Happy Birthday Ferlinghetti

If you read last week’s paper you will know that I’ve been involved in moves to save the Whitstable Carnival. It’s not actually what I’d planned for my retirement, but there you go.

I’m busy with the process of setting us up with a constitution, along with looking into ways in which we might earn some money. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

Meanwhile I’ve also been working with Kevin Davey, the author of Playing Possum, the Whitstable based novel that was shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize, on a celebration to mark the birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I suspect few of you will have heard of him. If I mentioned Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, on the other hand, my guess would be that many more of you would register who they were.

Kerouac was the author of the seminal Beat novel, On The Road; Ginsberg the poet responsible for Howl, whose publication lead to an obscenity trial in 1957.

Between them these two writers kicked off the Beat movement in the United States, and Ferlinghetti was inspirational to both.

Himself a poet and artist of some distinction, his City Lights bookshop in San Francisco, and the publishing house that is associated with it, has been the focus of radical literary and political dissent for the last 65 years. It was born in 1953, the same year as me.

Since then City Lights has issued novels, poetry and prose that have challenged war and nuclear weapons, opposed the corruption of the Nixon years, explored gender and challenged homophobia, strengthened the struggle for civil rights, and given voice to struggles in the developing world and dissent in Eastern Europe.

It was the City Lights bookshop which became the meeting place between the organisers of the New Left, and the alternative culture of the hippies, and which created the first stirrings of the mass movement that finally put an end to the Vietnam War.

In other words, Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an important man. Aside from the two writers above, he also published Aimiri Baraka, Charles Bukowski, Gregory Corso, Angela Davis, William Burroughs, Diane de Prima, Noam Chomsky and Huey Newton.

What these names remind us is that it is entirely possible for an art movement to change the world. Beat culture led directly to hippie culture, the signs of which are around to this day, in everything from the wholefood section of your supermarket, to the fact that we no longer consider it sinful to live together outside of marriage.

Bukowski, in particular, is very significant in my life. It was reading his novel Post Office in the early 90s that persuaded me that I should become a writer. There was something about the way he wrote that inspired me, and the fact he was drawing on incidents in his own life.

Oddly enough, Bukowski had been a postal worker before writing the novel and, as I’m sure you know, that’s what I ended up doing: kind of like Bukowski in reverse.

Anyway, Ferlinghetti still being alive, and March 24th being his 100th birthday, Kevin and I decided that it was too important a date to miss. Consequently we are hosting a special City Lights evening down the Labour Club on the 23rd, where visitors will be asked to read out their favourite passages, and tell the rest of us why we think it’s important.

The evening will feature Ben Hickman, director of the Centre for Modern Poetry at the University of Kent, and Chair of the Canterbury Constituency Labour Party.

Come along. It will be a good night.

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Check here for details: https://www.facebook.com/events/307058896826400/

From The Whitstable Gazette 14/03/19

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

fax: 01227 762415

Rosie Duffield MP and antisemitism: who’s pulling her strings?

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield has a slim majority of 187 votes

By Julie Wassmer

Last week, Canterbury MP, Rosie Duffield, made the following request on social media:-

Rosie Duffield MPVerified account @RosieDuffield1 Feb 27

Can anyone who thinks it’s okay to use the hashtag #IStandWithChrisWilliamson do me a massive favour and unfollow me please! His values are not those of @UKLabour and have no place in our beloved Party.

The request was made on the same day that Derby North MP, Chris Williamson, a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was suspended by the Labour Party after a group of Labour MPs complained about remarks he had made at a meeting in East Yorkshire.

A strongly worded letter written by Clive Efford MP, chair of a group known as the Labour Tribune, called for Williamson’s suspension after he had offered an opinion that Labour had been “too apologetic” against allegations of anti-Semitism when the party had always been strongly anti-racist.

