Boris faces bitter anger after cancelling anti-racist festival

By politics.co.uk staff

London mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to cancel anti-racist music festival Rise has prompted bitter anger from unions and race relation activists.

The mayor made the decision yesterday, after sponsors dropped out of the event, but opponents say sponsorship was readily available before Mr Johnson removed its anti-racist theme last year.

“Unite was never approached by the London mayor, or by any of his staff in the run-up to this decision,” said Steve Hart, regional secretary of Unite, one of the event’s main backers.

“Unite is calling for the London mayor to work with the union to devise new strategies to combat racism and reconsider his decision to the cancel Rise Festival 2009.

“After last year’s scandalous decision to remove the anti-racism message from promotional material for the Rise Festival and instead use the words ‘celebrating diversity’, Boris has now decided to take a hasty, short-sighted decision to stop the festival all together disappointing over 100,000 loyal followers.”

The union Unison accused Boris Johnson of ‘passing the buck’ for the reasons behind the cancellation of the festival.

“Unison withdrew funding from the Rise festival after Boris Johnson watered down the anti-racist message of the event,” said regional secretary for London Linda Perks.

“But Unison sponsored Rise to the tune of £30,000, which is a giant leap away from the £551,000 total cost of the festival.

“The London mayor is now passing the buck for the festival’s cancellation.”

She added: “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.”

The festival became the most popular anti-racist concert in Europe after its birth in 1996, under the name Respect.

It was originally established by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), before being revived under former London mayor Ken Livingstone.

Anti-racism campaigners are particularly concerned about the effect the loss of the festival will have in the year that the British National party (BNP) are expected to make gains in local elections.

Mr Johnson is planning on replacing the festival with Rhythm of London, a two-day series of events aimed at encouraging children to take up a musical instrument.

“To help achieve this, the Rise festival, which was first established in 1996 and developed by the previous administration and cost £551,000 to stage in Finsbury Park last year, will not be taking place this summer,” a statement from the mayor’s office said.

“Without a major sponsor in place it is not considered appropriate to spend such a large amount on a single music event, particularly during a recession.”

The festival had already lost some of its sparkle last year when Jimmy Cliff had his set cut off mid-song after running past the curfew time.

When the clock hit 20:30 BST, the sound system was switched off halfway through a performance of Rivers of Babylon.