Last week I was in Durham at the miners Gala. I stood in the sun and watched 1000’s of people, parade with their brass band, waving banners proudly displaying the name of some colliery or union & playing fantastic brass music to the delight of the crowd. They headed eventually to the racecourse where an estimated 100’000 people, gathered to hear speeches by left wing voices crying out for change. Crying out for better housing, for jobs for all, to scrapping 0 hour contracts & fighting against the rising tide of racism
A few hours later I heard some voices leaving the gala, singing an EDL chant. A few hours after that I’m in an impassioned debate in a pub with a local Durham man called Ernie and his two friends. They had told me, after our conversation had turned political, that what they had been talking about most of the day, was the Muslims and what needed to be done to stop them taking over our country. It didn’t make any sense. Why had the People leaving a left wing Gala been motivated towards such right wing issues.
It didn’t make any sense. Why had the People leaving a left wing Gala been motivated towards such right wing issues.
No stalls or talks were promoting this, in fact they were promoting the opposite. The Gala had simply encouraged working class people to come together for a cause of better wealth, power and resource distribution.
It worried me greatly, particularly because this was not the first time in the last few month’s I’d heard these type of comments. It seems like racism and nationalism is significantly on the rise within the working class communities of the North East and I found myself unable to stay silent.
I shared with my new Durham friends a story about a political leader from Germany in the 20’s. I told them how there was a lot of poverty at the time and how this leader had told people that the answer was to tackle immigration and particularly to the Combat the growing power of the Jews. Conversations began to happen all over Germany, that the Jews were taking over their country. The young German man, highlighted inequality faced by Jew & non-Jew and said, “why do they have more than us? Why are we allowing them to steal our jobs & industry. We need to fight to keep our country German & take back what is ours”. The people agreed and the young man gained their trust and gained power. The mans name was Hitler.
My new Durham friends were astounded as they realised how similar their conversations had been to this. I asked them to consider whether immigration was maybe a distraction to what the real issues that we as a nation are facing. I questioned whether they too could be listening to similar types of lies & propaganda that gave rise to Nazi Germany? I asked them to consider what other issues there where that might need to be tackled.
“Well its them bankers isn’t it, their tha ones that bankrupted us aren’t tha?” replied Ernie in his strong Durham twang, “Aye”, said his mate, “and them bonuses they all get & they still complaining, like that Mike Ashley trying to get a £200 million bonus when his staff can’t even get more than a zero hour contract, it’s shocking”
I smiled. “So maybe the Imam who prays 5 times a day on his little mat, isn’t the one we need to fear after all? Maybe there is a different cause we need to stand together and fight for?” I questioned. I explained that I had joined the Labour Party a couple of years ago to be part of a political movement that is about the redistribution of wealth, Power and resources to the many, not the few. Ernie told me he had torn up his card a few years ago, because he didn’t feel Labour was for him anymore. It saddened me, but I understood. People have turned away from the mainstream parties as they have lost trust and hope for change; but my feeling is that if we all turn away, rip up our cards and stop voting, then nothing will change, or worse, we leave the power in the hands of the people who do care and if they care for the wrong reasons, then our country could get much worse.
After a few more minutes of conversation Ernie and his friends told me that they would vote for me. I smiled, but I knew it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t about me. Voices like Ernie’s need to be heard and listened to if we are to protect our country from right wing extremism, from unethical corporations that exploit it’s employees, or from political parties that would rip the heart out of our health and social care services by selling it off the highest bidder. Britain is a great nation, but the whole foundation of it’s greatness, it’s compassion, it’s care for others, it’s tolerance, it’s justness, it’s fairness, it’s inclusivity and it’s equality of opportunity are all at risk of being eroded. I am on a journey to see what it would take to get our communities to join as one, to get active, to get political and to get mobilised. I want to know what it would take to win Ernie’s heart again and the many hundreds of thousands like him and how Ernie could play a role in protecting and developing our communities, re-building our towns and cities and keeping Britain great.
If you have any thoughts about this, I’d love to hear them. What do you think?