JOE SIMONS: The Battle For Speakers Corner
EDITORS NOTE: Joe Simons is the Chairman of UKIP Students and the President of Kent UKIP Students.
The “Battle for Speakers’ Corner”, as it’s been labelled, was incredible. The atmosphere was electric and there was a huge sense of passion, patriotism and liberty rippling throughout the crowd.
Yesterday, myself and several members of the Kent UKIP Students society – after much debating as to whether we should go – boarded a train to London ready to endure the bitter cold and biting wind in order to do our bit to uphold freedom of speech and diversity of opinion. On the train, we were making clear our plans in case things turned nasty, thinking back to earlier demonstrations in America – particularly poignant seeing as one of our party was an American, and ex-army at that. As we stepped out of Marble Arch tube station we were greeted by the sight of at least a dozen police vans and numerous further officers waiting in reserve, alongside the abundant supply of officers at Speakers’ Corner itself. Slightly on edge, we made our way into the crowd – already thousands strong, well before Tommy’s speech was scheduled to begin – and began making small-talk with those around us. From this early moment, it was clear to us that the people here were all passionate about their country and the traditional freedom of speech that has historically made Britain’s public discourse so famous and bountiful.
I don’t think I’ll forget the faces I spoke to yesterday, I’ve in fact been spotting them in the video footage that has been uploaded to YouTube since. Each and every one of them had something interesting to say. Being at Speakers’ Corner gave me the same thrill and sense of satisfaction as canvassing has always done – getting out there and talking to ordinary people who just want the best for their country and its liberties therein. Everyone I spoke to just wanted to peacefully hear the speech that the British Government had previously banned and to do a little bit for free speech while they were at it; nobody had any interest in rioting or punch-ups. In fact, the day went off without any of the groups like the Football Lads Alliance or Generation Identity starting fights. In fact, even Antifa didn’t push their luck and get violent.
On balance, our concerns about an outbreak of violence were for nothing. However, it should really be noted that the only violence to break out (at least as far as I saw while I was there) came from the organised group of Muslims in attendance. Chanting “Allahu Akbar” and loudly preaching that they needed to “defend [themselves] if necessary” they truly made their presence felt, despite being in the minority. I’m sure you’ve seen the footage by now, but this group was there to intimidate those standing up for free speech and ultimately this translated into assaulting people in the crowd and even in one case (captured on video) beating a woman with a stick. In fact, the same guy responsible for this ‘stick-beating’ was seen on camera earlier in the day unable to answer the question of why (according to a poll) the majority of British people have a negative opinion about Muslims. Eventually, though the ‘Muslim bloc’ got the willies and retreated, giving out the call to “fall back to the cafe and reorganise”, which we suspected in reality meant “quick lads, let’s scarper since we’re completely outnumbered!”
Perhaps I was wrong and missed a few instances of violence from non-Muslims, but based on what I saw while I was in Hyde Park my account appeared to be the case, and the footage that has been uploaded to YouTube since seems to affirm this. Of course, it goes without saying that some of the Muslims who were present weren’t being violent. During my hour and a half (roughly) at Speakers’ Corner, I had a couple of conversations with Muslims who weren’t trying to assault me for a difference of opinion. They were somewhat confrontational and arrogant in their arguments however arrogance is no crime and ultimately their arguments were interesting and in-line with the calm and collected ethos of Speakers’ Corner.
All in all, it was a very successful day that I won’t be forgetting for quite some time. It was also nice to meet with plenty of UKIP colleagues after the speech had ended, where I was informed that our new interim leader Gerard Batten had been in attendance. The Battle for Speakers’ Corner was a clear indication to the government – and the political landscape as a whole – that the British people are not happy with the current state of affairs and that attacks on free speech won’t be taken lying down. Following yesterday I’m filled with a sense of optimism in the British public and a feeling that things can only get better; however, this is by no means an absolute victory. We mustn’t get complacent for the future will surely throw further trials at us.