Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Its Good To Talk But Even Better To Do

I was fortunate enough to make the penultimate performance of Adrian Jackson's "A Few Man Fridays" last Saturday, which was followed by a question and answer session with some prominent activists from within the Chagossian movement.  I suppose I didn't have high hopes for the production.  I had already been advised by earlier attendees that the play was littered with inaccuracies and focused on a character who was fictional while marginalising the role of others who had been quite influential to this particular story.  So it was fair to say that I expected the worst.

I think this helps in many ways.  There is nothing worse than watching a film or show that has been praised to the heavens, only to find that there is an awful sense of an anti-climax when you personally get round to experiencing it yourself.  For this reason it was good that I had such low expectations, and while I acknowledge some of the criticisms from previous weeks were accurate, it enabled me to be pleasantly surprised when I did settle down for last Saturday afternoon's performance.

In many ways I had been positive before I had even taken my seat.  Scurrying around an unfamiliar corner of West London to locate the Riverside Studios, I called a friend for navigational purposes.  I was delighted to learn that the studios were incredibly well known, home of several ITV television shows for example.  This immediately suggested to me that this production would be exposed to audiences who would never have heard of the Chagos Islands or the continuing abuse of human rights which is committed by the UK day by day.  This was truly wonderful in itself, regardless of whether this was an unintended consequence or otherwise.

As for the show itself, I found it to be entertaining, moving and in the main largely accurate.  Yes of course we can be meticulous and look for the slight errors, but the message was the most important.  It would have been disastrous if that message had been manipulated, so for this reason I was delighted and recognised what a wonderful opportunity this production had provided.  The story had found a wider audience which was fantastic.

My criticisms are largely reserved for the post performance session.  And in many ways this follows on from something I have been sensing within the movement for the last few months.  There is a growing frustration, an emerging mutiny if you will, from within the base of supporters that not enough is being done.

This piece is not an attack on the UKCSA.  Let us not fool ourselves here.  The organisation have done so much for the Chagossian movement that it would be ignorant to suggest anything other than the body being a fantastic mechanism in the pursuit of justice during this struggle for justice.

Yet there is a feeling, something I detected at the AGM and sensed again on Saturday during the Q&A session, that there has been too much talking and not enough action.  That the appetite for "aggressive" activism is not endorsed by senior members of the movement.

When I speak of "aggressive" activism, I am not for a minute suggesting that we should have supporters march onto London Underground trains with large backpacks to commit acts of terrorism.  I do not nor never will endorse acts that are illegal.  Apart from being morally and legally wrong, I don't recognise how any publicity from such actions could ever amount to anything other than negative.

But when I hear that supporters are afraid to contact Vince Cable because he has "been bothered enough", I find these comments to be quite frankly appalling.  Disgraceful even.  This battle for justice should be measured on results, not a tick list of people who are "friends", allegedly.  If Vince Cable is not actively supportive, then he is not a supporter.  I refuse to see how we can be grateful for "good will".  "Good will" is not bringing the fight for justice any closer to a satisfactory resolution.

I draw on my own personal experiences when it comes to this.  Graham Allen is my MP in Nottingham North.  He will no longer acknowledge my letters or emails.  This is because I was eventually quite aggressive during my attempts to lobby him.  I make no apologies for taking such an approach.  Some may suggest that I have alienated a potential supporter, but I will counter that Allen was at best going to be a distant supporter who was not keen to embrace this particular issue with any real desire.  In my opinion, he may as well be a paid up resident of Diego Garcia for all the good he would offer this quest for justice.

In many ways the grassroots elements of this particular movement are neutralised by placing their faith in a gentle approach to achieve results.  Perhaps this was true once.  But surely the time has come for a fresh approach.

I absolutely agree that the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has a role to play in this struggle for justice.  But the tail must not wag the dog!  There are some changes I wish to see implemented during this coming year, and this is my agenda if you like in terms of what I propose that would enable the movement to become more effective.

The first is that the various umbrella organisations should be merged under a single branding.  The UKCSA, CRG, Seychellois branches and other affiliated groups all essentially have the same mission statement.  There is only one organisation which has a completely different set of objectives and they must be alienated in order to demonstrate a unity within the movement.  I speak of course of the Allen Vincatassin's Diego Garcia Society, a rogue organisation who do so much damage to the battle for justice.  An enemy from within if you will.

Secondly I would like to see a more aggressive brand of activism endorsed from the very top of the movement.  If people like Vince Cable are shying away from using their position in government to work with us, then they should not be viewed as supporters.  As someone said to me, Alan Smith was a fantastic goalscorer for Arsenal in the 1980s and early 1990s, but we cannot suggest that he should play for Arsenal today based on what he achieved all those years ago.  Likewise Cable was a friend of the movement prior to the Coalition government being formed in May 2010, but since then has become quite shy and nowhere near as vocal or productive in his support for the cause.

Thirdly when a platform such as the past month have provided an opportunity to bring together supporters or at the very least people who have an interest in this story, we as a movement need to be more proactive in tapping into the potential that this offers.  I would have liked to have seen somebody from the various organisations actually at the door of studio two, recording the names, email addresses and other contact details of everyone in that audience.  Yes it can be somewhat over zealous, possibly even intrusive, but again we need to be more enterprising in our approach to expanding the message.  We have built up a wonderful core of supporters who have largely approached the battle in a voluntary capacity.  We now need to consider building on this by effectively becoming more forceful in our attempts to expand our base.

