HOPE not hate

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Streets of B&D filled with HOPE?

posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Friday, 7 May 2010, 15:06


The bus finally left us last night at 18.00hrs It appeared that the BNP had thrown in the towel a couple of hours before.

The streets of B&D were filled with HOPE not hate activists (ok, that may be a slight exaggeration) but there was a steady stream of people from mid afternoon up until the polls closed knocking up voters and delivering the killer blow to Griffin's parliamentary fantasies.

It was hard work. We started at just after 07.00hrs and we didn't dare stop even to open a beer until one minute after polls closed. And when we did, it felt like hell had been let loose. Tension, fear and a great deal of satisfaction seemed to be let loose as fifty odd people collapsed into happy and exhausted piles across the HnH headquarters. There was absolutely nothing more that we could have done, and knowing that, come what may, meant we could spontaneously let our hair down.

Steve the driver left before it got frantic, but he wished us well. We're waiting now for the council results to come in. We said all along that the council was the real threat, eventually other people followed suit. Random well wishers have been popping in and calling all day. Gregg is asking for foot massages off total strangers and I'm just waiting for the great leap forward.

 Posted: 7 May 2010 | There are 2 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Shake that fascist groove thing

posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Thursday, 6 May 2010, 08:41


After 16 hours in Barking and Dagenham today, I decided to go home and write this blog before Lowles got me stuffing more envelopes.

Where do I start about today? Hmmm. Late Tuesday night we wondered how long the BNP could keep their grubby mits off of the voters and it didn't take long before they began their intimidation tactics. The day before polling (I'm assuming you're reading this on polling day) we had a team out bright and early at Dagenham Heathway station delivering our excellent light bulb leaflet.

Having arrived late, the BNP goons then began to try and intimidate some of our excellent young staff, while also sitting outside a cafe shouting racist abuse at black people passing by. And to be quite clear about this, Dagenham is very different to Barking station in this respect. The BNP could never get away with this in Barking, their usual arrogance was dented by the bravery of our young staff. They were not going to be moved or intimidated to go away.

In a recent edition of our magazine Searchlight, Nick Lowles suggested that there were problems in the BNP's campaign and that the wheels were coming off. Some people who call themselves antifascists openly criticised this while not doing any work of their own, but as we began to see the day unfold it became apparent Nick was right. The BNP's web designer has gone, and slowly it became clear, as our intelligence suggested, so had most the marbles of the remaining BNP members.

One particularly bright part of the day for me was bumping into the BNP's owner Jim Dowson, whose financial shenanigans my colleagues and I have hung around his neck by doing the research on him few others seemed capable or brave enough to do. Little Jim was at, of all places, a cash machine being minded by the body beautiful, Martin Reynolds. I hope he doesn't try and send me a picture of himself holding a gun, though I do hear he doesn't get back to Belfast so much anymore ...

But from all over London came today scores of people to help us. Our mantra has long been "give us one hour" and people were in and out of our office today doing just that. From committed good old fashioned lefties with their CND badges to people with no strong political convictions, some in desperation, offering to help and do something to beat the BNP. The sheer bloated vulgarity of the BNP was spur enough for most people.

Around tea time and with Steve our driver on chapter nine of his Frankie Frazer biography, word began to reach us that the BNP had finally lost control. It takes a bit of finding as the BBC "inexplicably" has edited and/or hidden the full version of the filmed confrontation, but the BNP's Bob Bailey is seen trying to kick the head off a young Asian man who had spat at him (not a nice thing to do at all). The full length video here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8663742.stm gives a little more of the background to the story.

Perhaps this will dent the BNP's vote in B&D. Perhaps it won't. The evidence suggests what does work is a disciplined antifascist campaign being filmed by Gregg. He's currently kipping on my sofa with dribble on his cheeks, not so much a paragon of discipline but more of an example of the pitfalls of sleep deprivation.

Nick Lowles is asking over on HnH for one more big push on polling day. We're all tired, we all have blisters and now some of us have Gregg the video man snoring loudly on their couch. If every vote counts today, as it may well, make sure you weren’t rushing home to watch EastEnders when another hour in Barking and Dagenham could have saved the day. If we can deal them one more blow, one more under-achievement, then perhaps B&D will finally shake that fascist groove thing.

