BARRED: Beer in honour of Britannia Coconut Dancers rejected in House of Commons (From Blackburn Citizen)
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BARRED: Beer in honour of Britannia Coconut Dancers rejected in House of Commons
A BAR in the House of Commons refused to serve beer featuring the black faces of the Britannia Coconut Dancers.
Darwen and Rossendale MP Jake Berry was invited to put forward a guest ale in the Strangers Bar in the Palace of Westminister.
But parliamentary chiefs threw out the pale ale which had been specially crafted by a multi award-winning Rossendale brewery, saying the imagery ‘may have caused offence.’
MPs and local politicians slammed the decision, saying it ‘favours political correctness over common sense’.
The Coconutters have hit out, saying their traditional black make-up and colourful costumes are a celebration of Lancashire’s mining heritage, and have ‘no racial element whatsoever’.
It comes days after Will Straw, son of Blackburn MP Jack, was embroiled in a Twitter storm after posting a picture of himself with the morris dancing troupe.
Joe Healey, Coconutters secretary, called the decision ‘a real sad shame’.
He said: “I don’t understand the furore. Some people make caustic comments without understanding the tradition.
“After recent comments made about us, I felt compelled to go back through our history, and there is no racial element whatsoever. There is no mention of race or ethnicity.
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“Researchers from Sheffield University have done the same, and come to the same conclusion.
“Many morris dancing troupes, especially in Wales, wear black faces as a celebration of our mining history.
“Miners came out of the mines covered in coal dust. It’s nothing to do with making a mockery of other people.
“I know that myself and the other lads would either make changes, or stop taking part altogether, if we thought we were taking part in a racist tradition.”
Irwell Works Brewery in Ramsbottom dropped the image of the Coconutters from the beer pump and replaced it with the Bacup crest, which will accompany the ale in the Strangers Bar.
Mr Berry said: “I’m really looking forward to hosting the guest beer in Parliament in two weeks, celebrating everything that’s great about Rossendale.
“Since getting this opportunity, we’ve been in discussion with the Irwell Works Brewery since January about a number of names for the beer, to celebrate our local traditions here in the Valley.
“We thought of several names, but as the boundary dance was saved earlier this year, I thought it would be a fitting tribute to name the beer after the Britannia Coconutters, to celebrate their huge contribution to traditional dancing and their charity work across Rossendale.
“The House of Commons authorities did not feel that this would comply with the strict rules they have regarding the naming of guest beers and requested us to choose one of our alternative suggestions.
“I’m disappointed in the House of Commons Authorities decision. People who live in London obviously have no understanding about our Lancashire traditions.”
Sara D’arcy, managing director of Irwell Works Brewery, said: “After Jake suggested we do a beer featuring the Coconutters, I made it up and we sent it down with him.
“He came back to us and said they thought the picture of them could offend people, so we changed it to the Bacup crest.”
Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson said: “It’s regrettable that such a great Lancashire tradition can’t be celebrated in the House of Commons.”
Will Straw, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Rossendale and Darwen, said: "Everyone in Rossendale will be disappointed that our folk tradition and mining heritage has once again been misunderstood.
“But let's hope that the silver lining from this latest controversy will be more people to coming to Bacup next Easter to see the Nutters for themselves."
Bacup councillor Jimmy Eaton said: “This is a case of favouring political correctness over common sense.
“I’m 64 and I’ve watched the Coconutters dance since I was a child - there is nothing untoward about them.”
Nigel Evans, Ribble Valley MP and president of the All Party Beer Group, said: “I understand how the imagery can be perceived, and in modern times we have to be realistic about that.
“I think the quality of the beer on tap is more important than the publicity emblazoned on the pump.”
A spokesman for the House of Commons said: “The ale offered was not acceptable as the imagery proposed to be used in connection with sales may have caused offence."
He added: “Irwell Works brewery will be supplying a different guest ale in the near future.”
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