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He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother

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Steve with Hillsborough Families at Anfield

For those not as conversant with the small ‘p’ politics that surround the Hillsborough Disaster as many in Liverpool are, there is understandable surprise that there is any discontent regarding the aims of the project to get ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ by the Justice Collective to number one this Christmas. Whilst there are some dissident voices, they are overwhelmingly in the minority.

People may also be surprised at the need to explain why a song aimed at raising the profile of the Hillsborough tragedy and its aftermath, and raise money for the ongoing legal battles, might court any controversy at all. After all, for almost a quarter of a century we have been fighting to keep the disaster on the media agenda in order to raise awareness of the injustice and educate the wider general public about why Hillsborough matters. But I have to say that unfortunately I am not surprised that there are those that have missed the overarching objective (either by design, or by accident!).

As the person credited with organising this project, (although in reality there is a small management team and between 3 to 4 hundred individuals involved to date), any criticism by the disgruntled should be levelled at my door (feel free to voice your concern by contacting me on steve.rotheram.mp@parliament.uk). For the avoidance of any doubt, I was the person responsible for giving the green light to all of the artists that have made it onto the final version of the song, including Rebecca Ferguson and Sir Paul McCartney.

However, it would appear that for some, both Liverpool born singers have been controversial inclusions, but for the vast, VAST majority of those I have spoken with, including many of the families and survivors of that day, they are more than happy with their participation. Surely that should be all the evidence the minority need that they are on the wrong side of this argument and that whilst they are entitled to their own opinions, unity is better than division for the sake of the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of those left behind to carry the eternal flame?

Obviously mistakes have been made - I accept that. They were inevitable, especially when you pause to consider the timescale (just 6 weeks from inception to completion): the complexity of the project and issues of confidentiality until artists and their management had agreed releases, it wasn’t possible to speak with representatives of all 96 families. However, those I have spoken with personally (including Anne Williams and Margaret Aspinall), are delighted with what we have achieved in such a short space of time.

I very much respect peoples’ right to free speech (as you will see from my record in parliament and my work around trolling), but that shouldn’t be abused by those peddling untruths about; who did what and when. There has to be a difficult but totally necessary balance.

The Sun newspaper was rightly vilified for telling lies about Hillsborough – something that 23 years on, still haunts journalists and others that are associated with that paper, and which still has ramifications financially for a paper which sells considerably less today than it did in 1989. So it is strangely ironic for a tiny few to try to use lies and distortions to illustrate their points about others.

Twitter and Facebook are great social media tools with which to generate positivity and raise awareness on a whole plethora of issues. We wouldn’t be where we are today in the truth and justice campaign, if we hadn’t utilised social media in August 2011 when we needed 100,000 signatures to trigger a Parliamentary debate to ensure the release and full disclosure (unredacted) of what we now know to be damning documents about the cover up. But as we are seeing, social media can quickly become the vehicle for all sorts of negative rumour and unsubstantiated gossip. 

I have spoken with Rebecca Ferguson in person about the on-line allegations ie, that she wrote for/profited from, or even had a column in the Sun. She has assured me that this is simply untrue. I believe her. Let me be 100 per cent clear; Rebecca does NOT deserve the abuse she has been subjected to. It has to stop.

Anyone that knows the music industry will attest to the round-Robin of interviews and photographs that are part of generating publicity for any artist, especially a young a relatively inexperienced newcomer. Rebecca had photos taken with hundreds of journalists, but has never done anything consciously to promote that newspaper. But her denial seems not to be enough for some.

I do wonder how some people know so much about who has allegedly done what and when in the Sun when they purport not to buy or read it? Somehow things don’t add up when people (supposedly) know so much about what is in it, but who argue they would never pick up a copy, or even read it on-line?

There are some people concerned at certain performers’ involvement because they mistakenly believe some of the allegations, but some of the comments about Rebecca Ferguson are simply racist, sexist misogynistic rubbish. I don’t mind anybody having a counter view (than mine), but when it is prejudiced claptrap people should be made aware of the actuality of such bile.

And then of course there is Sir Paul McCartney! Sir Paul has generated worldwide interest in the song and de facto in the cause. This is the same Paul McCartney (as he was then) that supported the first Hillsborough charity single in 1989, although the issue certainly wasn’t as politicised then, but who found time in an unbelievably hectic schedule to record his contribution. The same Sir Paul who did so much during our Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008 to change perceptions of our great city and welcome millions of visitors.

As I don’t read the Sun and can categorically state that I have never bought a copy in my life – and as someone that doesn’t base my whole belief system on what is written on twitter and Facebook, I’m not exactly sure what Sir Paul is supposed to have done, but he is not the sort to write for any particular publication! He certainly wouldn’t have profited financially from the Sun et al, but I believe he is reported to have accepted an award by them (not sure what year).

I don’t think anyone in the entire world would ever begin to understand his life until they walked a mile in his shoes. He is, quite literally, the most famous musician on the planet and to have turned down one of the Beatles (and one of Liverpool’s most famous sons), would have been astonishing, counterintuitive and I believe, would have backfired. We are not attempting to educate people from Merseyside about Hillsborough – most have known for over 2 decades what really happened, - but we are trying to get others on-side and music has the ability to prick the interest of a whole new audience who do not know the reality of what went on.

There is still a long way to go before the battle is won and justice prevails, but people are now giving us a fair hearing for the first time and we must keep the momentum going otherwise things could be dragged out for years before we get a resolution.

The best legal advice costs and HAHHMB will provide a contingency fund to fight any legal battles ahead. If someone else has got a better idea to raise awareness and money, I would be happy to listen to their pearls of wisdom.

And I should point out incidentally that since becoming an MP it is likely that I may have been quoted in The Sun. Let me make it abundantly clear before someone purposely misquotes me, I have never spoken with a Sun journalist, or provided that paper with a quote of any sort (and I turn down all bids from the paper to this day), but I release news stories via the Press Association and the Reuters News agency. If I am/have been quoted because a news journalist from their desk picks up one of my releases and publishes it, does that in itself undo my 23 year involvement in Hillsborough? Most level-minded people would of course say no.

And in the same way that Hillsborough vindicated and validated all that I believed in with regard to the disaster, it also educated a watching world about the levels of corruption that unfolded. Many didn’t believe and we wanted the world to listen. Now they have. Why would we deter anyone that was shocked, angered and heartbroken for those affected, from supporting our cause now?

Many people, not just in Liverpool or even in Britain, but people from around the world are backing the families because of their dignified campaign over 23 years. That hasn’t happened by chance, but by choice. When we reduce our campaign to merely a vilification of any individual that has been the subject of a photos sting, and uncorroborated allegations, or simple lie, we lose sight of our raison d’être. For me it is now (and always has been) about Justice for the 96.

Support it. Buy it. Make it number 1. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (released on 17th December 2012).

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