 Posted: 6 May 2010 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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The happiest man in Britain

posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Wednesday, 5 May 2010, 08:16


I am really tired today. Partly I think, because Gregg keeps yawning and it's probably contageous. The happiest man in Britain today? None other than Steve, our driver, who was wearing an Australian Bushman's hat around the set of cop drama The Bill today. Why was he wearing it? Well, he tells me that he is planning to put to the producers a show-saving storyline in which he plays an Australian bus driver who wrestles a crocodile in Sun Hill river. The guy is well over six foot and built like an outhouse. If he wants to do that, that's fine by me ...

Sun Hill is certainly a happy police station, and we had the whole lot of them out on the bus today pushing and shoving each other, talking over one another enthusiastically and generally brightening up an overcoast morning for us as they took a quick break from filming.

Tough guy DI Jake Manson (played by Andrew Lancel) was first on the bus, he's done HnH before and has actually been followg the tour. DC Mickey Webb (Chris Simmons) was next up, and I even got him to move a table along the top deck. Sure he looked a little bemused and put out by it, but that's what you get for playing a good guy. In fact they were all good guys and gals as they probably say in showbiz. They hung around and gave more than just soundbites. Bruce Byron who plays DC Terry Perkins even jumped on the back of Jason Barnett to sing a football song for us! Barnett, who plays Crime Scene Examiner Eddie Olosunjie, looked like he was used to being jumped on by Byron after a Chelsea win. Or is it Tottenham?

As for what they said to Gregg's camera, I still haven't much of a clue because they seemed to be taking turns in pulling the bus apart when they were not on camera, but they were genuinely into the idea of celebrating modern Britain and against the extremism that faces it. "Good idea this campaign," Simmons (DC Webb) told me as he stood, I can only assume contemplating climbing up the side of the bus. You'll have to watch Gregg's film to get a real feel of the energy of the cast. They could surely run for another twenty years just on the half hour they gave us.

Then it was onto Congress House, home of the TUC, representative of over six million workers in this country, and the tour sponsors, Thompsons Solicitors.

And out they came. One after the other in their Thompsons t-shirts to claim their bus. Stephen Cavalier, the CEO of Thompsons, grabbed himself a seat at the front of the top deck and asked if I could drive him past Unite the Union's offices and see if anyone was coming out to play. Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, then came and sat next to him and we were off! Halfway through the drive I went up top to say hello and a panic broke out. "Who's driving the bus?" asked a very concerned legal type! Then there was a panicked rumour that this was the official Thompsons work outing, so we drove them around Trafalgar Square and Smithfield Market and even the law courts (a busman's holiday?).

 Posted: 5 May 2010 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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On the bus with Izzard

posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Tuesday, 4 May 2010, 09:23


So I was on the bus with Eddie Izzard today, when Billy Bragg rung me..." I'm just waiting for my friends in Australia to get out of bed so I can begin that conversation.

Some of you may even have shared a tube journey with Mr Izzard today as he made his way out to Barking on the District line. I picked him up in my bus. Our driver Steve normally manages to remain aloof, but he allowed himself a rare moment today when his composure slipped and he gave me a rundown on a story about Eddie Izzard speaking in French and Darth Vader at a motorway service station. Confused? Me too. Then, there was Steve again, casually walking across the line of photographers from a host of national newspapers to get a close up of Eddie for himself. We didn't even know Steve had a camera!

Still, he was a super-trooper the big man, getting out of bed early and ferrying activists across to Barking and Dagenham on the bus. I may replace his knackered SatNav by way of a thank you.

While we were ferrying people over to Dagenham, exitement was already building there. A queue had begun forming of people wanting to deliver anoher killer blow to the BNP. The fascists cannot match a well organised and disciplined campaign, and the further into the darkness of paranoia and madness the BNP descend, the stronger and more capable and professional the antifascist campaign becomes.

