How the ‘Battle of Wood Green’ prevented fascism fouling our borough

By Seema Chandwani | Twitter @SeemaChandwani

The other week I went for a drink in this great cafe in The Mall Wood Green.

It has fantastic views from the bridge which enables you to see across the high road. As I waited for my sister – she’s never on time – I looked out and saw an elderly Asian woman in a bright colourful Sari walking along the pavement. Her carrier bag handle snapped, leaving an amazing exotic mix of mangos, okra and coconuts spread all over the pavement.

A middle-aged Jewish man ran over to help, holding his Yarmulke in place as he bent over to pick up some of her produce. He was joined by an African man in a flamboyant Dashikis, who rescued the few mangoes that rolled a bit further down. They both returned the goods to the woman, who by this stage, had been joined by a young English lady who was emptying one of her own carrier bags, putting the contents into her pram to supply to the lady with something new to carry her shopping.

After a few moments of gratitude, they all went their separate ways, disappearing into a crowd which contained an eclectic mix of world fashion that symbolises the cultural harmony we are lucky to be blessed with. It is hard to imagine that Wood Green and Haringey were not always like this.

Tuesday marks the 36th anniversary of the ‘Battle of Wood Green’, an underestimated but pivotal event in Haringey’s history. Wood Green in the 1970s had an active presence of the far right-wing group the National Front. They used to have street stalls outside Huckleberry’s burger bar (on the corner of Turnpike Lane where Costa coffee now stands), where they distributed racist propaganda.

They were intent on stirring up racial tensions in the borough, with the hope to also gain political seats in the elections of the 1970s. In the 1974 elections, the National Front had more 5,700 votes across Haringey, which equated to over eight per cent in the Tottenham and Wood Green constituencies.

In April 1977, the National Front had planned a march through the centre of Wood Green, and an estimated 1,200 fascists took to the streets. The Haringey community was aware this march was going to take place and despite attempts to get it stopped, it went ahead anyway.

But the locals were not going to let them feel welcomed, and more than 3,000 people congregated in Ducketts Common. Among them were residents, Haringey councillors from both the Labour and Conservative parties, political activists, the trade unions and anti-fascist groups.

Unconfirmed reports of the day claim a member of the National Front had fired a gun through the window of a shop aimed at a Black child. The claim was never substantiated, but something like a bullet or pellet had smashed the window in question. As tensions grew from both sides, stones, bricks, bottles and smoke bombs reigned down. More than 50 people were arrested and many injured.

Since that day, the activities of the National Front in Haringey have reduced dramatically. By the 1979 election they achieved only 2.9 per cent of the vote, choosing not to stand any candidates by the general elections of 1983. Their successors, the British National Party, have also not put up a candidate in Haringey for a general election to this day. Many of the people who were there in 1977 to prevent fascists taking over our borough are still around today. They include the MP Jeremy Corbyn, who was a Haringey councillor at the time, Keith Flett of Haringey TUC, Dave Morris from the Haringey Residents Federation and hundreds of residents who still live in the borough.

Although I was not born in 1977 and was lucky enough to miss such a disturbing era of our boroughs history, I have lived in Tottenham since 1982, being educated and working amongst a very diverse and united community.

As a person from an ethnic background I have been fortunate enough never to experience direct racism living here. I probably would have if the community had not stood up to the fascists who tried to ruin our borough.

Although Haringey has many challenges, they are ones we tackle as a whole community where our ethnic differences become our strength and the usual tricks played in politics to blame immigrant communities for the hardships we face are not given an audience.

I hope on this day we remember the brave actions the people in our community took that have allowed us to celebrate the boroughs diversity we often take for granted today.

This piece was also featured in the Tottenham Journal