Is Boris right to drop Rise festival’s anti-racism message?

[from Guardian blog]

Is Boris right to drop Rise festival’s anti-racism message?

London’s new mayor might prefer to emphasise cultural diversity over anti-racism, but stripping the festival of its political message is baffling

Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff
Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff is due to appear at this summer’s Rise festival in London. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP

Boris Johnson has struck again. After enforcing the not-fun-but-perhaps-understandable booze ban, London’s new mayor has really put his foot in it.

It’s been announced today that Europe’s biggest anti-racism festival, Rise, is to be stripped of the message at its centre. Boris has approved the funding and it’s still set to go ahead at Finsbury Park on July 13, free of charge, but its tagline of “London United Against Racism” has been dropped, and the all-dayer will now be known simply as Rise.

It’s not yet known whether any of the artists booked – CSS, Jimmy Cliff, Sharon Jones, The Dub Pistols, Kitty Daisy and Lewis or Trojan Soundsystem – will pull out amid the furore.

A spokesman for the mayor said: “Boris has made a commitment to go ahead with the Rise festival this year but wants to emphasise its cultural and community dimensions.”

You can just about see what he’s trying to do. Emphasising “cultural diversity” over overt anti-racism probably fits in more with the narrative Johnson wants to put across – one that implies that racism in London, and so in Britain, is not such a problem anymore. But that view, of course, is wrong.

Worse still, it looks like Boris could be using these bigger issues to play out a personal game. Rise Festival was instrumental in the Stop Boris campaign, even being featured on a publicity poster. It’s too late of course, but you can download it here.

Boris will probably try to make out that music shouldn’t be about campaigning. He’ll try to emphasise how Rise should be inclusive (what, so racists should be allowed to party as well?). But more than anything, the decision is just baffling.

As blogger The Tory Troll, points out today, an apolitical event like this is likely to cost London even more money, since “acts will not want to perform at the reduced rate of previous years when there is no political motive for them to do so”.

Meanwhile, the BorisWatch site reports suspicious inconsistencies in how Johnson’s office has been PRing this year’s Rise.

I’d really been trying to put aside my innate anti-Tory instincts and begin to accept that maybe, just maybe, Boris might turn out to be good at this job. But with this as one of his very first decisions, the mind doesn’t just boggle, it seethes with rage then bends with confusion. Then it simply boggles again.


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