You are viewing blog items for May 2009.
posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Monday, 25 May 2009, 06:41
After yesterday’s run-in with the fascist Fagan and his gang of pre-teen terrors, driver Kevin knocked me almost off my feet when he suggested another curry as we pulled into Newcastle. That’s his fourth by my count, and no doubt Mr Lowles & co will be offering further encouragement to get Kevin closer to the “difficult fifth curry” of the week before the long weekend is over.
Newcastle looked glorious (as did the bit of Gateshead we drove through) as the sun began to set on what had been an extraordinary and possibly, if you’re involved with education, depressing early afternoon watching the BNP corrupt youngsters.
Tom from the Mirror left the bus to get the train back down south, but did remind me to mention that we shared a near empty bar with former Newcastle and England footballing legend Chris Waddle on Friday night.
Today it was Newcastle town centre’s turn to host the bus. It was teaming with nervous looking Newcastle supporters, which was another reminder of how good a player Chris Waddle was and how sorely he was missed by the Geordies today when they could have done with his talents by all accounts.
We arrived at 11.30 and were warmly greeted by Unison regional convener Claire Williams and her team, who had been leafleting the town centre since 10.00am. People love this old red bus and going one better even than the women of Spennymoor yesterday, the men and women from the trade union produced a helium pump and hundreds of their own balloons. Away they went, covering the town centre with balloons and more leaflets.
“We’re so pleased you could come to the North East,” Claire told us. “We are fighting hard all over the region against a particularly nasty BNP group.”
By midday there were a good two dozen trade union activists handing out leaflets and balloons to the people of Newcastle and the support we received was fantastic. The denouncement of the BNP by the Church of England today most certainly had a positive impact and people were very willing to stop and talk about the issues and also their concerns.
I have long shared the belief that the trade union movement is really at the front of the fight against fascism. While people in Newcastle share the common discontent of the politicians in Westminster, like elsewhere they find an anti-BNP message delivered by the trade unions honest and engaging.
Claire let us leave a little early, which was good news for Kevin who faced a six-hour drive to Liverpool, but she was severe and serious in her assessment of the BNP in the North East. “They are vile up here. I know they are vile everywhere, but we have something up here that is rotten to the core and I want you take that knowledge back with you.
“We have a magnificent trade union movement who are totally dedicated to defeating the BNP’s racism, sexism and homophobia, and we will not be intimidated by the BNP’s thugs.”
Posted: 25 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Sunday, 24 May 2009, 12:46
While other members of the HOPE not hate tour team busied themselves in Lancashire, the bus headed further north.
And so, in Darlington on a Friday night, our (increasingly) stoic driver Kevin, Tom from the Mirror and I found newly weds Matthew and Manuela Sewell in our hotel lobby wondering how to get their pictures taken on top of the big red bus. Of course, we duly obliged and what smashing pictures they now have.
Foolishly waking in the morning believing that love was all around us, we took the spectacular drive to Spennymoor, through the beautiful and green English countryside, in a very bright mood.
Tom, an experienced and well travelled journalist, and I exchanged stories about some of the banal and quite honestly weird characters we had met during our careers. And I must admit, as a former BNP activist, I bettered Tom's menagerie of African warlords, clerical fascists and circus acts.
Helen Goodman, the MP for Bishop Auckland, greeted us excitedly with thirty other activists from the Labour Party, the women's refuge and local trade unions. They had been distributing the excellent leaflet on Women's Rights, which highlights the attitude of the BNP towards women, in no small way focusing on the former BNP London Assembly candidate Nick Erikson, who described rape as no worse than force feeding a woman chocolate.
While Helen was greeting us, the spectre of Adam Walker, the BNP's lead candidate in the North East, was not far away. Exhibiting the BNP's contemptuous attitude towards people with disabilities, Walker had parked his vehicle in a disabled parking space to get a close-up view of the bus. He departed with the proverbial flea in his Aryan ear.
We soon caught up with Walker and the rather bizarre Pete Molloy from Liverpool (of Fathers For Justice infamy) on the high street where they were standing with a Union Flag and struggling to give away copies of the BNP's election literature.
Helen believes that the BNP are the worst aberration of the current political vaccum one could ever imagine. "They love nothing, love no one," she told us.
"They drive us, literally, because people wonder what on earth they stand for other than hatred and division. Their attitudes towards women and the disabled in particular are beyond belief.
"They have motivated a movement here against the very things they stand for. I'm not complacent, but it is quite clear to me they are an issue, if need be, that can drive people back to the polls, even if it is only to defeat them."
Kevin and I had been using comfort stops to blow up the odd HOPE not hate balloon, but Helen's army took over the bus in seconds, inflating and distributing hundreds of balloons. They even produced string and scissors to tie them before taking to the streets of Spennymoor to hand them out.