37 Labour MPs put their names to Efford’s letter – including my own Canterbury MP, Rosie Duffield. Amongst the allegations in the letter, which was circulated publicly via the Labour Tribune’s Twitter page, lay the following statement: “Chris Williamson has just been told to cancel his booking for a room in the House of Commons to show a film in support of someone who has been thrown out of the party for making antisemitic comments.”

This statement was untruthful.

In fact, Williamson had booked a room at the House of Commons for a screening of a film by Jon Pullman, WitchHunt, a documentary focusing on the accusations of antisemitism against Jacqueline (Jackie) Walker – a Black and Jewish anti-racist campaigner who has certainly not been “kicked out of the party”, because her hearing, against suspension from the party, is not scheduled until 26 March.

WitchHunt premiered at the Palace Cinema, Broadstairs on Sunday, 3 February with a London screening taking place a week later, followed by a Q and A session featuring Pullman, Alexei Sayle, Jackie Walker and Justin Schlosberg. It was chaired by Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a founding member of the group Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL). JVL had been expecting to host the screening at the House of Commons on 4 March. Williamson’s only part in this was the hiring of the House of Commons room. He says that he didn’t plan to attend this screening – the cancellation of which, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) claims was due to “intimidation”.

The film’s website states that “Through a series of interviews, analysis and witness testimony, WitchHunt explores the connections between the attacks on Labour, the ongoing tragedy of Palestine and the wider struggle against race-based oppression. It argues that if it is to mean anything at all, the fight against racism must be a shared one that includes all peoples.”

The acclaimed film director, Mike Leigh, says of the film:-

“This impeccably-executed film exposes with chilling accuracy the terrifying threat that now confronts democracy, and the depressing intractability of the Israel-Palestine situation.”

And Ken Loach, the celebrated director of I Daniel Blake, commented on the documentary’s focus as follows:-

“The case of Jackie Walker is important. This film asks whether her lengthy suspension from the Labour Party and attempts to expel her are fair, or an injustice which should be challenged. She is not the only one in this position. See the film and make up your own mind”

Unfortunately, anyone who wanted to see it at the House of Commons was prevented from doing so by the objections of MPs such as Rosie Duffield.

Duffield’s subsequent tweet of rejection towards anyone who showed support for Chris Williamson, was greeted by many with dismay – but also offence. Eric Segal, who is a Socialist, Jewish, a member of Unite and Secretary of the South East Kent Trades Union council, responded as follows:-

Eric Segal

28 February at 18:40 · 

I’ve been asked to defriend Rosie Duffield Canterbury MP for my concern at the suspension of Chris Williamson MP for his alleged anti Semitic comments. My reply to Rosie is:

“Hallo Rosie, you have asked me to defriend you on Twitter for expressing my concern at the suspension of the Labour MP Chris Williamson.

Rosie, my paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Kiev in Ukraine. Most if not all of our remaining relatives were murdered by the nazis for being Jewish. You may want to read about this in the book about Babi Yar the largest recorded case of genocide.

My maternal grandparents were also Jewish refugees from a small village near Warsaw in Poland. They were socialists and were forced to flee from persecution. My grandfather arrived in Britain and he continued his battles as a trade unionist fighting for a shorter working week in the tailor and garment workers union.

My grandfathers and grandfathers brothers and sisters nieces and nephews were also murdered in the death camps or on the death march out of Auschwitz for the crime of being Jewish.

I try to follow in the footsteps of socialists such as my grandfather and I consider your decision to attempt defriend me on Twitter an affront to the ideas and principles of true socialists, regards Eric Segal”

Mr Segal went on to explain to Duffield, on Twitter, that Chris Williamson had used official statistics published by the General Secretary of the Labour Party to “confirm that over the last 10 months complaints received led to 453 cases being investigated for antisemitism which equals 1/12th of 1% of the membership”. Duffield replied to Segal: “Thanks for your important and fascinating contribution Eric, now please do as I asked (as you are clearly a Chris Williamson fan) and unfollow me.”

