Why Boris Johnson should step in to save London’s WorldPride parade

The Mayor could make an important gesture to the LGBT community in London by helping with last-minute funding problems.

WorldPride, an event that was meant to showcase London as a leading city for LGBT rights and life, is fast resembling a paltry village fete. Now, it’s up to all those who honour Pride’s core values to call on Boris Johnson to intervene, and to step up and be counted themselves on Saturday, whatever the state of the parade.

If you don’t already know (and it’s been so little reported in the mainstream press you probably don’t), last Thursday WorldPride organisers Pride London revealed that a shortfall in funding, estimated to be around £66,000 by the LGBT VSO coalition Consortium, would mean drastic last-minute changes for this Saturday’s WorldPride parade day. No special events in Soho, a reduced rally in Trafalgar Square, no outdoor drinking and late licensing in Soho and most galling of all, no floats – floats which volunteers and LGBT charities have invested precious hours and pounds in constructing (with a minimum cost of £2,500 just to secure one), and are now out of pocket for having done so. Being unable to pay for the requisite policing means the procession start time has been moved forward by two hours, scuppering thousands of pre-arranged travel plans, and the official Pride magazine, which details the day’s schedule, has been out of date since it dropped off the press. The one million or so expected visitors are currently en route to a glorified march about town, something akin to what Pride London’s bizarre sleight of spin calls "the roots of the original Pride London rallies". But 40 years later, even Peter Tatchell, the founder of that first march, considers the comparison a travesty, not a compliment: “We’re not only letting down LGBT people in Britain, we’re also betraying the trust and confidence of LGBT people world-wide. This is an absolute disaster,” he said.

WorldPride in London should have been a spectacular party which reminded the international community of the ever-pressing need to fight for the rights of LGBT people, wherever they may be. Now, both the party and the political message have been egregiously undermined by the committee’s incompetence and nonsensical hesitancy in admitting it needed funding help. If the event is allowed to fall apart, London’s claim to being a city of tolerance and social liberalism will surely be tarnished.

Meanwhile, the LGBT community and those involved with the event are conflicted about the best way forward. In an open letter to Boris Johnson, a Facebook group called Shame London have asked the Mayor "to provide equivalent funding to the Notting Hill Carnival", which would enable the parade proper to be reinstated. Since the GLA has in fact already donated £100,000 to the event, others disagree that it is Johnson’s duty to step up to the plate. Some have called out for a celebrity donor, or Soho businesses that profit year round from the LGBT community, to put up the cash; others claim to be prepared to fundraise themselves. Pride London is the only official group with the means to distribute gathered funds, but vitriol for them is now so intense that many potential supporters would not pass a penny the committee’s way whatever it could now pull off. Somebody, then, must surely act as both a mediator and a guarantor.

Late last night, Pride London confirmed that it had secured the support of two sponsors, Smirnoff and QSoft in meeting some of the deficit, theoretically enabling the restoration of the floats to the parade and the closure of selected Soho roads, should the GLA agree. A final all-agencies meeting is planned for later today where the restoration of WorldPride now depends on the cooperation of Westminster Council and the Met, or a top-down order from the only man who can demand it: the Mayor himself.

Johnson’s reticence to intervene so far is not exactly reassuring. Would Johnson not have offered help immediately if the Jubilee celebrations had been financially mismanaged? Or the Olympics? Even the most cynical of us can see that the furore presents Johnson with the perfect political opportunity to up the Tories’ liberal cuddle-credentials. So what point has the Mayor made by so far failing to step in and save the day? That you can put a price on protecting and promoting human rights, and it stands at roughly £66K?

In the meantime, besides occupying City Hall, or picketing Boris’ home, what can any of the appalled rest of us do? Well, join the Shame London Facebook campaign and email the Mayor. Or use a similar letter drafted by Consortium to put pressure on the GLA to reinstate the original plans. And – most importantly - plan to attend WorldPride on Saturday, of course, however the event turns out. Even if we can’t party as hard as we were hoping, we can still do what thousands of other individuals still waiting for LGBT acceptance around the world cannot; march with our friends and loved ones and say to the world, it’s ok to be gay. Whatever Pride London or the authorities owed us in honesty or actions, we owe it to all those denied the right to LGBT identity to show that solidarity.
 

Boris Johnson at the Gay Pride march in London in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue