Spurred on by Home Secretary Suella Braverman and populist pundits and influencers, the real threat came from thousands of angry nationalists who confronted police just up the road.
Held annually at the Cenotaph, London’s memorial to soldiers who died for the British Empire, the far-right rioters thought they were defending it from Hamas.
In an unapproved article for The Times last week, Braverman had claimed the London Met was “biased” in favour of “pro-Hamas” demonstrators.
This is why the so-called “hate marches” of the last month have been allowed to go ahead, she argued.
No demonstration has ever been encouraged by a sitting Home Secretary, but Saturday’s Armistice Day disturbances made history.
Braverman has no principled commitment to the counter-protests. This was purely about her leadership ambitions, and predictably, Rishi Sunak sacked her today.
Though she’d prefer to take the credit, it wasn’t all down to the Home Secretary.
Turning Point UK, the astroturfed youth group, called for people to turn out to defend the Cenotaph from the terrible threat of a pro-ceasefire demonstration.
But the momentum didn’t pick up until Tommy Robinson called for his followers to turn out on Saturday.
Robinson was the leader of the English Defence League but now makes a living as a far-right influencer.
The former EDL chief has multiple convictions for stalking, mortgage fraud, assault, use of a false passport and public order offences. But he is still a hero to some for speaking out against the supposed threat of Islam.
Tommy filmed himself marching down Whitehall with his supporters.
The crowd was a mixture of ageing football hooligans, drunk skinheads and assorted gammon, as well as self-described ‘migrant hunters’ and ‘jihadi spotters’.
All of this could have been avoided. The Cenotaph was never on the route of the March for Palestine, but you wouldn’t know that going by a lot of the headlines in national newspapers.
There was never a significant public order threat from the pro-Palestinian demonstrations. This is despite the high emotions and the inevitable presence of cranks.
Not English Anymore
Right-wing protesters surged through police lines in Westminster, while their fellow Stone Island-clad louts caused trouble in China Town of all places (presumably because of the local Islamist restaurant scene).
“You’re not English, you’re not English, you’re not English anymore!” the rioters chanted at the cops, hurling objects at them.
This was the same chant often heard at EDL rallies in years gone by.
Faced with such scenes of chaos, Tommy Robinson jumped into a black cab and sped away. It wasn’t even noon yet, and the man of the hour had disappeared. Scores of his fans were left behind to face the police.
In all fairness, Luton Town was due to play Man United at 3 o’clock. Tommy couldn’t afford to waste pre-match drinking time on a mission to defend war memorials. He had better things to do.
None of this is as new as many believe.
The National Front has held a yearly march on the Cenotaph since the late 1960s. Fascists started the march to honour white South African and Rhodesian troops who served the British Empire in the World Wars.
In case you’re unaware of the history, the NF is the oldest far-right organisation in Britain. It is the original National Front, the prototype for the French Front National founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Once upon a time, the National Front was the most successful neo-fascist party in the UK since the British Union of Fascists, but it is a shadow of itself today.
Now, for the first time in decades, the NF had an excellent opportunity to capitalise on the Cenotaph controversy.
However, the British far-right has been fragmented for many years. This is not least because Brexit finally happened but also because these groups need more patience for the hard graft of electoral strategy.
Meanwhile, the ageing Football Factory contingent of the protests was less coherent than even the avowed fascists present.
This is obvious from the footage of some of them harassing randomers at Waterloo station, desperate for a fight.
Unusually, the Met has singled out right-wing protesters as the source of “extreme violence” against them on Saturday.
A large section of right-wing opinion formers now claim the London Met is essentially captured by “woke” elements.
This madness is wholly manufactured.
The London Met has not banned the National March for Palestine because the law allows for such demonstrations, except when the threshold for public disorder is breached.
Braverman knows this, and she supports the law as it stands. She acted with pure cynicism in whipping up a frenzy with the support of the pundit class.
The aim was to pick a fight with the Met and make Rishi Sunak look weak.
Braverman has been preparing to become leader of the opposition after almost certain defeat in 2024.
The fact that Sunak recruited David Cameron as foreign secretary speaks reams about the challenges the Tories face in next year’s national election.
By recruiting a former premier, with far more liberal credentials, who was opposed to Brexit, Sunak hopes to reduce those chances.
However, he is still in a weak position (which is why he stalled sacking Braverman), and the Tory hard-right is going to only disappear with a fight.
Suella Braverman has rolled the dice, betting on xenophobia. She wants to become the brown face of white Tory racism.
This strange story harks back to the ironies of British colonial rule.
It’s no accident that there are Asian Tories. Many of them come from Asian African families in former British colonies such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
These families were often a part of the colonial comprador class.
Many Indians rejoiced when Rishi Sunak became prime minister because his parents are both Hindu Indians from Kenya and Tanzania. He is also married to the heiress of the Indosys fortune.
Another case is Priti Patel, who has built her reputation as an anti-migrant politician, just like Braverman.
Not completely shockingly, Patel’s father was a UKIP candidate. The Patel family are Hindu Indian Ugandans who moved to Hertfordshire in the 1960s.
When Uganda became independent in 1962, South Asians were given a choice between British passports or Ugandan passports. Many chose Britain as their colonial motherland.
This was before mad dictator Idi Amin expelled many South Asians.
Suella Braverman comes from a slightly different background. She is a Western Buddhist from a mixed South Asian family.
Her mother’s side are Hindu Tamil Mauritians, and her father’s family are Christian Indian Kenyans.
Much like Uganda, Kenya pursued a policy of Africanisation following independence.
Many South Asians soon found their jobs were under threat and decided to use their British passports to move to the UK.
Not all Asian Tories have this background, of course. Sajid Javid’s family, for example, were Muslim farmers from the Punjab province of Pakistan.
His conversion to Tory values came when he discovered the work of Ayn Rand as a 12-year-old.
Young Sajid was bewitched by Objectivist thought when he watched The Fountainhead, the 1949 adaptation of the Rand novel.
Earning £3 million a year at Deutsche Bank as an adult also helped maintain his worldview.
Growing up in a first-generation immigrant household does not immunise you from right-wing politics, even anti-immigrant politics.
The new nationalism is able to assimilate Asian and even African names.
The myth of multiculturalism is that the more diverse society becomes the liberal, the more open and the more progressive it will inevitably become.
On the contrary, multiculturalism has not killed off British nationalism but transformed it.
British nationalism has become multicultural, whether the right wants to admit it or not.
This paradox is what defines many black and brown Tories who support strong borders and holding refugees on prison barges.
Hard-right nationalists have long feared diversity was a liberal conspiracy to create an electorate for progressive policies via demographic change.
Braverman is the living proof this was always nonsense.
Photograph courtesy of UK Home Office. Published under a Creative Commons license.