Some 50,000 people turned out in London’s Trafalgar Square last Saturday for a carnival against the fascist British National Party (BNP) organised by Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) and Unite Against Fascism.
The crowd was young and diverse, but united in its opposition to the Nazis.
Scottish indie rock stars Belle & Sebastian headlined the event, alongside bands, singers and urban acts such as Roll Deep, Boy Kill Boy, Lethal Bizzle and many others.
Musicians and speakers all rammed home the urgency of beating back the BNP, fighting against racism and defending our multicultural society. The crowd chanted anti-fascist slogans in response.
Glyn Ford MEP warned the audience that fascist and far right parties were on the rise across Europe: “Unless we’re active in campaigning against the BNP, they will become part of the political scene, just like in France, Italy and Belgium.”
Derek Simpson, general secretary of the Amicus union, underlined the importance of people using their vote against the BNP. “All the mainstream parties, including my own, are messing things up. But we have still got to get out and vote on Thursday,” he said.
One of the most moving moments of the afternoon was when Donna, Dominique and Angela Walker – three sisters of murdered black teenager Anthony Walker – joined Anthony’s cousin David Okoro on the stage to denounce the BNP.
Fascist groups thrive on and spread race hatred and violence, said David, and people are still being killed for the colour of their skin.
Several speakers mentioned Christopher Alaneme, an 18 year old black man who was murdered by racists on Friday 21 April in Kent.
While the focus of the event was opposition to the BNP, many of the bands also attacked Tony Blair and the government for allowing a climate of racism and Islamophobia to grow.
Anger at the war in Iraq was also evident, with the London?based Islamic hip-hop crew Mecca 2 Medina devoting their opening track to attacking the war and occupation.
The BNP is running its local election campaign on virulently Islamophobic lines, hoping to capitalise on the atmosphere of anti-Muslim racism whipped up by the media and mainstream politicians.
Tahmina Saleem from the Muslim Council of Britain spoke at the carnival to highlight the need for unity against the BNP to undermine the Nazis’ attempts to appear “respectable”.
She said she was proud to be appearing on the same platform as gay rights group Stonewall. “Whatever our differences, we will unite with anyone and stand together with anybody against the BNP and for respect and tolerance,” she said.
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism, urged young people at the rally to get active in the campaign against the BNP. “The size of this event proves that there are many more of us than there are of them,” he said.
Police stop Pete Doherty playing
The one disappointment of last Saturday’s LMHR carnival was when Pete Doherty, lead singer of Babyshambles and a longstanding supporter of the campaign, was prevented from playing at the event by the police.
Pete was arrested by police officers on drugs charges on Saturday morning, held all day and only released on bail on Sunday morning.
Drew McConnell from Babyshambles appeared at the carnival and sang Pete’s song Albion to show the band’s solidarity with the cause.
LMHR organisers asked the police to bail Pete in time for the event, but to no avail.
The police had always opposed Pete playing at the carnival, despite the fact that the singer had played a similar event last year without any trouble.
The crowd at the carnival greeted the news with anger against the police for what many felt was a deliberate move to prevent Pete from appearing.
Martin Smith from LMHR told the carnival, “Haven’t the police got anything better to do – like arrest the murderers of Stephen Lawrence, or arrest the BNP.”
The Beat in Wakefield
On Thursday of last week, hundreds of people packed Wakefield Working Men’s Club to see ska band the Beat supported by local band Snapp.
The event was organised by LMHR and sponsored by the Wakefield and Pontefract hospitals Unison union branch.
It exposed the myth promoted by the likes of Margaret Hodge MP that white working class areas are in the grip of the BNP.
All night activists spoke to people from communities where the BNP are trying to gain a foothold. There were debates with people who were deeply disillusioned with New Labour who want to see it punished at the polls.
But the arguments were soundly won when Unison branch secretary Adrian O’Malley spoke from the platform, asking, “What does the BNP’s plan for an all white Britain mean in reality?
“Imagine our hospital with no Filipino nurses, no Asian doctors and cleaners. There would be no hospital.”