Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hope Not Hate

Tuesday marked Holocaust Memorial Day. In Darlington, like most towns up and down the country, a ceremony was held to mark it.

Some civic events pass off with almost military precision - Remembrance Day is a good example, not surprisingly, perhaps, given its longevity and the central importance of the Armed Forces to the occasion.

Holocaust Memorial Day however was very different - a mix of readings, drama, poetry, songs and video that may not have always run smoothly, but consistently challenged the audiences' values and beliefs.

Held in the Arts Centre before an audience of around 200, there were powerful contributions - reflections from two students who had visited the Auschwitz camps recently, for example, and from the Council's own Director of Children's Services Murray Rose, who read an excerpt from the memoirs of his father-in-law, who was an escapee from the death camps.

The ceremony was at its best when it was most uncomfortable, however, challenging the sudience to think how we would react to examples of race hate which are daily perpetrated in Britain. This linked in well with the accompanying exhibition from students which explored the theme of 'hope not hate' in oils, watercolours and collage.

And my week was rounded off by a more directly political event dedicated to fighting the forces of race hate, but this time the contemporary threat posed by the British National Party. I attended a meeting organised by County Durham MP's Helen Goodman and Phil Wilson at Spennymoor Town Hall, which featured a speech and Q&A session by former Cabinet member Frank Dobson. Frank may be a self-confessed member of 'Heritage Labour' but he is doughty campaigner against the BNP, and impressed an audience united in their opposition to racism in our society.

Perhaps the most telling contribution was made at the end by Phil Wilson. He reminded us that the Durham pit villages were rooted in values of community and inclusion, and it has only been since the entry of the BNP into some places that racist division has become a feature.

Proudly, the North East can claim that we are a region free of any far right elected representatives at a national or local level. Long may that continue

Back and Blogging

At Council on Thursday, one courtly Tory solicitously asked after my health. I see from the comments on my last post that I've apparently had a nervous breakdown in advance of "this year's Euro bloodbath". So I guess it's time to start blogging again.

In truth, I've not really missed going online since Christmas - perhaps some of this blog's readers wish the hiatus had lasted even longer. In truth, whilst most days I've been mentally composing posts in my head, none of them have found their way onto the screen. But whilst it's nice not feeling a slave to the laptop, I guess it's time to get in the water again...