Socialist Worker

This blue city is turning red

by Roger Protz
Issue No. 1836

THERE WAS a small revolution in St Albans last week, one that should give Tony Blair pause for thought as he shackles Britain to the chariot wheels of US imperialism. A meeting called by the Stop the War Coalition turned out to be the biggest protest meeting the city has seen in living memory.

Around 350 people packed a school hall. There weren't sufficient chairs, and latecomers had to sit on stairs and at the back of the platform. If the hall had rafters, people would have been hanging from them. Eighty people had to be turned away. The meeting was so big it was in danger of breaking the safety regulations.

Thunderous applause greeted speeches by George Galloway MP, Lindsey German of the national Stop the War Coalition, Dean of St Albans Christopher Lewis, Rebecca Gumbrell of the Quakers, and Raza Khan of the Islamic Rights Commission. The support for the meeting was even more remarkable when you consider that the original meeting place, the city's theatre, was cancelled when the theatre's owners decided they couldn't stage a 'political' event.

It was the Dean of St Albans who helped find a new meeting place in a girls' school, and frantic activity took place to publicise the change of venue. St Albans is in Hertfordshire, just 20 miles from central London. It's best known for its cathedral and Roman remains.

Boudicca set fire to the Roman city where St Albans now stands, the local people enthusiastically supported the dissolution of the monasteries in Tudor times, and they backed parliament against the crown during the English Civil War.

Nothing much has happened in St Albans for a century or two. Since the 1950s it has returned one reactionary Tory MP after another. Its industry has disappeared. The house I live in was one of a block built by Marconi after the Second World War for its workers, but Marconi closed several years ago.

St Albans should not be dismissed as simply a middle class city. There are council estates, a large working class population, a thriving Italian community-descendants of refugees from Mussolini's fascism in the 1930s-and now an influential Muslim community as well.

With large numbers of people commuting to London to work in white collar jobs, St Albans has not been a hotbed of political activity. Then in 1997 it elected a Labour MP for the first time in almost half a century. Streets normally festooned in blue have switched to posters for Labour. Whatever you think of New Labour, electing a Labour MP amounted to a small earthquake in a place like St Albans.

The radicalisation has now gone further. The support for the anti-war meeting last week was stunning. I've lived in St Albans for 25 years and I sat transfixed in the gallery of the school hall at the size of the turnout, the quality of the debate from platform and floor, and the £1,300 that was raised following a financial appeal.

The local Labour Party boycotted the meeting. The chairman said he did not attend meetings 'organised by the SWP', a remark that is factually incorrect and insulting to the 350 who turned up to voice their anger over Blair's supine support for the Texan oil barons.

I hope Blair gets to hear about the meeting. He may win the war but he's in serious danger of losing the peace.

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Sat 1 Feb 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1836
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