Last summer's event saw police facilitate a mobile fascist counter-demo around the Irish march, organised by the James Larkin Society and Cairde na hÉireann (Friends of Ireland), and led by Irish Patriots Republican Flute Band. Fascists farcically linked these to the long-disestablished Irish Republican Army, despite the groups' support for the "peace process" and the institutions set up by the Good Friday Agreement. As hundreds surrounded the march, hurled abuse, then cut through side streets to queue up for another go, the police stood by, only intervening at points where fascists managed to get in amongst the march itself.
This year, with an English Defence League national callout in Birmingham clearly dividing their forces, the local "Scouse Nationalists" initially struck a conciliatory pose. They bizarrely claimed not to be anti-Irish as "we are the Irish", whatever that meant, and announced they would merely be pointing out individuals they considered to be connected to terrorism. However, this stance only lasted a couple of days. By the middle of last week they were posting spotter cards of local antifascists they expected to be at the event, and lapsing back into potato-based anti-Irish 'humour' (a reference to the nineteenth century Great Famine, often described as an act of genocide by the British against the Irish).
This coincided with police issuing Section 14 notices to the fascists, restricting their protest to a small corner of St George's Plateau on Lime Street. Fascists began posting anti-police messages online, including a video of one man burning his notice. Having publicly announcing their intention to defy the Section 14, they would have appeared cowardly not to have done so.
Many fascists did defy the order. Of the ten charged by police as of yesterday, nine charges were for Section 14 of the Public Order Act. The other went to Shane 'Diddyman' Calvert of Blackburn, who was charged with possession of cocaine. That is bound to go down particularly well when he resumes his trial for attacks on antifascists and members of the public in Liverpool's Bold Street last July.
While police have a long track record of enabling fascist street activity, Mayor Joe Anderson has made public statements condemning "extremist groups" for "a big impact on the city’s image and its retail economy – making parts of the centre a ‘no-go’ zone for shoppers on the busiest day of the week". Pressure from Anderson likely led to the major change in police tactics from 2012.
In the event, while last year's march looked like a fascist one to outsiders - particularly in the ethnically and culturally diverse Toxteth area of the city - this weekend's one must have seemed like a police rally. The state and the police dictated terms to everyone else, and they will be well happy with how things turned out. Antifascists from various groups did a far better job of letting people on the route know about the event than they did last year.
But it's when the cops are not there that fascists have been doing most damage lately, particularly on their rampage through town after the killing of soldier Lee Rigby, where they attacked a woman for wearing Islamic dress. Their expressions of glee at attacks on a local corner shop and the terror alert at a mosque in Toxteth show that they have the potential to get far nastier. Antifascists locally and nationally face a massive challenge in the months and years to come.