Presumably, in an effort to clarify her position for constituents, Rosie Duffield posted the following comment on Facebook:-

Having read these comments, South Thanet constituent, Jason Tipple, asked Duffield if she had reported the individuals she had accused of anti-Semitism, and what was the outcome? Tipple says that Duffield then deleted him from her Facebook page – along with someone else “who had asked her to consider looking at the views of Jewish Voice for Labour.”

Duffield’s reference to “Luciana” is clearly to the former Labour MP, Luciana Berger, who recently, and controversially, deserted Duffield’s “beloved” Labour Party while choosing nonetheless to hold on to her parliamentary seat, and salary, and refusing to test her constituency’s allegiance to her with a by-election. But it was the mention of our own MP’s support for Ella Rose that caused immediate concern for many of Duffield’s constituents, including Diane Langford, a Labour Party member, former trade union worker and campaigner for the NHS as well as for Palestinian human rights, who commented as follows:-

“I was extremely disturbed to learn that our MP, Rosie Duffield, should count Ella Rose amongst her ‘friends’ and ‘reliable guides’. Is Ms Duffield not aware that Ms Rose was directly employed by the Israeli Embassy and, was filmed, while director of Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), threatening to use the Israeli army fighting technique, Krav Maga, to ‘take’ Black Jewish writer and activist, Jackie Walker?”

“Furthermore,” says Langford, “Ms Duffield appears to ventriloquise Ms Rose by cynically adopting the language of anti-racists. But Palestine Solidarity campaigners have long been at pains to point out that criticism of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitic, and resisted the Israeli tactic of diverting attention from its crimes against Palestinians by conflating the two. For Ms Duffield to twist matters, by accusing some local Labour Party members of using ‘anti-semitic and racist myths and tropes about Jews’ is not only bizarre, but grossly insulting.”

Diane Langford asks why Duffield “follows the lead of the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel” after Joan Ryan MP was filmed trying to set up a Labour Member as an anti-Semite merely for asking how a two-state solution would be possible while Israel is building settlements all over the West Bank?  Ryan remains chair of Labour Friends of Israel – although she, too, has resigned from the Labour Party.

Langford believes that members of JLM and Friends of Israel “clearly dread, and will work ceaselessly against, the possibility of a Corbyn-led government that might seek justice for Palestine.” She goes on to ask: “Was Ms Duffield already a supporter of such lobbyists before taking office? Or groomed and used by them subsequently? Does our MP fully understand the implications of her actions, making her avowed support for Corbyn dubious? If so, surely she is allied to those who are consciously working to sabotage him?”

Certainly, Duffield’s chosen support for Jewish Labour Movement – above that of Jewish Voice for Labour – raises further questions – for me in particular. Last year, Duffield was photographed at a rally in Westminster that was ostensibly against ‘anti-Semitism” but populated by extreme right wing elements.

Many Canterbury constituents questioned why our MP was supporting an event widely viewed as anti-Corbyn, and attended by the likes of Ian Paisley Jnr and the former Thatcher ally, Norman Tebbit. Members of Jewish Voice for Labour were also there, but speaking up for Jeremy Corbyn, and against the allegations of anti-Semitism that had been ranged against the Labour leader at the event and in the mainstream media.

At that time, I found myself engaged in an online conversation with a member of JVL who suggested I might like to join the group. Although I have Jewish heritage, I learned that this was not required for membership because JVL admits members who “identify as Jewish.” However, it only allows full membership to Labour Party members.

In fact, I am a Labour “supporter” and belong to no political party, so I could not have joined the group even had I wanted to. But out of curiosity, I then checked the membership requirements of Jewish Labour Movement on Wikipedia to discover that although the organisation boasts a long affiliation to the Labour Party, “the Jewish Labour Movement accepts full membership to both non-Jewish and non-Labour Party members.[4][5]

This raised the question for me of exactly how many members of JLM might be hostile to the Labour Party, in general, and to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in particular. If JLM consists of members who are non-Jewish and non-Labour, even Norman Tebbit would not have been excluded – and yet the group is often described in the mainstream media as “the Jewish community” – thereby marginalising, if not totally ignoring, the Jewish community of JVL. This week I learned that Rosie Duffield herself is actually a fully paid up member of JLM – as she boasted on a Twitter post.