And then, along came Mark Walker, brother of Adam. He's not so busy these days considering his employment difficulties (he lost his teaching job after allegations of accessing adult porn on school computers), so rather bizarrely he wanted to pass himself off as merely an inquisitive member of the public.
Mark's problem is that he is well known to the women from the refuge and no amount of shoving his pram at people would get them to engage with him. Instead, the women from the refuge gave his child a balloon in the vain hope of placating the child's rather excitable father.
The attempt failed. Mark Walker began a rant about lesbians and fascism and, for some reason, his rights. He then turned to the matter of the statements by Nick Erikson featured on our leaflet.
"He wrote that while he was in the Conservative Party," said Mark pushing his chest out. "And then you recruited him," came our immediate reply.
Meanwhile Adam Walker and Molloy busied themselves staring into shop windows.
The Mirror are very interested in Adam and Mark Walker, but despite their calls to be heard and to have "free speech" they would not talk to the paper's journalist. Instead, Adam Walker gave us a dubious looking salute while Molloy, having mixed and mismatched two suits, berated people passing him with HOPE not hate stickers on them. I guess he thinks that having two medals pinned to his "blazer" entitles him to behave like the Liverpudlian TV bigot Alf Garnett.
In nearby Ferryhill the mood changed. The MP for Sedgefield, Phil Wilson, has had run-ins with the BNP before and refuses to engage with them in any way. There were more BNP supporters in Ferryhill, six in all, including Adam Walker who followed us (without Molloy) and two children who boarded the bus to let off "stink bombs". I'm sure I do not need to draw any comparisons there.
While Adam Walker, who faces striking off proceedings by the General Teaching Council over religious intolerance, surrounded himself with young children, Phil Wilson spoke of his disappointment over the current scandals surrounding all politicians. "It's got to be the end of that sort of culture," he declared.
"I'm a relatively new MP so I come to the job full of enthusiasm. We have a tiny ethnic community here and we have to convince them to engage in European elections. When we see the BNP with their hatred and their divisiveness campaigning here I realise exactly what my job is about.
"It's about delivering for everyone, delivering equality, jobs and hope at a time when the cynical opportunists try and muscle in using racism to divide communities in difficult times."
That was when Mark Walker turned up again, shoving his pram and "complaining" about the smell of "stink bombs".
Walker wanted answers. He wanted to know who I was and who the Mirror journalist was. "I want your picture," he demanded of me, so being the good fellow I am, I obliged. That was not enough, however. Told by one woman that he was being silly, he actually responded with, "I'm very clever. I have qualifications to prove it."
And then the BNP showed what they are really like. The police had arrived to make sure that emotions did not boil over and suddenly the children were on their own, dumped by the BNP in the face of inquisitive eyes.
One of the children, no older than ten, walked up to Tom and shoved his face into Tom's chest. "You're a c**t you are, mister," he spat. "You're a f***ing c**t". Tom was bemused, but given the obnoxious behaviour of the BNP that he had witnessed all day, none too surprised.
On the drive to Durham, Tom and I finally concurred on who the most unpleasant person we had met was.
Posted: 24 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Wednesday, 20 May 2009, 12:35
We had our first BNP member/supporter turn up at the bus yesterday. I kid you not, he was staggering drunk with his flies undone and waving a copy of the BNP newspaper at our driver Kev who was parked up in Bulwell market's main street having a quiet and healthy snack.
Kev's come into his own a bit this year. Previously he had an aversion to curry (not good if you're on a HOPE not hate activity for any length of time) but he's already downed three on this tour and done his postal vote in case he's called upon to drive another bus out of the country when our sojourn ends. Some sojourn!
"It was like being pestered by a wasp," growled Kevin, but fortunately for Kevin and unfortunately for BNP man, there were half a dozen trade unionists he had not noticed ready to swat the "wasp" when he finally turned around (with flies still undone) and made his hasty exit.
We were in Bulwell market at the invitation of Unite the Union's Kevin Hepworth, who insisted small market towns get to see the bus and the people there get engagement on issues like racism and fascism. His last minute call-out to activists brought half a dozen activists to the town to distribute the Midlands paper and leaflets.
The morning had a Unite theme too. We caught up with our old friends from Unite who sponsored "Balls to Poverty", the sports coaching program of South Notts College. As well as coaching certificates (and rather spiffy looking sports apparel) these young men aged 16-19 get to go to South Africa and experience real poverty and working in testing conditions as a part of their course. As each one of them testifies, they come back irreversibly "changed" and committed to social justice and anti-racism.
Yesterday, Balls to Poverty was running coaching courses at a special school just outside Nottingham. The school is for young people aged three to nineteen with severe and multiple disabilities. "It's a good challenge for the young coaches to work with people with disabilities", head of school sport Adam Beazeley told us.
"We want our young coaches to give something back to the community, and we believe that communities should be as inclusive as they are challenging.
