The central conceit of those following and supporting former EDL head man Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson, is that his campaign is all about freedom of speech. His May Day bank holiday event in central London was, supposedly, all about free speech. And those taking exception to his jailing on a contempt of court charge maintain that he is a free speech campaigner.
In pursuit of making their views heard, Lennon’s supporters organised a gathering and march yesterday in Leeds, the scene of his arrest the previous week. The way in which the Wall of Gammon (tm) deported themselves gave an excellent opportunity to test the assertion that it was all about free speech, but sadly, that test was failed after the commitment to free speech turned out, as so often, not to extend to others.
As for the idea of peaceful protest, the Murdoch Sun found that “One supporter hurled a red flare on top of the court building and a Dr Pepper bottle was thrown at a police officer as chaos ensued”. Leeds Live concurred on the latter point: “A bottle of Dr Pepper was thrown at a police officer, which missed and hit the wall of Leeds Crown Court”.
And then came that much-vaunted commitment to free speech. Leeds Live again: “LeedsLive followed the crowds with some supporters becoming aggressive towards the police, the press and members of the public … Some of the crowd gathered around photographers and tried to stop them from taking photos … After the group left Oxford Row heading into the city centre, members of the public lined the Headrow to watch.
Some onlookers expressed their distaste at the protest and were verbally abused”.
So much for free speech. And tolerance was in equally short supply: “Some people shouted xenophobic remarks, which LeedsLive has chosen not to repeat … Police intervened to stop a few potential physical altercations”. The Sun added “When approached by a reporter, one bald-headed supporter of Mr Robinson shouted: ‘Journalist? F**k off. You're all scum.’” Peace loving free speech campaigners.
A selection of Islamophobic chants was also alleged to have been used. But despite all the paranoid claims of free speech repression and state intervention against Lennon, none of the protesters was arrested or prevented from marching, chanting, or indeed casually abusing passers-by and attempting to curtail the free speech of others (like reporters).
Worst of all for the Wall of Gammon (tm), it had no effect whatever on Lennon’s incarceration. He was handed a 13 month sentence, was serving a 13 month sentence before the protest, and will still be serving a 13 month sentence after it, as he will be after another protest which has been scheduled for next Friday in London. But it will waste scarce Police resources and disrupt the lives of those who don’t care Lennon is in jail.
And it still won’t be about free speech. It will be an exhibition of the easily led, demonstrating that they don’t understand the law - or, indeed, that Stephen Yaxley Lennon is taking them for mugs. It’s not about free speech. It’s about him promoting himself.
What happens when this dawns on his fans will be a most interesting spectacle.