It would be good to know if Duffield ever thought to check the membership requirements for either group before she joined Jewish Labour Movement and why she chose only to make “friends” among JLM. Could it be that perhaps it was they who made friends with Rosie?

Our previous Labour parliamentary candidate in Canterbury constituency was the respected former deputy general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, Hugh Lanning. Lanning also happened to be the Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) – a position he had held since 2009. Members and supporters of our Constituency Labour Party (CLP) expected Lanning to stand in the 2017 general election, particularly as he had greatly increased the local Labour vote in 2015. However, as Diane Langford articulates, “Rosie Duffield was imposed on us, at the very last moment, and without a proper selection process.”

Why that should have happened is a question still being asked by many in the CLP – who also complain they have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. I, too, as an ordinary constituent, have found Canterbury CLP to be unhelpful of late.

While expressing on social media my personal concern for my MP’s signature appearing on the Labour Tribune letter, I received a facetious response from the local party’s Twitter account informing me “As a non-member of the Labour Party, it’s something you really don’t need to worry yourself about too much Julie.”

I reminded them that, while it’s true I am not a party member, I am, nevertheless, a Canterbury constituent “and what our MP does, says – and writes on social media – impacts upon me and every other constituent she’s charged to represent in parliament. This is not all about you at the CLP -though you seem to think it is. That’s a great shame.”

Are Rosie Duffield’s constituents considered to be less important than local party members? It would appear Canterbury CLP thinks so, but considering the MP’s slim majority of only 187 votes, our MP would do well to reverse thinking on that. In fact, Duffield’s electoral victory in Canterbury was due to the hard work of many people across the whole district, including a “paint the town red” campaign in my own town of Whitstable by which residents were persuaded to display Labour signs conspicuously on their properties – and so give the lie to the mainstream media slur that Corbyn was unelectable. The campaign was successful, but the signs were for Labour – not Duffield.

As mentioned, Luciana Berger has now deserted Labour for the Independent Group, formed not only of the disgruntled Labour exiles: Chukka Umunna. Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin, Shuker, Joan Ryan and Angela Smith (she of the “funny tinge” gaffs and malapropisms) but also disgruntled Tories to boot.

While MPs of all parties have rightfully decried any bullying or threats that Berger may have received on social media and elsewhere – it’s equally important to note that this kind of atrocious conduct is not wholly reserved for Berger or other Jewish Labour MPs. Jackie Walker’s acclaimed play, The Lynching, formerly performed as a one-woman show at our own Whitstable Labour Club, though after significant opposition by Rosie Duffield, (who also failed to attend the performance) has been re-cast featuring three professional actors. The revamped play was given a reading for an invited audience last week in London – though at a secret venue – in consideration of the fact that a previous event Jackie Walker was attending had to be cancelled due to a bomb threat. 

Even while writing this piece, I have discovered that both Naomi Idrissi-Wimbourne and Jenny Manson, of JVL, have received recent threats:-

Naomi Wimborne-idrissi reports

1 March at 10:44 · 

“The Witchhunt is coming closer to home. My Jewish Voice for Labour comrade Jenny Manson and I have received several threatening phone calls over recent days. I’ve just been told, by a male voice calling from a private number, ‘You’re the next to go, you’re the next to go, we have files on you, you’re the next to go.’ Police have been informed.”

I also wonder if my MP is aware of the fear of solidarity between the Black community and Palestinians? “From Ferguson to Palestine” was a slogan that caused Zionist groups in the USA to denounce Black Lives Matter and withdraw support from the organisation. This is mirrored in the UK by the disproportionate number of Black activists who have been caught up in the Labour Party “witch hunt” of Palestine supporters – notably Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth, while the issue of Black deaths in custody at the hands of the state, the rise in anti-Black racism and Islamophobia are ignored by the pro-Israel MPs.

