Lewisham has been the focus of some determined anti-fascist demonstrations over the last week provoked by the candidature of Ann Marie Waters of the current incarnation of the UK’s (or is it England’s) organised fascists. Yesterday, Lewisham’s anti-racist organisations led a picket of a so-called Hustings organised by John Hamilton once of Lewisham People before Profit but now organising as “Bring Back Democracy”. The reason for the picket was the proposed attendance of the fascist candidate.

SutR at Lewisham East (early)

The Janet Daby, Labour’s candidate rejected the invite as did the Tory candidate, although the latter claimed a diary conflict. This meant that the likely first two candidates were not attending; it’s not much of a hustings.

The Southern Press & Mercury report the event giving space to the Lib Dem candidate and Woman’s Equality Party complaining about a suppression of democracy, despite the fact that the Labour and the Tory candidates were not present. ( I am trying to find out what happened to the Greens.) The SPM does not report the early confrontation between demonstrators and a group of angry “For Britian” supporters.

They quote, Mandu Reid, the Women’s Equality Party candidate

“I wanted to go to the hustings to challenge the far-right’s hate-filled narrative and to expose their ugly ideology for what it is. Unfortunately, I was denied that opportunity and, more importantly, the residents of Lewisham East were denied the chance to question their future MP.

This is not true as the likely winner did not turn up.

It seemed the Police advised Ann-Marie Waters not to come; she didn’t.

The Hustings was a provocation, arguably designed to be. You can’t debate with Facists.

ooOOOoo

Many people argued with the event organisers to cancel it, and the hosting organisation had to change its branding several times. I believe that the final brand used was Lewisham’s “Bring Back Democracy”, which I have until recently supported as they sought to campaign for an end to the Executive Mayor system in Lewisham. I and  others will need to reconsider this.

In a private conversation, a correspondent of mine made the following comments, reproduced with permission.

[I have] … Spoken to many colleagues today who were lifted by the news of yesterday’s demo after the weekend. I think there are important discussions needed on the strategy and tactics of the labour movement in combatting the far right. The situation has to be weighed up each time…. There will be times where a different approach might have to be taken and decided upon democratically. I think “no platform” was a correct approach last night after what had happened at the weekend, the attempts by ANW to bring people to the borough off the back of it and the very low numbers of unaligned voters compared to a mobilisation of the organised far right.

On the far right’s social media response, had ANW been able to stroll into the hustings unchallenged they would’ve spun it in a different way, suggesting she was a strong, credible candidate with a broad base of support in the area. Obviously, in the heat of a demo like that some things will be said or done that we would do differently if we were able to reflect on it coolly from afar. There does need to be some consideration of what slogans can be used to counter the far right but also raise a positive working class alternative to racism. But the strategic task of the left in Lewisham has to be to pull the rug from underneath the far right by opposing austerity and fighting for better conditions so that disaffected working class people are not drawn to the right in any way. That means Labour councils not making cuts anymore. Damian’s speech on Saturday raised a very positive policy of the council housing 100 refugees. That needs to be coupled with a comprehensive council house building plan. It means the families in Milford Towers in Catford, many of them migrants, being guaranteed social housing in the regeneration scheme rather than being kept on short term contracts and a set % not being assigned for social housing because “it might scare developers away”. In 2011 the TUC demo was approx 750,000 and when UKIP called a demo in favour of cuts a few weeks later they mustered a couple hundred. That’s a sign of the balance of forces when the labour movement takes a lead.

On the issue of organising an independent hustings, my correspondent says,

On John ‘doyen of community cohesion’ Hamilton: he had it explained to him very clearly how he could’ve avoided having ANW on the platform by gaining agreement for parties to declare it as part of electoral expenses.  … To put on an event consciously requiring the police to facilitate and then calling 999 on the demonstration without reflecting about what others steps could be taken is reprehensible. To come out today and denounce ‘mob rule’ goes even lower. This is a man who used to lambast Bullock for the use of the ‘rent-a-mob’ line when there was a community demo or when the Council called in the riot police in 2010 or to get him off the roof of Lewisham Bridge.

Stand up to Racism

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