Monday, 17 March 2008

Left evangelicals

It’s been assumed for so long that white evangelicals in the US vote Republican that none of the major pollsters even bothers counting those who back the Democrats. But a recent post-primary poll in Missouri and Tennessee, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund and conducted by Zogby International, suggests that abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t necessarily the evangelical vote-clinchers they’re usually seen to be. And there are a lot more left-leaning evangelicals than you might think.

One in three white evangelicals in Missouri and Tennessee voted in Democratic primaries. In both states their number is equal to or greater than all African-American voters, all voters over 65 or all voters who said the Iraq war is the most important issue facing the country. What’s more, white evangelicals in both parties back a broader agenda that includes ending poverty, protecting the environment, and tackling HIV/AIDS by large majorities.

In the Zogby poll, far more white evangelicals ranked jobs and the economy as more important than abortion and same-sex marriage (30 against 14 per cent in Missouri, 34 against 19 per cent in Tennessee). Other issues also ranked highly. In Missouri, 12 per cent chose Iraq as the most important, 11 per cent health care, 7 per cent immigration, 6 per cent terrorism, 4 per cent taxes and 4 per cent education. In Tennessee, 8 per cent chose Iraq, 8 per cent health care, 6 per cent education, 6 per cent immigration, 5 per cent terrorism and 4 per cent taxes.

The poll doesn’t exactly put white evangelicals in the ideological vanguard, but it does suggest that they may be a lot more amenable to progressive argument than is generally assumed.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Has every teenager been mugged?

Islington South MP Emily Thornberry has been embarrassed by having some of her comments about street crime highlighted in a press release by the Tories’ candidate for London mayor, Boris Johnson. It hasn't enamoured to her to some on the left that she chose to defend her remarks in the Daily Mail.

‘I suspect there are hardly any children in Islington who have not been mugged at some stage,’ Thornberry originally told a local paper. ‘If you talk to kids it is the main thing they are afraid of – and that is really sad.’

Cue the usual protestations from liberal commentators and the police that the figures prove otherwise and crime is falling.

But I’m with Thornberry. I can hardly think of a single teenager of my acquaintance who hasn’t been robbed at some point. And I can think of only one occasion when any of them thought it worth reporting the fact to the police.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Dread beat and blood

The dub poet and radical icon of black British resistance culture, Linton Kwesi Johnson, who appeared at the Barbican on 9 March, has his own take on the guns that are taking such a toll in black communities across the world. In Britain, he puts it down to an increasing materialism and the shrinking of collective political alternatives. And he questions why the police find it so difficult to deal with the supply of guns to those communities in the first place. ‘Why is it so easy for young people to get hold of these guns?’ he asks the audience at a concert that marks that start of his fourth decade of recording.

For people of my generation, many of whom cut their political teeth in the anti-racist mobilisations of the 1970s, LKJ is a symbol of much that was best about the left during those times – not the least of which was an openness to all cultures and colours and an utter determination to stand together against racists and fascists of all descriptions.

Some of dem say dey a nigger hater
Some of dem say dey a black beater
Some of dem say dey a black stabber
Some of dem say dey a Paki basher

Fascists on de attack?
Don’t worry bout dat
Fascists on de attack?
We will fight dem back
Fascists on de attack?
We will counter-attack
Fascists on de attack?
We will drive them back!

(‘Fight dem back’, from Forces of Victory, 1979)

My daughter Rachel was born within a couple of weeks of the huge anti-National Front mobilisation in Lewisham in 1977, at which I was knocked senseless by the police and carted off on a stretcher but more importantly the NF attempt to march was broken up and defeated. Her first demo (complete with ‘Babies Against the Nazis’ banner) was the 80,000-strong Anti-Nazi League march through east London, which took place 30 years ago this April.

These mass demonstrations and the campaigning that went on around them helped turn the fascist tide, and despite the recent electoral gains by the British National Party in places like Barking, the London into which Rachel’s son was born a few months ago is an immeasurably more open and tolerant city than the one that greeted her back then. Sometimes, it’s good to celebrate our victories as well as preparing for the fights to come.

We’re the forces of victory
An we comin’ right through
We’re the forces of victory
Now what you gonna do?

Monday, 10 March 2008

Guns and ganja

Guns and ganja at the Barbican for The Harder They Come, the Theatre Royal Stratford East’s stage musical version of Perry Henzell’s 1972 film featuring Jimmy Cliff. The guns weren’t real but some of the ganja was. Either that or the Barbican backstage crew can produce some remarkably good sensory effects, with the sweet smell of the sacred ’erb wafting across the audience from the stage.

‘Fifteen minute ganja break,’ announced the Rasta ‘trader’ with the monster spliff at the interval – and at least a few of the audience made their way to the Barbican lakeside to take him up on his suggestion.

The Harder They Come is an exhilarating reggae stomp through the Jamaica of a half-century ago, loosely based around the true story of outlaw anti-hero Ivanhoe ‘Rhygin’ (bad, hot) Martin, who died in a shootout with police in 1948. The original film, by a (white) Jamaican director with an all-Jamaican cast, was the first full-length feature film to be made on the island focusing on the realities of life for its inhabitants; it is widely credited with taking reggae music onto a world stage. The Barbican musical, which runs until 5 April, is blessed with an energetic and talented cast and two of the sweetest, most soulful singers performing in London today, in Rolan Bell as Ivan and Joanna Francis as Elsa, his girlfriend.

There’s no doubt where your sympathies are meant to lie in this tale. Ivan may have shot two policemen but it’s him who’s the hero who’d ‘rather be a free man in my grave, than living as a puppet or a slave’, in the words of the song. A Caribbean Robin Hood, give or take a bit of ganja.

But does it glamourise guns, which seems to be a question you are required to answer about any black creative project that features or mentions the things these days?

No more so than (for example) westerns is the obvious answer, a point that the production makes implicitly by screening a particularly bloody Spaghetti western bar fight and shootout during the ganja break.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Leon Greenman

Britain’s anti-fascist movement has lost one of its greatest fighters in Leon Greenman, who died aged 97 on 6 March. A Holocaust survivor who lost his wife and young son at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Leon was in the front line of the struggle against racism and fascism to the end – often literally so. In 1993, at the age of 83, he took part in the big demonstration against the BNP headquarters in Welling, south east London. When riot police charged the demonstrators, with Leon at the front, he had to be hoisted to safety over a garden wall. His autobiography An Englishman in Auschwitz was published in 2001.

I saw quite a bit of Leon in the early 1990s. Two things that he told me during our conversations left a particular mark. The first was that as a British citizen living in Holland he and his family should never have been sent to Auschwitz anyway, but the necessary papers proving his status didn’t arrive with the relevant official – who was unwilling to delay his departure – until a day after the transport had left, with him on it. The second was about sharing his meagre concentration-camp bread ration one day with an exceptionally persistent sparrow. ‘He was only trying to scratch a living,’ Leon said, ‘like the rest of us.’

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Teacher and tortoise

The final episode of Life in Cold Blood, which was watched by more than six million people last night and ended with David Attenborough communing with Lonesome George, the last in his particular subspecies of giant Gallapagos tortoises, was unbearably poignant. There’s no cliché been left unwritten about the great Mr Attenborough and the importance of his wildlife programmes. (Colour television itself would have taken another ten years to get off the ground if it wasn’t for them). So I’ll leave you with an old joke.

We used to call our teacher ‘tortoise’. Why? Because he taught us. And so did David Attenborough.