"We also want everyone to enjoy football and what you can see here is people having fun and people learning together. Some of the people here are as old, if not older, than the people coaching them, so we learn to work together and respect each other.
"We also want everyone to enjoy football and what you can see here is people having fun and people learning together. Some of the people here are as old, if not older, than the people coaching them, so we learn to work together and respect each other."
The staff at the school are incredibly dedicated to their work and the young people, running around offering encouragement and well-earned "high-fives" as the goals flew in.
We've met pop-stars and actors so far on this tour and there will be many more as the bus continues, but few things are more inspiring than meeting people who make real improvements to people's lives and bring change and commitment to communities.
When you compare these people with the sickening attitudes and comments made by the BNP's Jeff Marshall about people with disabilities, you know that we just have to win and have to defeat the BNP with greater commitment than ever before.
Posted: 20 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Tuesday, 19 May 2009, 12:55
When you've sold as many records as UB40 have (we're talking millions), it could be easy to get a little blasé, and move to the country and live in a big house away from your roots. People have done it for less.
With UB40, this has refreshingly not been the case. Aside from the very nice cars in the car park of their studios in Birmingham's back streets, this is a band that is still refreshingly grounded in the city where they rose from the dole queues to Top of the Pops. (Some of our younger readers may not be aware that 'UB40' was the proof of unemployment form for millions of Britons in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.)
The conversation has apparently not changed much either. While they're sitting together out of what they safely assume is earshot, they're discussing Children's Television comedy act The Crankies.
Norman Hassan, the band's percussionist and backing vocalist, obliges our bus driver Kevin with a tour of the studio where they are playing back the recording they made of the gig they did in Bordeaux two nights before. Norman is a large man and Kevin's not too small, but Norman's got Kevin in a firm grip. "We sound great, don't we?" he asks, roaring with laughter. Kevin agrees, because some thirty years after they started, UB40 did still have what it takes. Norman's happy with Kevin's answer and the tour of what can only be described as a labyrinth of UB40 mementos continues.
Saxophonist Brian Travers decides when it is time to brave the rain outside to get onto the bus and before long the seven of them are crammed on the top deck's sofas surrounded by two cameramen, three journalists and two photographers.
Drummer James Brown begins the debate about a BNP Britain by complaining that there would be room for little else bar Morris Dancing. The rest of the band chirp in en masse about the contribution of black music to British music, "way back it goes, you go back as far as you want and there is that influence all the way through British music," says Travers.
"We're a reggae band, obviously, but I like to think of us as a political band. Certainly our roots are political, we started playing music together when there was the National Front who stood against everything we believed in.
"I went to the Rock Against Racism Carnival at Victoria Park and from there I really understood that I was a white man in a reggae band, from Birmingham, and there were people who totally hated that, totally hated what music can do for you. The racists have never liked music and have never liked this band, and that is an honour."
While Travers and Brown dominate the interview (and in Travers's case incredibly self-deprecating wit) the rest of the band are not without their own views.
Brown is particularly concerned about communities and how they can change almost immediately and become divided. He particularly dislikes faith schools. "We have to live together and this has to start at school. My class at school was a rough mix of black, Afro-Caribbean, Irish and Asian kids and that was the way it should be."
Certainly, despite some changes in personnel over the years, this does feel very much like a school band. As we disembark, Travers is still talking about voting and the wide choice of parties to vote for. "Why choose the BNP, when there are other parties you can use to send a message to the people in power?
"Sending a racist message is the wrong message," he says, propping himself like Fred Astaire on his umbrella. Then as the band shot begins, Norman Hassan opens a UB40 umbrella to howls of excitement (and some derision) from the band. "I've been keeping this" he tells me, "for a special day like today".
Curious as to how he managed to be both a Norman and a Hassan, Hassan is delighted to tell me he has a Welsh mother and an Arab father. "That's why I'm in this band, I wouldn't want to play with anybody else. Just look at the pictures you've got. We're an assortment of modern Britain."
Posted: 19 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Sunday, 17 May 2009, 16:10
Three skinheads loittering around the hope not hate bus in Coventry raised a few eyebrows. But not to worry, "we love the message" they told us. "We love reggae, not racism"
Posted: 17 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Sunday, 17 May 2009, 13:05
Forty anti-fascist activists in Leicester delivered some 15,000 HOPE not hate newspapers on Sunday 17 May.
Joined by members of all Leicester's faith groups and the Daily Mirror team, activists took to the streets of Belgrave before moving further out into the city over four hours while the threat of rain amazingly held off.
By the time the heavens opened, everyone was safely ensconced inside the Belgrave Community Centre for an afternoon of song provided by the Leicester Amika choir and the trade union activists of the Red Leicester choir, who sang progressive and trade union songs of struggle, faith, comradeship and hope.
