Hastings’ Jack-in-the-Green is under threat

AN army of Morris dancers and bogeys are primed and ready to march on Parliament if plans to move the May Day Bank Holiday go ahead.

Government minister John Penrose announced this week that he plans to scrap the public holiday in favour of a new day off later in the year.

The Conservative wants to establish a day celebrating the best of British heritage to be held on October 21 – the same date at Nelson’s famous naval victory at Trafalgar – at the expense of the May Day Bank Holiday.

However, his plans have been met with fierce opposition here in Hastings because it would mean the end of the town’s hugely popular Jack-in-the-Green festival – an occasion which brings in an estimated £5million to the local economy.

Held across the whole weekend, the much-loved annual event attracts upwards of 20,000 people on the Monday and is one of the town’s busiest days – providing a post-winter boost to local firms.

Ironically, the Conservatives hope the plan will help seaside towns struggling in the winter months – and it may well do so in places like Mr Penrose’s Weston super-Mare constituency.

But here in 1066 Country, the idea has been met with nothing but anger.

Keith Leech, who is a key figure in the Jack-in-the-Green circles, urged the Government to dump the plans immediately.

He said: “This reeks of Conservative point scoring. They are looking at the fact it is also Labour Day and are ignorant to what else goes on. They tried to do this before under John Major and it did not happen - largely because we fought it.

“We went to London to demonstrate with other May Day groups and we ended up with bogeys in the lobby of Parliament and the Jack in Downing Street.

“If it comes to it we will do the same again.

“Jack-in-the-Green brings millions into the local economy and helps extend the tourist season here.

“To suggest scrapping it shows a lack of understanding.

“The May Day celebrations are part of our English heritage and are well- know across the world and should be protected, not attacked.”

His thoughts were echoed by Hastings Borough Council’s tourism chief Kevin Boorman.

He told the Observer: “Jack-in-the-Green is one of the biggest events in Hastings and is vital to the town.

“Not only does it provide financial benefits but it is also source of local pride and contributes to the town’s identity.

“It would be terrible to lose it.”

Locals are now being urged to contact their local MP to express their support for Jack-in-the-Green and the May Day Bank Holiday.

And Amber Rudd MP is one Conservative fully behind keeping the Bank Holidays as they are.

She said she would support local calls for the day to be retained and added: “I think it is very important to keep May Day where it is because it is a traditional day for the town and also because it is an important fundraising day for many local charities.

“I am against the proposal to move it to October and will be campaigning against it.”