Sunday, 26 April 2009

What I would have said...

at yesterday's UAF (Unite Against Fascism) North West conference, had I had the chance to do a full speech:

"Firstly can I convey apologies from Peter Cranie our number 1 candidate in the Euro-elections who had a prior engagement in Cumbria and has asked me to express his support.

UAF has supporters across the political spectrum. We will have disagreements as Political Parties but at least we are all legitimate Parties, the BNP have forfeited any right to be treated as such; their Press Officer Simon Darby has let slip that so called Party's true nature, by describing it as 'technically an ethnic group' - clearly an admission that the BNP is a completely race-based, and racist, organisation, unlike any legitimate UK political party.

If the BNP are elected, it will give them legitimacy far above any before, and tarnish British politics and damage community relations for years to come, maybe even decades.

It is vital that turnout in this election is high.

Clearly UAF can not be partisan, but I would stress that this is a proportional election, not ‘first past the post’ and usual assumptions about tactical voting do not apply. Labour, Lib Dems and Tories will all win representation; we will be competing directly with the fascists for a seat. We were just 1% point behind the BNP in the last Euro election, since then our membership and our number of council seats have increased across the North West, If we finish with a higher vote than them that will almost certainly prevent them getting a seat. So I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but if you’re thinking of how to vote tactically – bear that in mind; (for more information see 'Stop Nick Griffin' . In interests of balance, in a first past the post election in most places you would probably vote tactically for another Party, and understandably so.

But looking beyond this European election, all Parties (including mine) need to ask themselves why people in these areas targeted by the BNP feel neglected, why they are seduced by the politics of hate. These people need jobs, hope, and justice instead of an economic system that has betrayed them. Instead of bailing out the bankers and squandering billions on Trident and ID cards, we should be investing in Green jobs, in areas like insulation, renewable energy and public transport - providing employment as well as improving quality of life for these neglected estates and combating the threat of climate change.

And Government and Councils need to do so much more, - they must stop taking people’s votes for granted, and playing groups off against each other. Mainstream politicians must stop pandering to the right wing press, they must stand up to the scaremongering and the scapegoating of ethnic minorities, migrants and asylum seekers, and guarantee justice for the most vulnerable in our society."

'A Child of Our Time'.

It's surprising how often 2 (or even more) events on the same day can be connected. Following the UAF meeting I attended a performance of Michael Tippett's "A Child of Our Time" (by Salford Choral Society, of which my wife is a member). The writing of the work started 2 days before the outbreak of World War 2; the 'Child' in the title is a real-life 17 year old Polish Jew who, angered by the persecution of his mother, shoots a German diplomat; a violent pogrom follows in Germany, and the boy later 'disappears' after being handed over to the Nazis.
The opening chorus line is 'The World turns on its dark side' - let us make sure it does not turn on its dark side again.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Is St George slaying the racist dragon?

For years the cross of St George, and English nationalism in general, was feared by many to be the preserve of the far right. More recently a determined effort has been made in some quarters to ensure that St George and his flag unites people of every faith and colour who feel an attachment to the concept of England. This week, in the run up to St George's Day, how far have we come along that road?

I witnessed the St George's Day parade in the centre of Manchester today. To be honest it is not an event to which I would normally have gone (and the reason is not that I am half Scottish). There were relatively few ethnic minority faces (interestingly, and maybe depressingly, the highest concentration was on the army float around which young soldiers were dishing out recruitment leaflets). Outside of the Elizabethan costume, morris dancers and medieval pikemen, there was a shortage of colour literally in the floats as well; noticeable to someone who has witnessed the Mardi Gras parade and the Mela in Platt Fields.

There is much to be proud of in English history, including the contributions made to our country by other cultures, and it's a shame this was not more visible in today's march. I did have the feeling that this was targeted at the predominantly white north and east of Manchester, perhaps on the basis that the ethnic minorities have their own festivals? Yes, there was a good sprinkling of BME people both on the parade and watching but at the present time, with the risk of the far right exploiting people's fears and insecurities it's a pity that a parade in honour of our patron saint, (who is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine and Portugal) was not more inclusive.

