Yesterday saw the Love Music Hate Racism festival at Victoria Park.
Thirty years on from the important Rock Against Racism carnival, things are rather different now. The east end has changed totally since 1978. Racial violence in Tower Hamlets today is more likely to be Bengali on Somali or brown on white. Bengali figures dominate politics in the borough, in all 3 main parties - something unthinkable 30 years ago. As if that were not enough, there is also Respect, a party whose MP has already declared his intention to stand aside for a 'local candidate' at the next election - I somewhat doubt he means a white working class woman.
Labour barely bothers canvassing in many working class areas in Hackney, Tower Hamlets or Newham, although the rapidly expanding middle class areas in each borough is visited with enthusiasm at each election.
In 1978 Rock Against Racism organisers ignored the fact that the National Front were mobilising at Brick Lane, refusing to tell activists what was happening a couple of miles away in case it 'distracted from the day'. At least the The SWP has not changed!
Although the Anti-Nazi league logo was being used on placards, the Socialist Workers Party's current anti-fascist front group is actually Unite Against Fascism, the ANL has come and gone three times (by my calculations) since 1978! Each change has been a hierarchical, from the top down decision enforced upon the 'membership'. The numbers lost and disillusioned by such nonsense must run into the thousands.
Summertime - And The Living Is Easy?
One of the biggest changes though, was apparent when you entered Victoria Park. The highlight of London's summers was always its free events - the festivals and Carnivals in parks and fields across the capital. Here was an opportunity to eat, drink and be merry with friends in the sunshine, with very little in the way of rules and regulation.
No such luck yesterday. Whilst it may not have cost you anything to get in, the Carnival was far from free. Firstly you had to queue up to be funnelled through a gated entry system, with compulsory bag search. The sort of things you get all the time in Victoria Park - bikes, cans of beer and dogs, were naturally not allowed through.
I had a roll of gaffer tape I had absent-mindedly left in my bag confiscated, on the grounds it could be used as an offensive weapon (a decision that seemed to be taken entirely on the say-so of the steward. No lists were available of what could or could not be taken into the Park) Anyone with soft drinks was forced to take the lid off the bottle, apparently so they could not be thrown at the artists. Needless to say an on-site security presence was still required. Why? In case anyone should throw anything at the artists!
Tempting as it is to blame all this on the SWP/UAF, I suspect that would not be fair in this instance. No doubt every summer festival and carnival will be the same, a regulated, money driven closed arena - a depressing state of affairs.
Those who attended the 1978 Rock Against Racism carnival would not have stood for it. The question is - why do we?