Searchlight Magazine

A meagre dish served lukewarm

Hope Not Hate and Searchlight magazine parted company in September last year after political and personal differences proved irresolvable. In December HNH’s chief executive officer Nick Lowles published his “Beyond the BNP” essay, with the intention that it would form the basis of HNH’s work in 2012. Since then HNH has moved into new territory with limited success, as Sonia Gable explains below.

Meanwhile HNH’s antifascist “intelligence work” consists mainly of reading fascists’ Facebook pages and posting gossipy stories, sometimes embellished by crude pornography and sexism: one such story was posted and rapidly removed from HNH’s website at the beginning of August. Although HNH activists attend English Defence League demonstrations and take lots of photos, which they plaster with their copyright, they notably do not support any anti-EDL protests, mostly not even mentioning them.

We also take issue with HNH over their attempt, albeit ham-fisted, to jeopardise a Searchlight intelligence operation against the far right late last year, and their lack of security, which led to confidential documents falling into the hands of Notes From the Borderland magazine, who are no friends of ours or of HNH.

Much promised, little delivered is the only realistic verdict on Hope Not Hate’s Britain Tastes Great (BTG) initiative. We say that with regret as HNH used to do so much better, notably in the 2010 election campaign when HNH brought out hundreds of people to deliver leaflets in Barking and Dagenham, which, together with campaigns by Unite Against Fascism and the Labour Party, resulted in the British National Party losing all its councillors in the borough.

BTG made its first appearance in issue 2 of HNH’s magazine, Hope Not Hate published in May. After pointing out that foods thought of as “quintessentially English such as fish and chips” were foreign imports – an example so good he repeated it in HNH issue 3 – Nick Lowles, HNH’s CEO, wrote: “Trying to tap into this is the main focus of our summer festival, the planning of which has come on in leaps and bounds. Our dedicated website is almost finished, though our launch has been put back to mid-June so as not to get lost in the run up to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee”.

Likewise, explained Lowles, “We have also changed our name from the Great British Street Party to Britain Tastes Great, both again to avoid the street party focus of the Queen’s Jubilee but also to refocus our initiative around food”.

The article went on to promise a “party to celebrate the modern Britain”, a BTG cookbook and BTG events in the third week of July. Money raised by a raffle for a prize of a fortnight in a Caribbean villa would, according to the HNH website, go towards BTG, although the back page of issue 2 of HNH still stated confusingly that all proceeds would go to the Great British Street Party.

Come mid-June: nothing, except for an announcement by Lowles that HNH would be “supporting the 2012 Ramadan Festival … as part of our Britain Tastes Great initiative”. This fits in with HNH’s current focus on Islamophobia and building links with certain Muslim organisations, and I would only observe that HNH’s recognition of Ramadan seems to be a recent phenomenon. The Great British Street Party, formerly the Great British Party weekend, was originally supposed to take place on the weekend of 21-22 July. Ramadan began on 20 July, which meant that Muslims could not have taken part unless the events were held after 9pm, an unlikely time for street parties especially ones that were supposed to include children.

We had to wait until 17 July for the launch of BTG in an eight-page HNH supplement in the Daily Mirror, which was boring and not worth the £10,000 that HNH appealed for towards its cost: the Mirror’s support of HNH does not run to providing free space in the newspaper.

BTG also featured at length in issue 3 of HNH, on sale at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival on 14-15 July, which implored readers to visit the dedicated BTG website. This is the website that was “almost finished” in mid-May, yet all that visitors on 14, 15 or 16 July found was an impenetrable login screen.

2012-09-a-meagre-dish-served-lukewarmBy 17 July it was up and running, but was more an embarrassment than anything else. Scrolling down to the bottom of the home page one found the announcement, still there: “Throughout the months of June and July, our Roadshow will be touring the country, bringing with it a range of diverse dishes and searching for the ultimate collection of recipes”.

Did it? The website only went live on 17 July, so any events during June would have passed unbeknown to anyone. Below the announcement is a search box for events: you put in your postcode and events nearby are revealed. I tried it for postcodes ranging from Edinburgh to London. For a day or two I received details of one single event in Cardiff, then briefly one in east London, since then nothing at all for the whole country.

The site contains precisely seven recipes, some of which also featured in the Mirror supplement, and, as at today, five boxes for further recipes marked “coming soon”. There are also a few food-related news items linked to British Olympic gold medal winners, mostly containing information rehashed from elsewhere on the internet, for example the history of Italian restaurants. That’s fine, HNH doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but when you copy and paste, sources should be credited.

Of the promised cookbook, no mention. Readers are asked to submit recipes for “dishes that define modern Britain” to win a first prize of “a week away in a French country house”, and other prices of “dinner for 2 at a top London restaurant” and “10 signed celebrity cookbooks”. Doesn’t HNH just love celebrities.

Perhaps HNH is not entirely to blame. The BTG website turns out not to be registered to HNH at all but to Monterosa Productions Ltd, a commercial company that specialises in television “second screen” applications. Second screen is an additional electronic device (e.g. tablet or smartphone) that allows a television audience to interact with TV content: extra data is displayed on a portable device synchronised with the TV programme. Monterosa’s most prominent project was a play-along web game for Endemol’s Million Pound Drop game-show, which according to The Guardian attracted 1.3m players over the show’s first two series on Channel 4 in the UK.

Monterosa started life in 2003 and has been a profitable business: presumably its other ventures are more inspiring than BTG, which has just 30 “likes” on Facebook and 53 followers on Twitter (and no new tweets since 6 August at the time of writing). Its officers are Simon Brickle, Igor Loboda, Thomas McDonnell and Anna Ferla. It is listed on the BTG website as one of the organisations associated with BTG, the others being the Daily Mirror, HNH, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Barrow Cadbury Trust. HNH being only associated with BTG is further indication that all HNH has done is to attach itself to someone else’s initiative, rather like HNH’s promotion of Dine@Mine, which was actually organised by the Ramadan Festival.

The DCLG and Barrow Cadbury currently fund HNH or more accurately its charitable arm Searchlight Educational Trust (as part of the separation of Searchlight magazine and HNH, they have promised to rename Searchlight Educational Trust by 31 December 2012, though a similar promise to rename Searchlight Information Services Ltd, the company behind HNH, by 30 June 2012 has been broken). We wonder how HNH will account to DCLG and Barrow Cadbury for the use of their grants.

In September 2011 Lowles writing in Searchlight, shortly before he resigned as editor, said that HNH’s campaign using “the Olympics as a tool to do much of the community organising we hope to accomplish … could far exceed the scope of the past HOPE not Hate campaigns”. The reality falls far short of the promise. Their leaflet promoting the Great British Party promised a “fantastic opportunity for neighbour to meet neighbour and community to meet community”. There was also going to be a celebratory bus tour of Britain, a series of community newspapers, a “training pack for schools and teachers, including background briefings on The Great British Party, the Olympics and lesson plans on building shared identities and the Olympic spirit” and “an online magazine for young people”. If anyone has evidence that any of this actually happened, please let us know.

Some will say we should not criticise HNH in this way and accuse us of being sectarian. We say supporters and funders of HNH deserve much better than the damp squib of Britain Tastes Great.

© 2013 Searchlight Magazine Ltd, PO Box 1576, Ilford IG5 0NG

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