Convened under the aegis of the Writing on the Wall festival, last night's discussion at the Casa on Hope Street on the role of the media during the miners' strike & Liverpool City Council's battle with the Tories in 1984 sometimes felt like old times. There were moments when the points raised took one back to the Militant Aggregate meetings at the old AEU building on Mount Pleasant.
Mike Morris, ex-Militant full-timer, chaired the meeting & all four main speakers (Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press & Broadcasting Freedom; Nick Jones, BBC industrial correspondent during the strike; Paul Astbury, one of the Liverpool 47; & Peter Lazenby, NUJ activist & currently on strike with his colleagues at the Yorkshire Evening Post) made some powerful & telling points.
Nick Jones was direct & frank about his trade's complicity during the strike:
"We became cheerleaders for the return to work," he admitted.
Jones was "troubled" by following the Tory agenda on the dispute; similar contrition should be shown by other reporters at the time, he suggested.
Paul Astbury's speech, or "lead-off", as we used to call it, amounted to a passionate defence of the 47's record & legacy. He noted that turnout in local council elections in the city at the time was 60%. Last year it was 20%. However, he was in no mood for nostalgia.
"The barbarians are at the gates," he warned when referring to the BNP; the need to effectively oppose the fascists was stressed several times during the evening. However, many of the points on this issue seemed rather vague & woolly.
Peter Lazenby, a splendidly Rumpole-esque figure with an impressive handlebar moustache, was a witty raconteur. However, one statistic he produced stood out for many: last year the UK imported 43m tonnes of coal; prior to the decimation of the mining industry, the average pit produced 1m tonnes of coal per year.
When discussion & comments were opened up to the meeting, Tony Mulhearn spoke about the treatment given to the Militant council by the Echo. It's easy to forget, but the Echo carried pieces then which were every bit as poisonous & fabricated as those dreamt up by the national tabloids.
In an additional comment by Nick Jones, the role of the web was raised. The Left has failed to "get" the web, he said. The Right has certainly harnessed the power of the online world via blogs (Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale, etc.). That need not be the case, he claimed, look at Obama's web-based operation last year.
Many of those present were veterans from the early 80s, so it would be easy to dismiss the event as the Left talking to itself. However, one of the themes stressed several times was the changed situation today. You can't turn back the clock; reviving the old Militant wouldn't work anymore (if, indeed, that were possible). Instead, both the message & the communications used need to be more diffuse & web-savvy.