We are not here to collect supporters like Panini sticker's for football albums, we are here to realise an objective: to achieve justice for the Chagossian community.  Official lobbying such as the APPG has a role to play, and I do not wish to belittle their contribution for a second.  But we also need to encourage supporters to be more aggressive, to ruffle feathers, and if that means alienating people like my MP along the way then more of the same please.

Joanna Lumley did not achieve for the Gurkhas what she did by massaging politicians ego's and acknowledging their token "good will".  She aggressively took them to task and ultimately embarrassed them into action.  We can learn a lot from her approach.  We are not a forum for gentle discussion.  We are a movement with a clear objective in mind.  Its good to talk, but its even better to do.  The time has come for the talking to stop and for a more direct form of action to take centre stage.  Not illegally mind, but pushing the boundaries nonetheless.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Never Be The Same Again

Anfield.  May.  1989.  Words that unleash so many emotions amongst anybody from the red half of North London.  For many it was also the beginning of a special relationship between the two clubs.  They appreciated the flowers the players had presented to the crowd prior to the game to honour the 96 fans who had died at the Hillsborough disaster. We appreciated the fact that the Liverpool fans, devastated at the traumatic nature of losing the League title in the final moments of the 1988/89 season, showed such dignity in defeat. 

They beat us six months later, John Barnes scoring an immaculate free kick in a 2-1 victory in unquestionably the most eagerly awaited match of that season, a win which ultimately removed us from the summit and we never were to be top again that season as Liverpool cruised to their then 18th record breaking title. 

Gutted?  I was nine years old and thought Arsenal were going to win the league for the next ten years, it felt as if the sky had fallen down.  But there was a respect for a great club, an incredible achievement and on reflection I was fortunate to have witnessed a golden chapter of football history written.

At the head of this slick operation was Kenny Dalglish, a young manager who had demonstrated a leadership and strength of character which belied his relative managerial inexperience.  His support of the grief stricken families from the Hillsborough tragedy struck a chord with many outside Liverpool, although I am sure the Evertonians and United fans would perhaps beg to differ.  I really did feel sorry for him when he stepped down as Liverpool boss in 1991 and I couldn’t help feeling happy for him when he led Blackburn to the league title a few years later, even if in doing so they went against everything I believed in regarding buying success.

Of all the players to pull on the red shirt of Manchester United, Patrice Evra has always managed to irritate me more than most.  I think it goes back to the fact that originally he was meant to be an Arsenal player, but its definitely compounded by his “babies” comments about my team a few years ago.  How I enjoyed us kicking him off the park a few days later, even if they did get the point needed to secure the title that season.

More annoying was the fact he was actually an exceptional player, emphasised even more every time we played against United.  Nobody likes United players, but here was somebody who truly did annoy me.  He was good, but boy did he know it!  He also knew his United side were better than us.  And deep down we knew it too.

When I heard that Luis Suarez had been accused of racially abusing Evra, I was astonished.  I have to admit that owing to the antics of Suarez during the last World Cup, he was never one of my most favourite people anyway.  Some will say it was intelligent, and yes if it was an Arsenal player, I’d probably argue the same.  But it didn’t sit well with any of us did it?  Yet a handball on the line and his childish tormenting moments later were nothing compared to Evra and his continual attacks on my beloved Gunners.

So when this story broke I was initially biased. 

Against Evra. 

I guess I just put it down to a few throwaway comments and that it was more as a reaction to dropping two points in pursuit of Manchester City as opposed to a credible and authentic allegation that he had been racially abused.

Liverpool as a club stood by Suarez, which was understandable.  A process was under way and ultimately we would get to the bottom of what really happened.  But the more that started to leak to the press, the more we started to realise that Suarez had used the n-word when addressing Evra during an exchange.  An exchange which as the FA report eventually outlined, was neither friendly nor conciliatory.

Suarez and Evra’s exchange took place in Spanish, and both the club and player have continually protested that the word has a different context to that which is interpreted here in Britain.  I wouldn’t consider myself to be culturally ignorant, and I am aware that the term does have a different meaning.  The defence to this allegation was that the term was used during a warm hearted exchange of friendly pleasantries, a form of endearment if you will. 

This is not correct. The exchange was anything but friendly. The players were arguing.  This was no time to use language which can be regarded as racist and had such deeply offensive connotations.  If you deny this then can anybody please explain what on earth Suarez was thinking when he said I don’t speak to black’s.

Suarez was found guilty and banned but the player, club and fans refuse to acknowledge that he has done anything wrong.  Kenny Dalglish, the man I held in such high regard, the most culpable of all by questioning everything from the legitimacy of the process to the punishment eventually sanctioned. 

That verdict changed so much in football, and for me personally too.  Since that announcement I have spent the last two Manchester United v Liverpool games supporting United.  An unthinkable prospect only six months ago.  When Liverpool played Tottenham, I was supporting Tottenham in a pub in North London on the very corner of the junction of Lordship Lane and White Hart Lane.  My football world had been turned upside down.  It will never be the same again.