Europe’s biggest anti-racist festival axed by Boris Johnson

April 8, 2009 4:56 pm

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From LabourListRise

Boris Johnson today announced that London’s anti-racist festival Rise, which brought 100,000 Londoners together each year to celebrate music from around the world, is to be scrapped. He cited a lack of union sponsorship for the event.

The announcement follows Johnson’s decision last year to remove the anti-racist element of the festival.

Rise, formerly the Respect festival, was established and sponsored by the trades unions as part of their work to combat racism and the far-right. It soon became the capital’s biggest annual free concert under Ken Livingstone, attracting artists including the Buzzcocks, Common, Jimmy Cliff, Run DMC, Graham Coxon, The Wailers, De La Soul and Kelis, as well as promoting diverse music from London’s Asian communities.

On the decision to scrap the event, former Mayor Ken Livingstone said:

“It’s a blow to good community relations in the city. There is now a clear pattern of Boris Johnson cutting funding to events celebrating the contributions of different communities to London and promoting good community relations. And, as with the loss of most sponsorship for events like the St Patrick’s Day festival and Freewheel, his claims that he will save tax payers’ money by bringing in outside sponsors have been shown to be just so much hot air.”

“Rise was the biggest anti-racist festival in Europe and on that basis attracted significant sponsorship. It lost much of this when Boris Johnson dropped the central anti-racist message last year. It is no surprise that Boris Johnson is now cancelling the festival altogether.”

“But it is misleading for his administration to try to blame this on trades unions withdrawing sponsorship, when sponsors had signed up to an anti-racist festival and obviously saw no reason to fund an event with no coherent message.”

Labour Assembly member, Jennette Arnold, said:

“The festival embodied all that is good about London, bringing people of all ages and cultures together. It was a celebration of London for Londoners – something Boris just doesn’t get. It’s no great surprise the Mayor couldn’t find a sponsor for the event, given that he had already got rid of all its meaning.”

Steve Hart, Regional Secretary for Unite, a former sponsor of the event, said:

“After last year’s scandalous decision to remove the anti-racism message from promotional material, Boris has now decided to take a hasty, short-sighted decision to stop the festival all together, disappointing over 100,000 loyal followers. The Mayor should promote a festival that celebrates London’s diversity and sends a strong anti-racist message.”

Commenting on Johnson’s claim that he couldn’t find the requisite sponsorship, Hart continued:

“Unite was never approached by the London Mayor, or by any of his staff in the run-up to this decision. Unite is calling for the London Mayor to work with the union to devise new strategies to combat racism and reconsider his decision to cancel the Rise Festival 2009.

Meanwhile, Linda Perks, UNISON Regional Secretary, another former sponsor, said:

“The London mayor is passing the buck for the festival’s cancellation. The real story here is that Boris Johnson is not interested in working to put an end to the racism and prejudice that sadly still take place on the streets of our capital every day.”

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