in my view

'A wasted opportunity'


THE AUDIENCE in the hall near Brick Lane looked on warily as the Metropolitan Police commander mounted the rostrum to take his seat alongside prominent black leaders and MPs. It was the day after the nail bomb had blown the Admiral Duncan pub apart. It was the day of the magnificent anti-Nazi protest in Soho and the angry march from Brixton. The protests had shown a new solidarity amongst ordinary people from all backgrounds in the face of the nail bomb horror.

This response underlined the anti-racist mood that had swept the country in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Yet here we were at the meeting being asked to put aside the police's rotten role in the Lawrence affair and welcome the commander to the struggle against the Nazis. Not many of us could do so, especially as we were but a short walk from both Cable Street and Brick Lane, where the police had protected the "right" of the Nazis to terrorise the population.

Yes, those on the platform, including local MP Oona King and Ken Livingstone, told the police that they were "drinking in the last chance saloon" and they had better catch the bomber. But there was also a worrying tendency to dampen things down and instead look to the police as somehow part of the solution to our problem. Livingstone even went so far as to "demand an alliance with the forces of the state and the community"!

In truth the politicians, local and national, missed a brilliant opportunity when they allowed the anti-Nazi mood to slip by unorganised. For instead of taking advantage of the inspiring solidarity they acted to limit the response.

If those leaders with influence had called a national demonstration quickly, if Labour MPs like Bernie Grant and Diane Abbott had seized the time, tens of thousands would have piled in behind them. They could have called on the TUC, with seven million affiliated members, to mobilise for a march and put transport on. Such a march would have had the kind of lasting impact that the two 1992 pit closures campaign marches had on people's determination to fight the Tories.

A call could have gone out to Jack Straw and Tony Blair to really show their commitment to a bigot free society by taking part in the march. Then we could have asked them, very publicly, how the hell they think passing a racist Asylum Bill contributes to a "tolerant" society. We could have asked why postal workers are to be forced to shove 15 million Nazi Euro election leaflets through letter boxes next month and why the Nazis are to be allowed to pollute our screens with a free TV broadcast.

We could even ask the editor of the Guardian why he gave letter space to BNP "publicity officer" Michael Newland last week. Newland was allowed to state unchallenged that the BNP condemned the bombs. This is from a party that denies the Holocaust and is stuffed full of thugs convicted of bomb making and firearms offences.

Such an angry demonstration would have had a transforming effect on people. It would certainly have put an end to the Nazis for the foreseeable future. But it would also have done more. It would have put black and white, gay and straight, workers together on the streets. Tragically, instead of a mass march, we were asked passively to fall back on the police. But would you trust with your life those who in 1993 both batoned anti-Nazis demonstrating against the BNP "bunker" in Welling and let Stephen's killers get away with murder?



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