It should be noted that Chris Williamson had been active on this issue, attending and also speaking at the Grassroots Black Left Labour Party conference fringe meeting in Liverpool on the theme of building a new anti-racist movement.

Whether my MP likes it or not, there are many people – Labour members as well as Canterbury constituents – for whom the following statement resonates:-

“In truth, the crisis in the Labour Party was not primarily about anti-Semitism. It was part of a broader effort by a group of disgruntled Blairites and their allies outside the party to overthrow Jeremy Corbyn and to reverse his progressive policies.”

Not my words, but those of Avi Shlaim, a Jewish Oxford professor reviewing Al Jazeera’s expose of interference in British politics in general and the Labour Party in particular.

Diane Langford poses some further questions for Rosie Duffield regarding the latter’s unswerving faith in “friends” such as Berger, Rose and JLM:

“Whose interests are being served by MPs supporting the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel and the apartheid Israeli regime? Constituents who voted for Ms Duffield deserve answers. They certainly question the hubris of a recent arrival in the House of Commons assuming the right to endorse the suspension of an MP of the calibre of Chris Williamson, whose position has been wholly distorted and misrepresented. On whose behalf does Rosie Duffield take such actions? We believe we deserve better representation.”

Finally, Mike Kennard of Chatham and Aylesford Labour, publicly posted the following letter that he wrote to Jeremy Corbyn last week. It’s a passionate plea and sums up the views of so many lifelong supporters of Labour on an issue which, at best, seems largely misunderstood and at worst, tragically and ineffectively manipulated by those who seek to discredit Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. I wonder if Rosie Duffield has read it – or will she continue only to express the views of her “friends” in JLM?

Mike Kennard

27 February at 21:34 · 

Dear Jeremy,

I am writing to express my solidarity with Chris Williamson and my disgust at his suspension for expressing views with which I concur.

The Labour Party is currently the major party with the best anti-racist record and the least anti-semitic. The furore created by the right wing, in conjunction with their friends in the media and in other parties is not about anti-semitism, it is aimed at stopping the turn back towards socialist policies, at our support for Palestinian rights and at your leadership in particular. The measures that have been taken, including the ill-judged adoption of the flawed IHRA definition, will never be enough because the Party has buckled instead of standing up for our programme and record. There is a principle on social media which would be appropriate in this case, i.e. don’t feed the trolls, the taste of blood just makes them hungrier.

There is no place for racism of any sort, and as Jenny Formby has shown, action has been taken at a faster rate that under the previous administration. No expressions of anti-semitic views are acceptable and must be dealt with. Where they represent deeply held prejudice the holder must be removed from the Party. Sometimes justified anger at the actions of the violent and rapacious Israeli state spills over into ill-judged attitudes towards Jews; in this case, strongly worded reprimands and re-education should be the initial response, proceeding to further action if no change in attitude is seen. However, we should not be blind to the activities of the Israeli embassy in this whole campaign. Fortunately Joan Ryan is by her own choice no longer a member, but she should have been suspended when she was revealed as the agent of an alien foreign power within the PLP.

The suspension of Chris Williamson is already starting to have the effect desired by the right wing, with some socialists walking out in disgust. If you do not take a stand you will have negated your own history as a stalwart for socialism throughout the dark days of New Labour and betrayed the hundreds of thousands of new members who have flocked to the Party since 2015.

I write this not as a young and idealistic novice but as someone who first joined the Party during the general election – in 1964.

Yours fraternally

Mike Kennard
(membership no. L1296386)

If you are a Labour Party member you can put your name to a document in solidarity with Chris Williamson MP: here

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Julie Wassmer lives in Whitstable. She’s a writer and campaigner for human rights and environmental issues such as fracking.

www.juliewassmer.com

In memory of Richard Stainton: Save Our Public Libraries

It was three years ago this month, in January 2016, that Richard Stainton died.

