Friday, May 26, 2006

LAUNCHED

Whooosh.

Last night saw the official launch of the Euston Manifesto. Demand for tickets meant a change of venue, so off several hundred of us trekked to Islington's Union Chapel.

The night kicked off with an introduction from Nick Cohen, who did a great job of chairing the meeting. Norman Geras, Shalom Lappin, Eve Garrard and Alan Johnson followed in quick succession, each keeping to their allotted time of fifteen minutes. This must have been quite tricky because I got the impression that each had easily enough material to give a far longer address.

Of course, this was bound to upset some, but there were others who thought the speeches were too long - you can't please everyone the whole time and on the whole, fifteen minutes seemed a pretty reasonable compromise. After all, this was meant to be a public meeting, not a seminar series.

I was busy sorting out late-comers on the door so wasn't able to take many notes during the speeches. Eve Garrard's criticism of those who have double standards for human rights stuck out, slamming those who fiercely criticise the US for human rights abuses but shy away from condemning regimes further from home for similar or worse crimes (whether that be a by-product of cultural relativism or simply the "the enemy of the US is my friend" way of thinking), describing them as "a moral and intellectual disgrace." Bosh.

Alan Johnson made the most of being last up by delivering a great speech, in which he turned Galloway's "I'm not the only one" against him, highlighting the common feeling that many in the audience clearly related to of feeling homeless on the democratic Left. The great thing about the EM and websites such as Harry's Place is that both have drawn together people who may have felt isolated or alone. As he put it, Eric Lee of LabourStart is not the only one. The folk who run Engage (too many to list here) are not the only ones. Labour Friends of Iraq are not the only ones. And so on.

He quoted Paul Berman as saying the pro-democracy Left is one of the largest untapped political forces in the West today. Those I spoke to said how relieved they were to find blogs that represented their way of thinking when the likes of the Independent and the Guardian have mostly kept such lines of argument out of their comments pages. These are the "invisible ones", the people that only since the invention of Cif and the publication of the EM have many on the Left realised exist.

Noone seemed to disagree when Alan Johnson summed things up by stating that the EM was dedicated to fighting for "justice and liberty for all." With the document originating from the Left, he reminded us it was important to remember that this included "social justice for all" with "noone left behind." Understandably, this went down rather well.

And so onto the business of collecting donations and mobile phones for Iraq and taking questions from the floor. Ideally this would have gone on longer, but here the venue failed us a little - due to the lighting it was absolutely impossible for those on the stage to see the audience and thus engage with them properly.

But no matter. As churches go, the Union Chapel must be a rarity in that it has a fully licensed bar round the back, a far better place for everyone to exchange ideas and work out where we go from here.

I'm not sure the venue were expecting so many people to stay behind for drinks, but we drank the bar dry almost immediately, the Drink-Soaked Trots who couldn't make the launch would have been proud. It was a pleasure to meet everyone who stayed behind - and I'm sure the restaurant we all descended on for tapas were quite pleased as well, especially with Paul's rather effective method of getting us our grub as quickly as possible: getting the staff to choose our food allowing the rest of us to gabble on as before. Genius.

After a couple of drinks it was night-bus time, following a little stroll around leafy Canonbury, a great end to a great night. That said, I didn't much appreciate the rather large drunken lady that almost managed to wedge me into my seat on the bus much to the amusement of the bloke behind me. There was me thinking that sleeping people tend to stay still and not flail their bingo-winged arms all over the shop, but that's buses for you. I'd have been alright if I'd had my buckets with me, but there we are (see next post).

To finish: where the Euston train's headed nobody knows, but there's talk of getting Paul Berman involved in June and a meeting planned on Darfur for September (details to follow). Regional EM groups are being set up around the country, the *ahem* young ones present are working on how to get more young ones involved and more than half of those who filled out our questionnaire volunteered their services, whether those be public speaking, organising events or plain old envelope-stuffing (Ed: Thank G*d for that...)

Alan Johnson was right to describe the Euston Manifesto as a catalyst.
What to do next? Well that's up to you. But we can do more than just sit and wait - let's get to work!
Personally, I need a night off. But he's right - the EM has brought together a whole bunch of people - some experienced politicos, others intrigued newcomers wondering how they can help - who might otherwise have never met. Between us we ought to be capable of keeping the ball rolling.

For now, it will suffice to take a deep breath and thank everyone who made the launch the success it was - from the organisers to the speakers to the supporters, all of whom turned down the opportunity of enjoying the first sunny evening in a while and the chance to watch England play to come and make their presence felt and their voices heard. Twelve hundred quid raised and a bucket full of mobile phones for Iraq isn't too bad either. Raised glasses all round.

More here, here and here.

Oh and congratulations to the anti-EM infiltrators who decided to leave a pile of photocopies of the article cited by HakMao here lying on a table at the end. If the best you can do to fight the EM is to leave literature written by someone who can't distinguish between fictional and genuine journalists, we're not particularly worried. You did make us laugh though and it gave us something to wipe up some spillages with, so thanks.

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