Today, the English Defence League marched, once more, through Brighton. They appear to focus on this gloriously liberal city because they say it’s ‘anti-English’, a statement that is plainly nonsense. And it appears that the majority of the organisers are from Portsmouth.
Now, I already hated the EDL, much like most other people, but to know they have a stronghold in the city I have long thought of as my own is embarrassing. When people ask me where I’m from, I usually say Portsmouth, as more people know where it is than if I said Chichester, which is where I was actually born. NOT ANY MORE. No more will I say I come from Portsmouth. There are those, many, I suspect, in Portsmouth who hate the EDL as much as I do, but to have discovered many of their organisers hail from there has left me feeling deeply ashamed of a city I used to love.
Portsmouth is a city whose naval history is well known throughout the world. If a ship is in port and the pubs are full of matelots, you can be fairly sure there’ll be no trouble. The fact of its being a port, even being named after it, reflects the history of the place – the naval base is old, and goes back beyond the time Henry the Eighth watched his beloved warship the Mary Rose sink off the coast (in 1545). Because of this, you might think that Portsmouth would be a tolerant city. Bringing in sailors from all over the world, with all their inherent culture and language differences, infusing the city with an air of diversity, which has (or so I thought) always stood proudly alongside its Englishness: its Dickens (he was born there); its Guildhall (famous for its discerning audiences); its old pubs.
I used to live in Portsmouth, years back. I enjoyed the time I spent there. I worked at what was then Flagship Portsmouth (and is now Portsmouth Historic Dockyard) for a time, and then later went back to work there again.
It’s the gateway to the Isle of Wight, which has protected the coast of mainland Britain from all sorts of natural calamities. It boasts a good university and a thriving Chinese population. I have regretted, recently, not going to Portsmouth more often, but at £5.80 for a return ticket, I go only very rarely, as I won’t pay that much for such a short trip if I don’t need to go. Southern Railway have a lot to answer for, not least their prices and terrible service. But I digress.
To know that the EDL has a base in Portsmouth makes me feel sick. And I feel this beautiful city – and it is beautiful – has let me down.