A People’s Manifesto for the Arts

Last Saturday out on the South Bank with artist Bob and Roberta Smith to create ‘A People’s Manifesto for the Arts’ with passing members of the public. Bob had already written his own manifesto that he intended to harangue politicians with but he wanted to gauge what interest there was amongst the public to advocate for the arts during the election campaign.

Bob passionately defends the Arts and Education – seeing Art as central to free expression and a core component of democracy.

“Before we vote in June’s election we must consider what kind of culture we want to live in.”Bob and Roberta Smith, The Guardian

I’ve heard him point out that tyrannical regimes always target Artists and Writers – and this Tory government has aggressively attacked the arts by withdrawing funding and eroding the place of creative subjects in the school curriculum. If your intention is to create a servile nation of worker drones the last thing you want to do is encourage them to think for themselves. Art and Culture requires you to see the world through your own eyes and encourages you to express your own feelings about the world aroud you.

In the 2015 General Election Bob ran for Parliament against Tory Education Secretary, Michael Gove in the ultra safe seat of Surrey Heath. He ran a spirited campaign which provided a great platform to advocate for the Arts and highlight how Gove’s policies had damaged the teaching of Creative subjects in schools.

“Post-Brexit, we face a dissolution of our museums and galleries comparable in its devastation to that visited on England in the 1530s, as philistine politicians slash budgets. Art schools and the arts in schools will be further diminished in a wave of manufactured disdain for so-called elitists.Bob and Roberta Smith, The Guardian

In a post-Brexit Britain the situation for Art, Culture, and Science looks uncertain so Bob’s campaigning is ever more vital.

You can find out more about Vote Art here

Battle of Cable Street 80 Years On

Fantastic uplifting scenes yesterday at the march and rally to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street when the people of the East End poured onto the streets to stop Oswald Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts marching through the Jewish East End on 4th October 1936. As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out in his speech, it marked an important turning point in the fight against fascism in Europe in the 1930’s – Mosley had strong support among the British Establishment and had gained the sympathy from powerful right-wing newspapers (you can probably guess which). ‘The Battle’ that took place in 1936 was between the Metropolitan Police and the public defending the East End Streets – the Met there to protect Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. A Police Liaison Officer I spoke to in the march joked about how a he’d have received a very different reception from the crowd in 1936. He’d have been baton charging them on a horse most likely.

80 Years on and this was not a day of conflict but of celebration, a day to remember an important moment of unity and reflect on the lessons we still need to learn today. Nearly everyone I spoke to in the video above stressed that echoes of the rhetoric of division and hatred from the 1930’s were rearing their heads again. Racially motivated attacks in post-Brexit Britain are on the rise. Our tabloids spread fear and hatred of refugees.

The Great Yiddish Parade band soundtracked the day with interjections from a vocal anti-fascist section who chanted slogans in Italian and lit the way with multi-coloured flares. Banner of the event for me was the Woodcraft Folk – satin green hoisted on heavy-looking wooden poles and catching the wind blowing down Commercial Road. I was told how the Woodcraft Folk had lined up alongside the rainbow coalition of Jewish, Anarchist, Communist, Irish, and Trade Unionist groups who turned out on that day in 1936.

I also spoke with a friend of Altab Ali – the young Bangladeshi man stabbed to death by racists in 1978. The park where he was murdered today bears his name and was the mustering point for the march.

Cable Street 1936 is a powerful resonator in the history of London and events such as those yesterday remind us of the power of unity and community that we must never forget.

Chilcot Report Iraq War protest in Westminster

Protestors gathered this morning outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster for the publication of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq War.

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I spoke to Carole Vincent who I often see around the streets of Leytonstone. Carole hoped that David Kelly’s name would be raised today – the UN weapons inspector who many believed was murdered for his questioning of the government’s claim that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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There was also a young British-Iraqi student visibly upset when talking of the destruction wrought upon her homeland, violence that continues to this day with 250 Iraqis killed in a bombing on Sunday.
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The chant of the day was for Tony Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes – or at the very least to be impeached an stripped of his privileges as a former Prime Minister. As I walked around to Parliament Square I saw relatives of soldiers killed in the Iraq War in tears. It was a day of sadness and anger in Westminster – let’s hope it leads towards some form of justice.

Euro Art Happening on the beach at Ramsgate

The other Sunday I took a ride down to Ramsgate to film Bob and Roberta Smith’s EU Referendum inspired art happening on the beach in Ramsgate. Bob installed a large painting on legs in the channel with France behind in the distance – the work baring the statement WE HAVE ONLY GOT EACH OTHER – a phrase used by Bob’s 92-year old mother when they discussed the forthcoming referendum on EU membership.

 

Huge Downing Street protest against bombing Syria

Yesterday I went down to Whitehall to join the protest outside Downing Street against the government’s planned bombing of Syria. The banners seemed more creative than usual. Sure there was the sea of Stop the War ‘Don’t Bomb Syria’ placards and whatever the SWP had on theirs but among the homemade signs I spotted:

‘Bombing for Peace is Like Fucking for Virginity’, referencing a famous anti-Vietnam War placard

‘Whores Against Wars’ – by the English Collective of Prostitutes

‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Cameron’ – complete with Dad’s Army style opening title graphics.

‘With Jeremy and John Against War & Trident’, which I liked because of the informality of the use of first names – ‘Jeremy and John’ sounding so much more civilised than ‘Bill and Tony’ who you know are up to no good.

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There was a dog called Caspar as well who barked for the camera – or maybe he was barking at the camera but the effect was the same.

Should the government take the issue to a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday, we’ll be back out there again on Tuesday night.

 

“No recession of the imagination” – March Against Austerity

The atmosphere at March Against Austerity was positive and enthusiastic – laughing into the gaping jaws of Tory Austerity. I went along with Bob and Roberta Smith with his brilliant ‘Art For All’ painted placard. We soon wound through the crowds assembled outside the Bank of England to find the Arts Emergency bloc where comedian Josie Long supported one end of a banner. Actor Samuel West came over to say a few words, and Green Party Councillor and potential Mayoral candidate Caroline Russell gave a great interview, declaring that “Austerity is economically illiterate’.