Good music, crap politics

Stoke-on-Trent: anti-fascism

The May local elections saw the first British National Party councillor elected in the Potteries. Riding on the back of a general antipathy toward asylum-seekers, the BNP is looking for another victory at the September 18 by-election in Stoke-on-Trent’s Abbey Green ward. The left in the city has reacted to this by leafleting the area under the aegis of the North Staffs Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (Norscarf - see Weekly Worker April 3), and the Socialist Party is going one step further by challenging the fascists with its own candidate.

As part of the campaign against the BNP, Fenton Sixth Form College was host to the travelling Love Music, Hate Racism road show on Sunday September 7. The Anti-Nazi League and the local paper predicted that thousands of people would turn up for the afternoon. In the end the mixture of music, dancing and speeches attracted some 500 or so. Compared with turnouts at other LMHR carnivals elsewhere, this was disappointing - but unsurprising, given the lack of advance publicity and extensive flyposting. Nonetheless, most of the local left was present in the form of Norscarf, trade union, Socialist Workers Party and SP stalls. Particularly striking was the amount of ‘imported’ comrades both the latter organisations had mobilised, and their general muted presence. Young activists happily handed out liberal-sounding anti-fascist and anti-war leaflets, but you had to actually approach the stalls if you fancied a copy of Socialist Worker.

The sets began around midday. The main stage catered for a variety of tastes, from the rap-funk of Dirty Money to the home-grown ‘baggy punk’ of controversial rockers, Big Cash Prizes. Politics therefore were very much confined to banter between songs. Ben of student band Friends of Ken called for all present to use their vote to drive the BNP out of the council chamber. Unfortunately his advice to under-18s was a meek “Just wait until you’re old enough to vote”. Thankfully socialist rapper Paracat of The Unpeople made up for this. The comrade eloquently raged over the poverty, war and fascism endemic to capitalism, and rapped about the revolutionary action required to over come them.

The halfway point of the day was marked by a series of speeches. The mayor, Mike Wolfe, made a surprisingly good contribution. He argued that racism was based on the lie of racial superiority, and was believed by a lot of people. Wolfe also noted how the hostility toward asylum-seekers cut across racial lines, perhaps reflecting the success of Blair’s project of an ‘inclusive Britishness’. The link between scape-goating and poverty was made, but the mayor’s solution was to try and secure more investment for Stoke. He suggested that, if we could just believe in ourselves, the BNP would not get anywhere: “They’d never beguile us with their lies,” he concluded.

Next was Joan Whalley MP. She continued with the investment theme, pledging to work together with everyone and anyone in parliament to get Stoke regenerated. Deputy council leader and Norscarf president Chris Wood focussed more on the character of the BNP, with the usual fare about “thugs in suits”. The way to combat them was to turn out on September 18 and prevent them from using apathy to get in. Finally a speaker from the Racial Equality Council made the point that music transcends racial boundaries, depending on and celebrating multiculturalism.

Overall the carnival was of some value, despite the relatively low attendance. It was important that a number of leading local bands and DJs made an anti-racist stand by playing the event, going against the tide of general opinion in the city. However, from the communist point of view, the SP missed the opportunity to publicise its candidate, and the left failed to put forward a unified working class answer to the BNP’s ‘radicalism’. It was very much the case of good music, crap politics.