Monday, October 09, 2006

Lessons from Cable Street

We were in Cable Street yesterday afternoon to mark 70 years since the legendary clash between Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts and the Jewish, Irish and Communist groups of East London. There were some things that we missed, namely the procession down the street itself, but by and large it pains me to say that it was a missed opportunity.

Consider the facts...

  • Apart from a man who had taken part in the Battle of Cable Street all those years ago, there was a distinct shortage of strong speakers at the event. Where was Oona King, Trevor Phillips, Shami Chakrabarti? There was no one there to show the relevance of the original event to life in London today. This was also true in the way the event was promoted, but more on that later.

  • A strong MC would have made the proceedings waaay less cringeworthy. I wasn't living in England during the 1980s, but I tell you what yesterday reminded me of. Remember that TV movie The Deal that came out about three years ago, about Tony and Gordon's rise to the top? And remember all the flashbacks to various dire-looking Labour events from the late 70s and early 80s? Badly-dressed crusties singing the Internationale, etc? Well, yesterday was pretty much a carbon copy of that, with (slightly) better clothes. And the closest we got to an MC was a tired old codger in a red velvet jacket who entertained us with a "magic trick" designed to symbolise the exploitation of factory workers in a capitalist society!!! I ask you!

  • There was a strong People's Front of Judea element to the afternoon. Inevitable I suppose, and I'm not saying that representatives of the Communist University of Britain et al should be banned from such events, but it did seem that the majority of those who turned out were not so much curious bystanders or locals but members of some fringe syndicalist or anarchist movement or another. Again, there's nothing wrong with those groups in themselves, but if it's only them who are attending, what does it say about getting the message about Cable Street to the wider public?

  • Which brings me right to my next point... where the hell were the local community? And don't bang on about the local Bangladeshi dance troupe that performed - where were the Bangladeshis in the audience, watching the performances, buying snacks for their kids, looking through the excellent photo exhibition (much of which focused on the communities of today's East London)? I saw about three Asian families in the hour and a half I was there. Considering the makeup of the surrounding area, I'd argue that was hardly representational. Why wasn't the event better promoted, better explained, more adapted to suit families?

So that's it, really. Did you go to Cable Street yesterday? What did you see and what did you think of it?


At October 10, 2006 9:13 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess Cable street isn't better remembered because in many ways it was a Phyrric victory. Within a decade the communies of the East End were devastated, directly or indirectly, by WWII - a conflict that overshadows Cables Street somewhat.

The communities that won the day on Cable Street did not stay in the East End in such strength and the communities that followed them did not really overlap in much outside of being a immigrants/poor and disenfranchised.

The area where the shadow of Cable Street loomed large was over the history of British fascism, a movement that itself is overshadowed by its German and Italian counterparts.

- rob


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