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‘Londoners don’t get Lancashire traditions’: UK Parliament pulls beer over race fears

By Ben Bouckley+

02-May-2014
Last updated on 02-May-2014 at 18:12 GMT

The Britannia Coconut Dancers in action (Photo: Kezka Dantza Taldea Eibar/Flickr)
The Britannia Coconut Dancers in action (Photo: Kezka Dantza Taldea Eibar/Flickr)

The UK Parliament has refused to serve a beer brewed in the Northwest of England over concerns that the bar tap was racist, where it depicted blacked-up faces from a traditional Lancashire dance troupe.

But the move has sparked an outcry in some quarters, with supporters of the Britannia Coconut Dancers insisting that their make-up and costumes celebrate Lancashire’s mining heritage with no connection to race.

Conservative MP for Rossendale & Darwen, Jake Berry, also condemned the decision – by the House of Commons Stranger’s Bar – not to serve the beer, which means producer Irwell Works Brewery has had to re-name the beer and change its tap design.

Discussing the bar’s refusal to serve the guest ale, Berry’s spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com: “It was quite sad really what’s happened. We’re now changing it to a different title.

“There’s a very long heritage here – they’re connected to the mining traditions here, there was a lot of mining in the Bacup area,” she added.

‘Nothing racist about dancers’ – Will Straw

Berry himself told the Lancashire Telegraph today: “People who live in London obviously have no understanding of our Lancashire traditions.”

Will Straw, son of former cabinet minister Jack Straw, is campaigning to supplant Berry as a Labour MP in in the 2015 election, and on April 19 posted a picture of himself on Twitter (@wdjstraw) with the troupe in a pub.

“Good to talk to Neville Earnshaw of world famous Britannia Coconutters in the New Inn. Great Bacup tradition,” Straw wrote.

Later that day he was forced to hit back at accusations of racism following the photo: “Just checked back on Twitter and seen torrent of ignorant Tweets on Britannia Coconut Dancers. Nothing racist about it,” he wrote, referring followers to the troupe’s website.

This explains that the origins of traditional dances are lost in time but are still performed by men in the Pennine town of Bacup, situated between Rochdale and Burnley in England.

Blackened faces may reflect ‘pagan background’

“The dances they perform are actually folk dances and the custom of blackened faces may reflect a pagan or medieval background which was done to disguise the dancers from being recognised by evil spirits afterwards, it may also reflect mining connections,” the website says.

“The dances are supposed to have originated with Moorish pirates (hence the costume). Some of these sailors are said to have settled in Cornwall and become employed in local mining,” it adds.

We asked a House of Commons spokesman this afternoon whether the decision not to serve the beer might not be seen as unduly politically correct?

"The House made arrangements for Irwell Works Brewery to supply a product as part of its regular offering of guest ales. The brewery was unable to supply the agreed ale and the alternative offered to the House was not acceptable," he said, in a statement sent via email.

"The House has made arrangements for an alternative supplier to supply a guest ale in the week concerned and Irwell Works brewery will be supplying a different guest ale in the near future," he added.

Irwell Works Brewery was unavailable for comment.

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