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.