In all 380 people came to Barking and Dagenham today to campaign, many of them locals but some from as far as Hampshire, one woman telling me on the bus that she just has to be part of this. "I've watched this campaign grow and grow, and felt that I had to be a part of it. I had to do something to help stop the rise of fascism."

Under somewhat of a media scrum, Eddie Izzard took a stroll with B&D faith leaders, telling the Bishop of Barking, "I'm not a Christian, I don't believe in God. But like you I believe in spirituality." Seemed like a good way to break the ice.

Over at another church, this time St Margaret's, on Dicky Barnbrook's doorstep, the BBQ was firing up, the music was on, and a feast of international foods was laid out. The GMB union had a marquee up and local residents were sitting on the grass with antifascist activists, communicating, talking and sharing time and space. As the big red bus drove through B&D, lots of people tooted their horns, reminding us that although we have a real struggle there, there are of course thousands upon thousands of decent people who want the BNP gone and real solutions to their problems. Dicky Barnbrook riding a knackered old pony is, of course, not going to help anyone.

When Eddie arrived at St Margaret's, a team from Thompsons were on hand to accompany him on a delivery of leaflets. The sun kindly shone and there was Steve again, this time photographing Billy Bragg who was signing copies of this month's Searchlight with Pete Dunwell's picture of Billy confronting Barnbrook on the front page.

Billy had his wife and son with him. The last time I saw Bragg Jnr he had "procured" some life-size cardboard cutouts of the characters from Star Trek and during his father's book launch stood them in the cubicles in the ladies' toilets. Gregg and I thought it hilarious at the time, but Bragg Jnr didn't seem to want to be reminded of it today. These days he's wearing a leather jacket and playing guitar in his old man's garage. He has roots in Barking too, his nan lives there.

Izzard and Bragg together caused a bit of a scrum: fans and photographers. You'll be pleased to hear I got a whack in the face from a Johnny Foreigner press photographer, kneed in the back by the Mirror and had a TV camera reversed into my groin by Channel 4. Bragg and Izzard have quite different politics, they're both antiracist and antifascist and both patriots. They are part of the diversity of progressive antracist and antifascist politics.

Izzard is however unusual for a comedian. Not only is he quite serious, he is also quite funny in person, something you don't always find with comedians. Not that he stands there cracking jokes all the time, but he is quietly spoken and thoughtful and obviously, as having run all of those marathons in such a short time proves, incredibly driven. So who knows whether suggesting that Bragg takes an ice bath is sound advice or not? But they click, as they did a few years ago in a museum in Scotland apparently. Bragg likes nothing more than showing off his roots and as Bragg likes enthusing, so too as I learned earlier with the Bishop of Barking, Eddie Izzard wants to listen and ask questions.

With fame comes poking and prodding. Both men were prodded and poked, photographed on mobile phones and asked hundreds of quickfire questions by children, parents and grandparents. And as we all cramped into the GMB marquee for a Bragg singalong, "our own little Glastonbury" as he called it, the calmness, discipline and good spirit of our collective became apparent. We sat down so those at the back could see, we sang along, we made space for one another as we sung and we cheered loudly. Then a woman from the BBC went to the front with her camera, bumped the mic and nearly took out Billy's front teeth. That's rock and roll!

"I'm here because I support this campaign" said Izzard. "I'm here because there are good people doing positive things and that is important. I'm here because I want people to come out to vote and defeat the BNP." When he left, he went back on the District line, sitting and chatting with campaigners all the way back to London.

Bragg and his family went up to his mum's. He's from Barking in Essex.

 Posted: 4 May 2010 | There are 1 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Winter & Sunshine

posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Monday, 3 May 2010, 18:07


It's not often I hear on a Sunday morning from my Yorkshire colleague Paul Meszaros, but I received an early good luck message this morning, wishing my team, Crystal Palace, all the best against Sheffield Wednesday in their do or die relegation battle today. Paul's a Sheffield United fan you see.

So perhaps it was rather apt or even an omen, that today of all days began with a visit to church. The Victorious Pentecostal Assembly of all places. The African community in Barking and Dagenham have borne the brunt of most of the BNP's vile bile, accused of being, among other things, spongers, thieves and even of eating off the floor. Yes, there has been a real element of class to the BNP's few years of campaigning here.

