General Blog, Politics Blog

Racism, Nationalism & The Miners Gala

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.

A Nazi sign taken at Auschwitz
A Nazi sign taken at Auschwitz

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.

Another sign from Auschwitz
Another sign from Auschwitz

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?

3 thoughts on “Racism, Nationalism & The Miners Gala”

  1. Well said Jessie! Education is the key to this, to educate people on past history and how we need to strive to not make the same mistakes again. Just as you told the story about Hitler as a comparison to the way they were talking about immigrants in Britain. It has to start with people. We cannot just leave our fate to governments, we need to be in there at the core, to start to understand what is going on in Britain. People need to know the truth and to act on those truths. I used to think that I wasn’t politically minded or educated enough to understand politics, until I realised that politics does affect every single one of us, it is about people and we have heard such horror stories of people being made homeless because they have disabilities that the government do not believe and they have paid companies who are not properly educated on the medical issues of these disabilities making decisions about their lives, so how on earth can they decide the fate of a vulnerable person and that’s just for starters. It is cruel, unjust and should not be happening in this day and age. I admire your courage and although I certainly do not have anywhere near all the answers, I do know that we, in Britain, do need to pull together and help one another, to have compassion for other people’s plights, to achieve a fairer society for all and not just think about ourselves individually with an ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude, which I’m sure we have all done at one time or another, when we have been afraid. Let us change Britain and have the courage and tenacity to improve the lives of so many instead of the priviledged few skimming the cream.

  2. A brilliant piece Jessie. I am nowhere near having any answers, but can identify some of the problems, just as you have. Perhaps the biggest issue is our broken political system? Parties of all colours (though not necessarily all politicians) are poorly representing the people and instead pursue reelection as their primary goal ie power. A poor, archaic, non obligatory voting system doesn’t help. Using technology, having a ‘none of the above’ option and possibly even making it compulsory *might* improve voter turn out. The ability for the people to recall MPs is a must have, rather than the current proposal which is for MPs to have this power themselves.

    Education, as Izzy notes, is pretty crucial. An old friend of mine, who as a History teacher, told me that countries with longer, mandatory periods of history lessons at school (I want to say Austria, but I have no evidence) have far larger voter turnout. I have no memory of history at school, and certainly no memory of anything approaching a political understanding of the world around me. Perhaps a Education Secretaries ought to place a high emphasis on producing young people with an understanding of the world and people around them rather than ‘just’ the pursuit of exam results?

    I’ll vote for you as well!

  3. I think there is a scary correlation between UKIP scare-mongering tactics in their propaganda, their rise in power and that of Nazi rise to power.

    On the other hand, I can see how it is easy to come to resent and be fearful of foreign cultures. I think a lack of integration is at the route of it. There needs to be more opportunities for foreigners to learn English. I was told recently by a local MEP that the Home Office specifically allocated immigrants to certain areas so they were in groups in the past. They no longer to do this, but now immigrants, understandably, gravitate towards these areas, as anyone would in a new land. However, if there were more opportunities to mix with a wide range of cultures, meet them, became friends with people of different backgrounds there would be less fearful and less likely to feel resentful when they see them in a much realer sense beyond stereotypes and tabloid media that attempts to stir up racial hatred for their own political agendas.

    It’s a two-way street and foreigners also need to demonstrate a degree of adaptability, I don’t believe in being overly sensitive to religions and cultures, I think you should be prepared to integrate and be flexible in the country in which you’re seeking refuge.

    It’s bizarre to me that young people don’t go out to vote in the same way the older generation do. The changes that are made as a result of voting is more likely to be seen by the younger generations.They have the benefit of being able to see the changes so why aren’t they taking an interest? I don’t think politics is taught with any level of enthusiasm in schools. Citizenship was taught by teachers of Geography, History and other humanity subjects as a once a fortnight class. Politics should not be just a choice at A level but should be taught at GCSE and younger as a subject with just as much importance as any of the humanities. School parliaments should be present in every school to show how politics in Britain works and encourage students to get involved and take an active role so it wouldn’t seem so alien when they left school and became of voting age. I think they need to be encouraged to make their own opinions rather than regurgitate the same political views they hear by their parents.

    Another fantastic post, I love it. You make some excellent points. I wish I’d been to the Miner’s Gala, I’d heard good things about it from my Mam too.

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