Newcastle stood united against hate as thousands of anti-Pegida protestors marched through the streets of the city yesterday.
The German “anti-Islamisation” group’s first visit to Britain was outnumbered by more than five to one as families, anti-fascists, trade unions, religious and community groups all turned out in opposition.
And though five people were arrested the potential powderkeg passed off relatively peacefully.
But Pegida have vowed Saturday was only its “first of many” appearances in the UK.
> And the first of many humiliating put-downs…. the standard has been set.
“I wish this hadn’t been necessary,” said Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, who spoke at the counter protest.
“What we would have liked is for Pegida to have not picked our great city to march in in the first place.
“But to see people of all cultures and backgrounds, from across the political spectrum and including many football fans, turn out really showed that Newcastle is united against these outsiders.”
Official figures from Northumbria Police suggested 2,000 people had turned out for the Newcastle Unites counter protest, which marched from the gates of the city’s Chinatown, down Gallowgate before rallying before a stage on Newgate Street.
Among them was record dealer Adrian Farquhar, from Gateshead, and Katherine Reed, a carer, who said they felt it was important to show their son the importance of standing up to groups like Pegida.
“We came for our seven-year-old son,” Adrian said. “We can’t let these people like Pegida dictate the kind of world he grows up in.”
The demo was also attended by Respect MP George Galloway, a number of Newcastle councillors, Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, and German MEP Arne Lietz, who travelled from Gelsenkirchen.
“For me it was very important to show solidarity and that we are together as Europeans against hate,” said Arne.
“This Pegida protest will have attracted other groups or individuals who will have called themselves Pegida, but many of whom are right wing and nationalist, and who’s hate speak we don’t want to see in the European Union.
“I come from East Germany when I grew up we were singled out for being Christians under the Communist regime. I now want to ensure that we live in a fair Europe with the liberties denied to my own parents.”
George Galloway said:
“All right-thinking people in Britain condemn the idea of a German Nazi group coming to the North East of England trying to stir up trouble.
“The vast majority of British people respect that and the people who are on here on the counter-demonstration are representing millions.
“We have problems in Britain without racism and Islamophobia being further stoked.”
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who joined the counter-rally, said the number of people at the Newcastle Unites march was “fantastic.”
“It really shows the solidarity among the people of Newcastle and the North East, and from the perspective that the Pegida protest only had numbers in the low hundreds, and the counter protest had thousands it’s very encouraging,” he said.
“But what I can’t understand is among the Pegida rally there will have been British Nationalists demonstrating alongside proud Europeans – it doesn’t make sense.”
> Well, clear-thinking was never their strong point… or indeed thinking at all.
One hundred yards in front of them, on the other side of a large police cordon filled with scores of uniformed police and mounted officers, around 375 Pegida supporters congregated in the Bigg Market.
Among the German-founded group, which insists it is neither fascist or racist, banners supporting the English Defence League and National Front could be seen.
One male supporter said:
“This has nothing to do with race. It is about Islamification of our country and nobody is doing anything about it. We want people to integrate when they come here and that is not happening.
“When we bring up these issues we are called bigots and racists but we just want to protect our heritage.”
Speakers at the one-hour gathering, which called for an “end to Islamification of the west”, had called for a peaceful protest but some supporters attempted to break through the police line after the Bigg Market demo closed, and around 100 Pegida supporters formed a line at Grainger Street in an effort to goad those on the Newcastle Unites side.
However police officers and mounted units swiftly moved in to prevented further disorder.
> Meanwhile, Pegida tried to put a positive spin on their laughably pathetic turn-out by blaming – wait for it – transport problems, without which there would have been an extra thousand there, honest.
Pegida said: “Thank you all for the first peaceful Pegida rally in UK today!
“The early hour made us lose about 1,000 people that had booked transport for 1pm which was our goal.”
> Which suggests that the extra thousand would have been rent-a-mob bused in from elsewhere.
Though it does beg the question why – since the time of the demo was known for some time – they couldn’t change their travel times.
Of course, it’s more likely they never actually existed at all, and so the non-racist Pegida had to rely on the like of the EDL to boost their attendance to the heights of, er, 375.
Thousands of North East families are facing a bedroom tax bill of almost £20m.
According to new figures, by August – four months after the controversial spare room subsidy policy was introduced – nearly 30,000 of the region’s households had been hit by the new fees.
Each faces losing out on an average of £679.14 in housing benefits each year – though the picture is worse for people in County Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland, which are among the top 10 hardest-hit areas in the UK.
The National Housing Federation claims that 51% of households affected by the bedroom tax were unable to pay their rent between April and June. Their North East external affairs manager Monica Burns called for the policy to be repealed.
“These new Government figures show that the bedroom tax is affecting thousands of people in the North East – for many, there isn’t even anywhere for them to downsize to. There simply aren’t enough smaller social homes available, and the cost of private rented housing is rising.
“The North East is particularly hard-hit, with the highest proportion of people living in social housing affected by the bedroom tax in the country. The Government says discretionary housing payments will help those who cannot downsize, but there isn’t anywhere near enough money.
“The bedroom tax is trapping many people in homes they can no longer afford and where they are struggling. It is unfair, badly designed, and must be repealed.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work & Pensions ( DWP) said that it has given an extra £5,382,375 in funding to councils to make discretionary payments to help those struggling to pay.
Northumberland has received £416,365, Newcastle £685,271, Durham £883,089, Gateshead £373,518, North Tyneside £331,993, South Tyneside £305,483 and Sunderland £658,202.
Hang on – so the government imposes this tax on the poorest sector of society, presumably to raise money. Then, via the DWP, gives over 5 million of it back in order to fund people who cant pay it. Who then give it straight back to the government. Eh ?
I make no claims to being a financial expert (which, on recent evidence of the Co-Op Bank, should put me in the frame for a top job in banking), but I cant help thinking “why not just scrap the tax ?”
It doesn’t seem to raise much cash, is focused on the worst off, and is hardly a vote winner. Perhaps the government should put its mind to all those non-tax-paying corporations and super-rich tax dodgers instead ? But I guess bullies always go for easy targets.
Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell (Lab) –
“The bedroom tax is raised by constituents time and time again, who are being penalised for a situation not of their own making and who simply can’t afford to pay.
“These new figures illustrate the appalling impact this pernicious policy is having on many thousands of families across the region – with the extra £680 per year an almost impossible ask for people on low incomes already struggling with a cost of living crisis.
“The policy makes no sense. There are nowhere near sufficient smaller properties for people to move to, and it therefore does nothing to address overcrowding.
“Or – for the thousands of disabled people affected – they clearly need an additional bedroom as it can often be totally impractical for a couple to share in these circumstances.”
Oh, if only I believed Labour would rectify the situation if they win the next election… sadly I no longer have any faith in that direction.