The VPA is a largely black African church. And this Sunday, as they do every Sunday, they raised the roof with gospel singing, loud and energetic with thumping drums and clapping, as they worshipped. I and Sam Tarry stood at the back tapping our feet, but despite the fact that we're not particularly rhythmic we didn't feel unwelcome. We were in fact most welcome, people shook our hands and welcomed us to their church warmly while they danced in the aisles and rejoiced in prayer.

Our star was Caroline Alabi, the HOPE not hate faith coordinator, who took to the stage in front of 2,000 people and spoke passionately about Thursday's elections. You may have seen her previously on the video with Billy Bragg, when she too took issue with some of the things Dicky Barnbrook and the bores of the BNP say about the people of B&D. She doesn't hold back!

From there, it was across London to Camden. I've always liked Camden, it's rough, punky, bohemian, noisy and occasionally confronting. It was there a few years ago that I stole my first copy of Searchlight.

By the time Mercury Prize winning singer-songwriter Speech Debelle was at the bus, Palace and Sheffield Wednesday were at 2-2 and Wednesday were pushing for a winner with three minutes to go. I didn't burden Speech with my near trauma, but she is so very cool, I'm sure she would have taken it all quite easily in her stride.

She was strolling though Camden swigging a cup of water towards the Electric Ballroom, bespectacled and wearing Adidas in the rain. The Mirror's photographer Chris Grieve got an excellent picture of her screwing her face right up to his lense. His day ended after a few seconds. "One of the easiest people I have ever worked with," he said. "She even remembered me from the last time I met her." In their mutual games, I guess that would make all the difference.

Debelle is a poet, rapper and singer. Her debut album Speech Therapy, released last year, even had The Times sit up and take notice. For a period she had been flitting between hostels and friends' couches for somewhere to sleep. She doesn't lose hope. "We don't get much summer here," she said, indicating that it was still raining, "but under the BNP it would be like winter all year round. Everyone can learn from each other."

Palace held on for their draw and we remain in the Championship. Debelle sauntered off picking her away among the liggers, drinkers and fans doing the Camden Crawl. It seems to have rained non-stop since this tour started, except for one brief moment at the cricket. But today was still full of sunshine.

 Posted: 3 May 2010 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Day 3: Day of action Stoke-on-Trent

posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Sunday, 2 May 2010, 12:24


Had a very late night last night, not as one would assume "busting shapes" (or whatever it is you do on a dancefloor), but sadly spent mostly trying to find the various cables, leads and wires that work my camera, laptop and ipod.

Then began a hunt for a curry house open late in Stoke. The mission was finally accomplished in no small part due to the excellent detective skills of Mirror photographer Chris Grieve. He simply looked on his laptop.

Today began early, with our film man Gregg banging on my door wearing what he tells me is a dressing gown though it looked a lot more like Hugh Heffner's old smoking jacket. He'd been trying to upload the day's video for hours on the hotel's internet conection and finally gave up after snoozing for a few hours and waking to find it hadn't been sent. No sooner had Gregg left with the magic dongle, then Nick Lowles was on the phone with the day's instructions.

The BNP's deputy leader Simon Darby is standing in Stoke Central and anti-fascists from across the Midlands have been helping local anti-fascists mount the campaign against him. Today a hundred people were in Stoke to deliver thousands of the HnH/Mirror tabloid newspapers against whom I have traditionally referred to in print as the BNP's Deputy Nasal Fuhrer.

Although Darby constantly posts videos of himself out in Stoke on his blog, he has by all accounts cut a pretty lone figure across the city as a number of his racial comrades have deserted the party, often leaving Simon to his own devices and Tesco's dicounted produce. Sadly, this doesn't mean that the BNP are not still a real threat in the seat. The one visible constant, however, has been trade unonists and members of the Labour movement determined not to let the BNP take advantage of the difficult and challenging situation there.

