I spent this past weekend, along with my family, at a festival full of the very best of British. What a wonderful experience, people all gathered together with a common interest, a common goal and a camaraderie of spirit that ensured a good time was had by all.
We travelled to the countryside in our own mini-convoy of two cars. As we entered the lane to the farm, we were handed leaflets by a group of people standing in the road and were directed to the entrance by an army of uniforms with their high-visibility jackets marking the road ahead. We were directed to the field, set our pitch and took a moment to take in the spectacle of the flags, flying proudly above various camper-vans, motor-homes and tents.
Most of the people there were in groups - families and friends, everyone pitching in and helping out, very friendly and welcoming of us first-timers. I admit, that I had been a bit worried about going to the festival with the children, but I didn't need to be, we were among peaceful people, who only wanted to spend a weekend celebrating something synonymous with their cultural heritage.
We were in the small village of Cropredy, in Oxfordshire, specifically at Fairport Convention's Cropredy Convention, a folk festival that has been held there for the past 42 years. We and over twenty-thousand others, were listening to comedy & wit from Phil Cool and Richard Digance, wonderful music from the likes of the Buzzcocks, Nik Kershaw, Ade Edmondson & the Bad Shepherds, the Dodge Brothers, Seth Lakeman, Steve Winwood, Dreadzone, Fairport Convention and the legend that is Yusuf, (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens). It really was a reflection of the wonderful British culture, with people from every walk of life, families, retired couples, groups of young people, ageing-hippies, rockers, bikers, punks, students, stereotypical Scots (the McBastards, we salute you!) the middle-classes, gay, straight, wizards too, according to our five-year-old. Hey, there were even people from other lands, who had travelled from overseas and every single one of these people were allowed to be themselves, without judgement or disparagement and were welcomed equally and warmly by all, whatever clothes or novelty-style hat they were wearing - and boy, there were a few crackers!
Meanwhile, and by contrast, a racist rally, masquerading as a festival was being held in the small village of Codnor, Derbyshire. Here the BNP was holding its annual event for the third year running. The crowd (it is difficult to find an estimate of numbers, I have seen 'hundreds' mentioned, although the BNP did say they were expecting up to six-thousand) were "treated" to a rogues gallery of speakers, from around the UK, with arrests and convictions for a range of offences, including public order, distribution of racist material and even murder. The list of organisations that the VIP speakers had or still hold membership of ranged from the National Front, National Democrats, to the American White Supremacy group the National Alliance and the German NDP.
In the middle of the fascists' fun was a mock graveyard, for families to enjoy, a coconut shy, featuring the face of Sir Trevor Phillips, a raffle and other fairground stalls. Information was provided on handling hostile media interviews, tracing your ancestors (and hiding any evidence of non-white heritage, no doubt) and there was a morning service (I assume non-denominational) by their very own counterfeit cleric Robert West. Their specially-invited VIP guest speaker, the US White Supremacist Preston Wiginton, had to send his apologies from Heathrow, where he was barred from entering the country and returned to New York, as the UK Border Agency had intelligence that led them to believe he would promote extremism, hatred and violent messages.
In Cropredy, the leaflets being handed out were from the village primary school, welcoming festival goers and offering them a free cup of tea or coffee if they came to the school for a Cropredy Breakfast-in-a-Bun; the uniforms were Scouts and St John Ambulance members from around the country volunteering their time. The village pubs had their own fringe events and the village hall offered afternoon tea. They are used to the festival and the good-natured guests it brings. There were a few PCSO around but with not one reported theft in 2008 and no trouble, there was no requirement for a heavy Police presence.
Again, in contrast, in Codnor, the people lining the streets were protesters, angry at the celebration of hate that was going on in the field beyond the English country hedgerow and the uniforms belonged to the 500+ Police Officers protecting the fascists. Although the BNP official line is that the residents of Codnor fully support the festival, it is hard to believe that when it is reported that the local pub has a sign reading "No BNP", locals are quoted as saying the BNP are "racist and divisive" and there are reports from the villagers that they witnessed BNP festival goers goose-stepping and shouting "Heil Hitler" during last years jamboree!
So, one weekend, two festivals, they couldn't be more different in their aim, ambience, inclusiveness but most importantly, their Britishness. One thing is certain, the villagers of Cropredy are proud to be the home of Fairport's wonderful Cropredy Convention and its tradition and heritage will probably live on for at least another forty years - I am sure the same cannot be said for the festival of hate that the villagers of Codnor unwittingly find themselves associated with.