Top pop band Steps took an unfortunate "step" into the political arena at the end of June when they were interviewed by the Sunday Express in an article which was later picked up by gay paper The Pink. The band - not known for their political views (or much else of any interest really) - launched into an attack on asylum seekers amongst other things. Lee from the band stated “I think there should be more jobs for English people” while Claire chimed in with “Why are we paying for all these people to come into the country anyway?”. The band then made a tearful plea for income tax to be lowered and the death penalty restored before passing comment on “British people” being given priority for housing. These statements prompted a response from AFA's music department to the NME music paper, and the press release was later picked up by the BBC website and other news agencies.
In an AFA press release a spokesperson stated:
"While Anti-Fascist Action welcomes real debate on the issue of asylum seekers beyond the knee jerk responses of the reactionary right’s “send ‘em back brigade” and the liberal left’s “asylum seekers welcome here”, in which the needs of all communities are catered for – working class host communities and asylum seekers – these comments are an ill-advised step in the dark.
With the “respectable” fascists of Jorg Haider in government in Austria and the BNP picking up a quarter of the vote in recent elections in South East London and the West Midlands, these comments are unhelpful, inflammatory and naïve.
“If the band are political innocents who have made the mistake of opening their mouths without thinking of the consequences, then we ask them to withdraw their comments. However, if this is a more studied political analysis we warn them that they will be likely to attract the attention of anti-fascists.”
Obviously, the image of a spangly, lycra-clad Steps being chased down the street by dubious-looking AFA activists appealed to the media and the issue has now been brought to public attention and forced a frantic climbdown from the band, although interestingly not over the comments about asylum seekers. As the NME reported:
STEPS have strongly denied an anti-fascist group's accusations that they made "inflammatory" remarks concerning the UK's immigration policy during a newspaper interview. In a brief statement to nme.com, the five-piece have said they were "horrified" by the Anti-Fascist Action group's (AFA) accusation and that they were by no means racist. The statement read:
"Steps, both as a group and as individuals, are horrified at the implication by the AFA that they are racist. They deplore all forms of discrimination - racist, sexist or homophobic.
"The comments made in the Sunday Express were not intended to appear racist and Steps unreservedly apologise for any misunderstanding."
In a follow up letter to the NME, AFA has made the point that we are not trying to stifle debate on the issue; quite the reverse, we want an open debate about the issue of asylum seekers. As we stated in our press release,
"The needs of both the asylum seekers and the host communities (mostly white, mostly working class) need to be addressed together if we are to avoid the massive escalation of support for the BNP shown in recent council elections in South East London and the West Midlands. And yes, before anyone else says it, AFA has crossed swords with much bigger and uglier outfits than Steps, but any comments like these need to be followed up and maybe then we can start talking about the issue in a more rational way."
Next week, pop superstars Five pledge their support to AFA's Filling the Vacuum strategy...
16th August 2001
Politics and Pop - NME covers the riots
In the July 28th edition of the NME, Ted Kessler and others took a look at the riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley, trying to put the events into perspective for the paper's readership. Visiting the predominantly Asian areas where much of the violence had erupted, the NME writer interviewed local youths who all had different stories to tell of harassment from local racists and the police, media distortion of the riots themselves and their own ideas as to what had happened. As one man from Glodwick in Oldham stated on the BNP's election result in his town
"The problem isn't racism, it's fascism. It's not Asian against white. Because if it was, if we had a problem with the average white guy, we'd be rioting every day".
So far so good, you might think. It's undoubtedly a good thing for the NME to look at the riots - after all music and politics are closely linked and some of the very best music has been produced when the music of one culture has mixed with that of another - but some of the paper's analysis suggests they haven't really grasped the thornier issues about the upsurge in support for the BNP in the June elections and the recent unrest in northern towns.
Parroting the old ANL/Searchlight line that the BNP need to unmasked as the nazis they are, the NME lists Nick Griffin's criminal convictions before invoking the name of Adolf Hitler to shock us all. They then go on to quote Griffin from nearly 10 years ago ("strong, disciplined organisation", "well directed boots and fists" etc) without picking up on the BNP's retreat from the streets in 1994 and subsequent reinvention as a Euro-Nationalist party.
While it's probably blindly optimistic to expect a music paper to know every in and out of far right politics, you'd maybe expect them to do their homework, and the timeline they produce later in the paper, charting race-related disturbances from 1958 to this year, only has 1 entry between 1985 and 2001 and that's the Welling march. To the casual observer, it might appear that the BNP just emerged out of nowhere to claim 12,000 votes in Oldham.
This would seem to show that the NME isn't quite on the ball, but certainly more on the ball than the reader who wrote into the letters page claiming that UK Garage would be the answer to all Britain's racial conflict. A week after the riots piece a letter from Cable Street Beat was printed in response:
While your correspondent last week (Corinne) might think that UK Garage is an answer to the problems of Burnley, Oldham and Bradford, I'm afraid it's going to take more than MC Romeo and a few shouts of "Ayia Napa" to sort out the situation.
UK Garage is a product of Britain's most ethnically-integrated areas, while the recent riots are all about segregation and exclusion. In the areas where it's kicked off there has been little crossover on a day to day level between the different communities (like schools and housing), let alone people making music together.
Until the real needs of the areas where these riots have been taking place are met, further division is likely. The answers lie in resources being allocated on the basis of economic need not on racial and religious lines, resolving problems for white, black and Asian people alike. Maybe then, the integration we see in so much of the music we're all into can become a more solid reality.
Cable Street Beat, c/o Anti-Fascist Action, BM 1734, London WC1N 3XX
So while Cable Street Beat is glad to see the NME looking at wider issues and urging its readers to get involved in fighting back, it would be helpful to get the analysis right along the way.