David and Sarah from HOPE not hate were chopping food and making cups of tea when the bus arrived. With them were old friends from Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Birmingham as well as local activists. There was a really positive mood in the hall where the papers were being dispatched, with a picture of the Deputy Nasal Fuhrer receiving a fascist salute whilst visiting Italian fascists last year on the front. What was evident in Stoke, and has been all over the country this year where we have campaigned, is that there are a number of young people and young families determined to campaign actively together. For a while the bus was more like a playground, evidence that we really are building for the future.

 Posted: 2 May 2010 | There are 2 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Day 2 - Leeds and Emmerdale

posted by: Matthew Collins | on: Saturday, 1 May 2010, 23:24


Isabel Hodgins (Victoria Sugden)

Isabel Hodgins (Victoria Sugden)

We have finally landed in Stoke! We left Leeds in such high spirits, but by the time we arrived at our hotel some four hours later, Gregg's charming company had long been swallowed up by the noise of the heavy and vibrating engine of our 1958 (note the correction) double decker bus, to the point where he was just another bloke in a t-shirt pointing and shouting. I'm sure he felt the same about me, by the way. One thing I do remember is the question as to why on your side of beef do you not get told which particular breed of cow it is? Angus? Is it a Hereford etc, etc. It was that kind of drive ...

Poor Steve the driver awoke this morning to discover his SatNav had drowned under a constant leak in his cabin. It became such a problem that the good service of Louise Cousins from the Leeds branch of Unite the Union was required to guide us around Leeds.

Not being a cricket fan, I was surprised to discover that cricket at Headingly watching Leeds v Durham was a welcome break, and as people queued up to get on the bus for their pics, I snuck a sulky ten minutes under rare sunshine to watch blokes throw a rounded and red brick at each other's shins. My colleague Nick Lowles alleges he is somewhat of a cricket fan, so I imagine the thought of me watching impassively as his beloved Yorkshire played cricket while he toiled in the Dagenham office should easily ensure another critical evaluation come my next pay negotiations!

And then came Emmerdale. It's no longer just a farm. It is no longer Emmerdale Farm. Long gone are Annie Sugden, Mr Wilks, Amos and Seth. But we still had the Sugdens!

Elizabeth Estensen is better known as either Diane Sugden behind the bar at the Woolpack, or, for our more mature readers, as a former member of the classic series The Liver Birds where she played Carol Boswell. Not only is she a lady of striking grace and charm, she is also a forthright anti-racist and anti-fascist. I kid you not! We had a brief to-do in the reception of ITV Yorkshire where she was standing waiting for a taxi in her rain mac and holding her suitcase. She'd been working all day and did not seem at all interested in being harangued, but upon hearing what we there for she got herself onto the bus and let rip about racism and fascism. Gregg was blown away by her unprompted monologue against the racists.

It would seem that where Elizabeth goes, good fortune follows. For next up was Alice Coulthard, who plays the recently hard-done-by Maisie Wylde. She is a photo waiting to happen. Fresh from make-up and standing in the rain she waited patiently to have her say. She attacked homophobia as well as racism before coming back again to ask for another go. "I need to say some more," she said pleasantly and impatiently.

Our star was without a doubt Isabel Hodgins. She's a sixteen-year-old tearaway called Victoria Sugden three nights a week on the show. But for us, she was obliging and friendly and more than happy to slip on a HnH t-shirt. "Why not?" she asked, dropping her bags. "I live in a multicultural country, I like it and cannot see why anybody would want to hurt it," she told us.

Poor Louise Cousins, who had been our impromptu SatNav and guide to the show's ins and outs and scandals, admitted to being a tad disappointed. "I loved her to bits," she said of Isabel, "but I was sort of hoping that Victoria Sugden would appear and start being stroppy".

We forgave Victoria as soon as we got genuine Woolpack beer mats. Even Louise was placated for a bit. "I think" said Louise "Jack Sugden would be proud of young Isabel".

He probably would. Because long before all the murders and affairs on those fair dales, there was a farmer called Jack Sugden who always wanted to defend those without a voice. Victoria Sugden/Isabel Hodgins, got it right first time

Alice Coulthard (Maisie Wylde)

Alice Coulthard (Maisie Wylde)

Elizabeth Estensen (Diane Sugden)

Elizabeth Estensen (Diane Sugden)

 Posted: 1 May 2010 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments