Margate in Kent, bright and jovial on this sunny Saturday afternoon, the jingling cacophony from the many amusement arcades jarring against each other like the jolly clatter of a hyperactive children's party. Donkey rides on the sweeping sandy beach. Tea stalls. Donuts. Hot dog stands. A typical British seaside town, gamey, garish and gaudily alive, reassuringly tasteless.
This is the town where Kiss Me Quick hats first appeared. "Kiss Me Quick" is the Margate slogan.
Until today that is. Saturday 8th of April 2000. Today there's a variety of other slogans being bandied about, brandished like weapons, spat out like insults. Lines like "Nazi Scum!" Or: "Black and White unite and fight!" And: "The National Front is a Nazi Front, smash the National Front!"
That's right. The National Front have come to town.
We haven't seen much of the National Front in the last few years. Not since the 1970's have we seen them in any force. Most British people enjoy our multi-cultural society. We've grown used to our late-opening Indian shops. We relish our indigenous curry recipes, such as Chicken Tikka Masala, and Balti (neither of which exist in India). We celebrate to the strains of British made Deep House and Drum'n'Bass, content in the knowledge that this is our music, whatever ethnic group we come from. We drink together, we dance together, we take drugs together, we don't give a shit about the differences. Indeed, the question of ethnic difference doesn't even come up any more. If we ask, "where are you from?" the answer would be: "I'm from Dagenham. I'm from Birmingham. I'm from Leeds." Not, "I'm Black. I'm White. I'm Asian."
Drum'n'Bass and Chicken Tikka Masala are as British as Kiss Me Quick hats and donkey rides on Margate sands.
So the racists went underground. Too sly to put their case before the British public, too cowardly to confront us with it honestly, they lurked about in cellars, only daring to mutter their nasty sentiments in the privacy of their own homes.
Until the current crisis with asylum seekers gave them their excuse. The National Front were always opportunists, and here is another opportunity. Homeless people driven from their lands by poverty or by war, by injustice, by prejudice, by torture, by political intolerance. Large numbers of people coming to our shores seeking refuge. A crisis for the local councils having to deal with them without government support, a crisis too for local people having to bear the burden of the extra cost, resentful when they see strangers taking accommodation when British people have to wait. The resentment is understandable. The disorientation and confusion from this increasingly violent and insecure world is palpable. It is in times such as these that Fascism always raises its ugly head. Fascism is a sign of insecurity. It is a sign of fear. The world is becoming ever more confusing, ever more unfair. Poor people everywhere are suffering. Whole populations on the move, a world we no longer understand, war and famine and deep distress. What is there to do?
For some the answer is simple. You look for a scapegoat. Hence the National Front. Asylum seekers are to blame, they tell us. They're to blame for everything. Fascists are sad violent people who huddle together behind the flag of their own bigotry.
Which is exactly how they looked as they shuffled along the promenade in Margate, surrounded by battalions of riot police, wrapped in their flags and singing Rule Britannia. There were about 150 of them. I know people like to underestimate numbers, in order to claim some sort of victory, but that's what I counted - about 150 - mostly from Birmingham, all of them skinheads. The whole spectacle was most peculiar. The Riot Police looked like Roman soldiers with their batons and their shields, their helmets and visors. And behind them, hemmed in by them, hunched up behind their Union Jack flags and their George Cross banners, looking like some multi-armed centipede with a hundred shaved heads, each face a twisted cartoon mask of anger, there was the National Front.
I have to say that the level of political debate was awe inspiring. It went something like this:
"Nazi scum! Nazi scum! Nazi scum!"
"Shut up, yer ugly"
And again (from the footpath, a local Anti-Nazi activist): "What're you doing round here? You're not from round here."
"Cor, your breath smells."
"You're all from Birmingham and London. What you doing in Margate?"
"Ooo, look at her: spots!"
And the best line (again from the footpath, pointing to the masked ranks of shaven headed thugs): "Hey listen everybody, that's the Master Race."
The anti-fascists from the Anti-Nazi League (mainly the SWP, as in the 70's) blocked the path of the march. There was a stand off. The police pressed forward, sometimes violently, while the opposition re-grouped just a few yards further down the road. It took two hours to move just a few hundred yards. In the end the march was abandoned, and the NF retreated to loud applause. Their planned rally at the clock tower was abandoned.
The only worthwhile observation I can come up with is the fact that these days the skinhead cut is almost universal. Both sides are skinheads, fascist and anti-fascist alike. I guess it must mean something.
And the only meaningful political observation I can add to that is that Fascism is always the last resort of the Capitalist Class. They know we've twigged them. They know we know they're gangsters, engineering wars so that they can profit from them, displacing whole populations so they can make us feel insecure. Fascism is the political ideology of violence: violence used as a political tool. When Fascism is abroad it means the Capitalists are on the run.
And after all that, after the NF hoards had got back on their trains, Margate returned to normal, and it was sausage, egg and chips and a cup of tea in a typical Margate caff.
Ain't life wonderful?
Chris Stone, April 2000.