Speaking of Palestine, it was noticeable that there were more Afro-Caribbean people than Asian at the parade. Yesterday, I attended the AGM of Greater Manchester Stop the War and the alienation felt by many Muslims in our society was very prominent, following the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. With the recent high-profile arrests of students in Manchester and Liverpool and the suspension of employees in Preston apparently just for receiving emails, the situation is likely to get worse.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Have we just had a lucky escape?

I am referring to last week’s arrest of various Pakistani students in Manchester and elsewhere and the North-West and the statement from Police that a major terrorist incident was just about to take place in Manchester (within days in fact). Amongst venues mentioned were the Trafford Centre, the Arndale Centre and the Birdcage Club.

Now, why am I not sighing with relief and praising Police for their prompt action?? Well for a start, after the recent G20 business, when the Police blatantly lied over the circumstances around the death of Ian Tomlinson, I no longer believe anything they say. It’s not as if that was the first time; repeatedly we get stories from Police forces which subsequently turn out to be complete porkies, from the events around the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes to the ’70 Police injured by protestors at Kingsnorth’.

Regarding these arrests, on the one hand we are told they are being speeded up because a careless chief Plod in London displayed the secret details to the cameras, on the other hand we are told bombs could have gone off this weekend (in which case how much longer where they going to leave it?). Nor should we be too Quick to see this as a cock-up – maybe it’s something more sinister as former British Ambassador Craig Murray points out.
According to a friend of my son, the Trafford Centre was swarming with police last Saturday; I went into the centre of Manchester (I avoid the Trafford Centre like the plague) and found it all quiet on the police presence front. Proves nothing either way.

It gives me no pleasure to feel this total lack of confidence. I am not naïve, I know there are violent extremists out there with the intention of committing murder and mayhem. But I am confident of some things:

- the suspicion and hostility shown to Muslims in our society, and the clamour on behalf of the police and others for longer detention without charge, will increase the risk of a violent response
- a police force which shows contempt for the truth time and again (in incidents ranging from the Hillsborough tragedy 20 years ago to the ‘Ricin plot’) has a diminishing chance of public belief and co-operation if and when there is a genuine terrorist incident
- there is far far more chance of being killed in a road accident in this country (and most countries) than by an act of terrorism.

So in conclusion no I don’t think we’ve had a lucky escape on this one.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Green Shoots Spring Forth in Manchester

Further evidence that Green can be popular and fun as well as worthy were illustrated by two events I attended in Manchester in the space of 3 days.

Firstly came the Chorlton Big Green festival, a new venture in what is arguably Manchester’s greenest (with a small g at least) suburb, and one which is sure to be repeated based on Saturday’s attendance. The organisers reckon an estimated 2000 people attended a day long programme of music, talks, films and visual events against a backdrop of ranges of stalls both inside and outside the St Clements Church venue.
The day was rounded off with a stomping ceilidh around the church pillars.

Excellent day though it was, much of the content could be described as a bit twee to hardened Greens, with a lot of emphasis on alternative therapists and arts and crafts, but hopefully there was enough message getting out there as well.

This was followed yesterday (Monday) by the launch of Call to Real Action at the Northern Quarter’s Nexus Café. This is the response of a number of green-minded people in Manchester to the City Council’s ‘Call to Action’ and has been mentioned in previous blogposts.

Before even entering the building I was struck by the window display of 3 models dressed entirely in clothes recycled from household and other objects. Inside, a packed café we were treated to various entertainments and the first sight of the finished 62 page ‘Call to Real Action’ document.
Actually ‘finished’ is a misnomer – this is very much a living document which will continue to grow and adapt in contrast to its Council-owned counterpart.
Unfortunately there were no Council representatives at the launch, but they will not escape exposure…