Pegida UK Newcastle
A man with a swastika on the back of his helmet holds a sign aloft amid the Pegida UK crowd in Newcastle.IBT

For a new protest group, there is little new about Pegida UK.

Its launch in Newcastle on 28 February could barely muster a tenth of the support its parent organisation in Germany drew, which saw 25,000 to its first rally in Dresden in October 2014.

And those who did turn up at Bigg Market in the centre of Newcastle were the usual suspects with precious few new faces: the National Front, the English Defence League (EDL), and the British National Party (BNP).

It could have been any other far-right demonstration from the past ten years.

The same tired tropes about Muslims and Islam that undermine claims to target the radicals only. The deafeningly-loud speaker system, shrieking out the likes of Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory. Young men with buzz-cuts and in tracksuits stomping around with cans of lager in their hands. The woman who put Union Jack scarves on her pair of British bulldogs.

Men with more tattoos on their heads than hair. A ripple of Union Jacks and England flags. There was even an Israeli flag, to balance out the Palestinian flags waving at the counterdemonstration. The scuffles and jostling between warring factions of hyped-up right-wingers.

Pegida UK bulldogs
Pegida UK bulldogsIBT

What was surprising about the German rallies, which also saw thousands come out against Pegida, was the breadth of support they had managed to draw in, from ordinary social conservatives through to the hard right.

For Pegida UK, what was surprising (or perhaps not) was the distinct lack of any breadth of support past the far right. Speakers at the rally were keen to draw on their links to the German group. But the German group should be embarrassed by what it has spawned in the UK.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, felt compelled by its scale to pour scorn on Pegida in public comments. I doubt David Cameron has even heard of the UK's pantomime version of Pegida.

Matt Pope, the official spokesman for Pegida UK, tried his hardest not to let the mask slip, to show that this time they really are only targeting Islamic extremists and not tarring all Muslims with the same mucky brush. He tried his hardest, and he failed.

Before the rally, Pegida UK tried to distance itself from the far right. It didn't want extremists coming to the demonstration, the group said. This wasn't supposed to be about racism or hatred, but about fighting radical Islam.

Pegida UK Newcastle
National Front supporters join the Pegida UK rally in Newcastle.IBT

None of that stopped Pope and others talking from the stage about how happy they were with the turnout, or from giving their hateful speeches to the crowd, which was stuffed with far-right supporters.

"The fact is that Muslims are not integrating into our society. They're not accepting our laws. They're wanting their own laws," Pope, who in the past has called for Islam to be banned, said as he closed the rally.

It also took Pope a good minute and a half to realise that the song playing over the sound system was not, as he had promised when geeing everyone up to sing along, Land of Hope and Glory. It was Rule Britannia.

Matt Pope Pegida UK
Matt Pope of Pegida UKIBT

Even some of the Pegida demonstrators were getting sick of it all. When a section of the group started kicking off at a couple of nearby counterdemonstrators, and then began fighting amongst themselves, one man said to his friend: "Sod this, I'm off to the pub."

Perhaps the biggest indictment of Pegida UK is that it was dwarfed by Newcastle Unites, a counterdemonstration organised by the local community and which pulled in a crowd of 2,000, from trade unionists to religious leaders to Newcastle United fans.

Pegida UK begged the community to come out in support of it. But far more support came out against it on the streets of Newcastle.

Newcastle Unites Pegida UK
Newcastle Unites takes to the streetsIBT

It all felt a bit pointless, a bit tragic, a bit half-hearted. A waste of everyone's time. Why even come to Newcastle? Just 1.8% of the population of the north east of England is Muslim, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Pegida UK have said they will target London for their next demonstration, where there is a far larger population of people, including Muslims. They might get a bigger turnout. But it's also a chance for more people to turn out against them too. I wouldn't bother if I were them.

Pegida UK
Pegida UK march in NewcastleIBT