Lancashire's super-activist, Jason Hunter, sprang to mind when the most magnificent curry arrived mid-afternoon. Jason would have enjoyed what was the hottest HOPE not hate curry I can remember.
The day could not have been the success it was without the magnificent planning and co-ordination of Harish Patel and his friends and colleagues from the Indian community, local councillors and Unite the Union.
"We have to spread the message of hope," Harish said. "We have to all be united against hatred and united in hope. Nobody here, no matter their faith or their background, wants the BNP speaking for Leicester."
Posted: 17 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Sam | on: Saturday, 16 May 2009, 13:05
Looking out of my window on Saturday morning I was a little worried by the grey weather at 7am. But just like the HOPE not hate logo the sun was soon shining as our team of organisers had breakfast, before setting off to collect 50,000 leaflets from Jon Cruddas's office where they had been prepared the night before. The suspension on our Ford Fiesta was really low after 30,000 leaflets and three men were crammed in.
Half the organisers had already headed to St Margaret's Church in Barking to start setting up for the day of HOPE. By the time we arrived, HOPE not hate balloons decorated the front of the church and people in yellow T-shirts were busy preparing for the day ahead. Big pots of tea were on the go - food was coming later.
By 10.30 around 40 activists had turned up, including Jon Cruddas MP and the new Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Liam Smith, all eager to get out leafleting. As we readied the walks and handed out bags of leaflets, more and more people arrived - the Mayor of Barking, the Vicar of St Margaret's Church, local people, activists from across east London, the Labour Party, the Irish Society, Young Labour activists, trade unionists from Barking GMB branches B10 and B11. In total over 70 people came out, including one super activist all the way from Basingstoke.
The order of the day was a cracking, four-page, full colour glossy leaflet, proudly sponsored by Barking GMB, which ripped into the BNP over their mad caravan park scheme to solve the local housing shortage. It also featured a rogues' gallery of possibly Britain's worst councillors, showing how some BNP councillors had cost local taxpayers nearly £1,700 per meeting attended.
After a photo shoot in front of the HOPE not hate bus and the ancient church, activists headed out across the borough. A number of wards were completely covered and in many large chunks were completed with small areas to finish off this week.
An amazing spread, prepared by Mrs Tarry, was put on for lunch, which hungry activists tucked into before going out again for another two hours. David Lammy MP, the Minister for Higher Education, joined us for lunch and spent the afternoon delivering HOPE across Barking; he even caught the bus home afterwards with activists. A great day was had by all and people left fired up to do more in the weeks to come.
A special thanks must go to Thompsons solicitors and members of the Parliamentary Unite T&G branch who came down on Friday and knocked out a big part of one ward. The rest of the 50,000 leaflets should have gone out over the next ten days with sessions planned this week in another three wards.
HOPE not hate local organiser
PS I won my bet with Cllr Smith that Leicester Tigers would beat London Irish in the rugby Premiership final. So he now has to deliver 1,000 of my HOPE not hate leaflets on his own in a ward of my choice!
Posted: 16 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Andy Vine | on: Friday, 15 May 2009, 13:30
It's Friday 15 May and that means it is Union Friday. At 8am this morning Unison staff began leafleting at Manchester Victoria station. A rota system should see people there all day, with other Unison activists covering Manchester Piccadilly station and Albert Square over the lunchtime period.
Later this afternoon about 30 GMB organisers and activists will be delivering newspapers in the south of the city and a similar number of USDAW activists will be out in Fallowfield.
There are activities taking place around the country and hopefully I'll be reporting on these in more detail later. The West Midlands region of the GMB are out in central Birmingham and about 30 staff from Unison HQ will be covering Euston station this afternoon.
I'm trying to get through the day without getting too despondent with Leeds' failure to get to the play-off finals (but at least Shrewsbury are there). I took a break from the campaign to go and watch the match though at least I got a commitment from the GMB (Mick Rix and Steve Kemp who were at the match with me) that they would co-ordinate a cross union activity in South London in the next week or two.
Anyway, guess I should go and brave the rain and do some leafleting
Posted: 15 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Saturday, 9 May 2009, 22:54
The first Sandwell Day of Action in Smethwick went brilliantly with over 8,000 newspapers delivered today. On top of that, several thousand newspapers were taken by local groups to be delivered in the next few days.
Gurinder Josan said, "we had a very successful day with many new people joining us and several people promising to come back and help us on our second Sandwell Day of Action in West Bromwich on 30th May".
West Bromwich West MP Adrian Bailey joined the group during the lunch break. Speaking to the volunteers, Adrian reminded everybody of the importance of the work they were doing and that the BNP had nothing positive to offer people in places such as Sandwell.
A fabulous curry was enjoyed by the volunteers and there was enough to share with around 40 elderly people attending a drop-in session at the neighbouring hall.
Posted: 9 May 2009 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments