, 2013 we assembled, did what we told the police we’d do then we went home. Job done.
The day before the demo, Cambridgeshire MEP Richard Howitt said in an extraordinary outburst that the cost of providing 400 policemen for the demo and counterdemonstration was too much, given that there was "no local support". His remarks seemed to be diversionary in nature, to draw attention away from the fact that there were 650 policemen at the 2011 demo. I wasn’t at the last demo, but after this one the policemen were laughing with us about their orders to walk us to the station afterwards when most of us probably came from Cambridge. They were right.
Luckily the police hadn’t listened to Howitt’s ramblings: before the demo a plain-clothes policewoman handed out to members a leaflet advising us "You have a democratic right to express your views through peaceful protest". But then, as an enthusiastic votary of the autocratic EU, I can appreciate that Howitt’s view of what one’s democratic rights are is somewhat ill-founded.
Most surprising was the Cambridge News’ reaction to this demo. While after the 2011 one it used its editorial on the following Monday to say that the EDL wasn’t welcome back in Cambridge, this year – probably responding to Howitt’s remarks – the editorial said "a price cannot be put on free speech", and that the EDL’s members "must continue to be allowed a voice, however strident it may be".
So what changed?
Could it be that the Cambridge News is reflecting, on the eve of its and every British newspaper’s emasculation at the hands of the Leveson reforms administered by politically illiterate demagogues such as Howitt, on the value of its own right to free speech?