Review : SOPHIE Lancaster campaign celebrated in special event in Parliament

Sophie Lancaster campaign Facebook page

Pop and Politics is an ad hoc event that me and MP Kerry Mccarthy have been running with Martin Leah and Matt Booth for couple of years now with tireless help from Chloe Alexander.

The idea is to discuss political issues that affect us in music etc with MPs and musicians- it started with the campaign to try and get help for the visa issue for musicians trying to play America which made some head way.

A whole range of topics have been covered like secondary ticketing, sexism in pop culture etc but this event today is something really special.

This is unlike anything else I’ve been involved in.

Today’s event is held in the historic grandeur of Parliament and is a celebration of 2 remarkable women, Sylvia Lancaster and Kate Conboy -Greenwood who have been thrown into a strange and powerful situation by a senseless and tragic crime that would have numbed most people into a sense of despair.

Instead their determination to make something positive out of what happened has been inspirational. The murder of Sylvia’s teenage daughter – the so called ‘Goth’ Sophie Lancaster in a Colne park 7 years ago by a gang was turned into a campaign of hope called S.O.P.H.I E. by her mother and best friend and is still the stuff of raw emotion and a murder that powerfully affected everyone in our musical community and then beyond.

Real raw emotion fills the packed room as MPs like Kerry McCarthy, Yvette Fielding, Graham Jones, Hate Crime campaigners, school teachers, the great Adam Ant and people from from all walks of life join the indefadgetible Kate and Sylvia for a unique event to celebrate the powerful and unstoppable SOPHIE campaign.

I’m chairing a debate in the second half of the session but first we listen in stunned silence to the Black Roses radio play that was recently broadcast by the BBC and then turned into a stage play starring Rachel Austin and Julie Hesmondhalgh (CORONATION STREET), The brilliant elegy is co-directed by Royal Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom and award-winning BBC Radio Drama Producer Susan Roberts.

We are battered by waves of emotion as the deceptively simple yet stark and powerful radio play is played to for us over the speakers. It documents a mother’s powerful love for her daughter- a daughter who seemed more than special with her gentle and passive individuality, her almost poetic sensitivity and her love of dressing up that somehow resulted in her senseless death at the hands and feet of a cowardly gang who basically murdered her because they didn’t like her hair in that Lancashire park 7 years ago.

The tension and the emotion in the play builds and builds and it’s almost impossible to hold back the tears as you hear sniffles in the room – being northern blokes we are sitting there stoney faced, trying not to crack but the waves of emotional power well up inside us like giant waves crashing on the shore. The astonishing play is built around 2 voices- the mother and the daughter talking about their lives with Sylvia’s brusque Lancashire accent detailing her love of her daughter and her pride in her for daring to be different in a world of conformity – this contrasts with Sophie’s voice played by an actress reading Simon Armitage’s brilliant and special poetic script that somehow gets inside the head of a special young woman trying to make sense of the world before it caves in on her by an act of brutal and senseless violence.
This play should be broadcast in every school in Britain and anyone left with any empathy with the human race would maybe think twice before getting into kind of bullying situation.

The campaign against hate crime, run by Sophie’s mother Sylvia and her remarkable friend Kate, is attempting the near impossible – to make incidents like this be recognised as hate crimes by the police ( I am proud to report that so far the only police force to actually do this is my local one in Manchester) and also get into the grass roots of our culture in schools and even prisons and try and reach out to people’s sense of humanity before the selfish surge of modern culture turns us all into inhuman zombies stamping on each other for no reason. This is not the gutter press preaching hatred and broken Britain, this is a real attempt to repair our damaged society with a hands on approach.

The post film debate is inspirational and tempered with a real raw honesty. We talk of the need to try and stop the rot of hate in our society- a hate that left unchecked can potentially even turn into the extremes of the Rwanda style civil war as MP Graham Jones points out whilst MP Kerry McCarthy talks about what politicians can try and do.

The talk moves around the room- Sylvia and Kate detail the work they do in schools and how the play was a real boost to their campaign and how they are speaking to local authorities and the police in their tireless and inspirational work to try and make something positive happen after the awful tragedy- it’s slow and painstaking work but like the mothers of the Hillsborough victims proved- it’s the so called ‘normal’ women from all walks of life who can cut through the red tape and protocol and make things happen. As Sylvia says ‘we don’t even know how you are meant to do this in the ‘proper’ way we just ring people up and make things happen’. Maybe it’s this people power politics that can affect the real change in the 21st century although it helps to have the kind of more socially conscious MPs who are in the room on your side as well.

The SOPHIE campaign has grabbed people’s imagination and her tragic death has fired everyone up into one of those enough is enough situations- we are all doing our tiniest bits- whether it’s musicians like my band Goldblade who got into touch with the campaign when it started and offered Sylvia and Kate the mini platform of our gigs and website to start getting their message across and sold the now famous SOPHIE wristbands for them at our gigs or like the watching Adam Ant just wearing that wristband in the early days of the campaign which was a big help in getting the word across. And of course as musicians you want to do your bit- especially as Sophie was a music head like us.

There is always the agony that it can never be enough but sometimes it’s these little things that can help the real serious work being done by the campaigners like Sylvia and Kate as well as the Hate campaign people and the people with proper jobs in the room.

Somehow fittingly we end the evening paying our respects to Tony Benn’s coffin which is being held in an overnight vigil in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft- the church below Parliament. It’s a room that you have to ask the queen for permission to use for such a vigil and Thatcher was the only other person to be allowed to rest in state in there before which, as his son Hilary Benn MP, tells us would have his father smiling at the absurdity of it all from the beyond.

Somehow this seems a fitting epitaph to the day’s work. We look at the brass plate that Tony himself screwed into the door of the church without permission celebrating the protest of Emily Wilding Davison- the suffragette who on 2 April 1911, the night of the 1911 census, hid in a cupboard in St Mary Undercroft overnight so that on the census form she could legitimately give her place of residence that night as the “House of Commons” as an act of protest agaisnt the lack of votes for women.

It feels right that the power of word ‘no’ in the suffrgette protest and Tony Benn’s love of democracy and people power and the power of women to affect change in our sometimes brutal and sometimes unhappy society was being celebrated upstairs which would have thrilled him.

The idea that sometimes you just have to say ‘no’ to affect change is a powerful one and an idea that the SOPHIE campaigners shared with Tony and proof that in these cynical times a certian kind of politics and an open hearted comitment to chnaging the world can still make an affect.

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