People in Whitstable will remember him. He was a dedicated campaigner and great friend of the town.

One of his campaigns was on behalf of Kent’s libraries. His “Save Our Public Libraries” petition gathered 4,127 signatures and was handed in to KCC in April 2015.

I feel sure that, were he around today, he would be collecting signatures to stop the planned reduction in hours of our county’s libraries.

The scheme, presently under public consultation, is to save £1 million by cutting the number of hours libraries will stay open.

For example: Ashford library could see a reduction in hours from 55 to 42 a week; Dartford from 57.5 to 42; Maidstone from 55 to 42; Dover from 55 to 37.

For Whitstable this could mean a reduction in hours from 59 to 37 a week, a 25% cut. Herne Bay and Canterbury will both see reductions to 42 hours a week.

The documents are available on the KCC website. Put “Libraries strategy KCC” into your search engine, or follow this link, to find it. You can also put your views. The consultation process ends on the 29th of January, so you will need to be quick.

You will also notice that they’ve been holding a number of drop-in events in libraries across the county. Most of these are finished now, but there are one or two still to take place. Whitstable library doesn’t appear on the list, which suggests we are already considered a second rate town.

I don’t know about you, but for me the public library was an important part of my growing up. As a working class romantic, the library offered sanctuary. It opened up a world of possibilities to my questing mind.

And while it is true that these days most kids have the internet, there are still a large number of services that our libraries have to offer.

Just to list a few: Whitstable library has a substantial local history section. There are books in there which you would not find on the internet. You can reserve books from any library in the county for just 80p, and check out the entire back collection of the Whitstable Times on microfiche, from 1865 to its closure in 2017.

Also the library has an array of computers which people can use. This is particularly important for poorer families, or people on benefits, who may not have a computer. These days almost everything is done online, including claiming benefits. Without access to computer, what would you do?

Other services include “Craft and Chat” and “Talk Time” for older people, “Story Time” for preschool children and the ever popular “Baby Rhyme Time” on a Tuesday, where not only do the tots get to know each other, but the Mothers do too.

You can get DVDs and spoken word books in there. You can read the Gazette weekly, the i- daily and the Sunday Times on a Sunday.

You might not think that the reduction in hours matters very much, but, be assured, this is just the thin end of the wedge. What’s to stop further reductions happening in the future?

The previous consultation, which Richard Stainton campaigned against, would have had our libraries farmed out to a charitable trust, and then cut. Fortunately this didn’t happen, but Richard would be appalled to find out that opening hours are going to be cut anyway.

As he said, “libraries are the heartbeat of a community.” And you don’t keep a heart going by cutting it.

Make your views known here.

125512-011719 (2)

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From The Whitstable Gazette 17/01/19

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

fax: 01227 762415

email: kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk

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The Closure of Glebe Way Crossing

Fierce Writing

In case you haven’t heard yet, Kent County Council are planning to close the pedestrian crossing over the railway line between Glebe Way and Clifton Road in Whitstable.

This is being done at the request of Network Rail, who cite safety issues. These include: the high level of use and the time it takes to cross; possible difficulties in the sighting of trains, and the suggestion that the sound of trains might be obscured by background noise, amongst other things.

I have to say this last one seems a little exaggerated as neither Clifton Road nor Glebe Way are busy, and I can’t imagine a time when the hiss of the wind or the twittering of bird song would be loud enough to drown out the roar of a passing train.

But I do understand why this is being done. Network Rail refer to 33 incidents between 1998 and 2016…

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May the New Year bring security

Fierce Writing

By the time you read this it will be New Year. As I’ve said before, when you start the year is arbitrary. Where does a circle begin or end? I start mine the day after solstice, when the light returns and the days are getting longer.

This year I went to see my friend Bapu up in London. He is an astrologer with an uncanny ability to read your innermost thoughts. He is also severely disabled and lives in a state of extreme poverty.

A few weeks ago he discovered that his benefits had been cut. No one told him this was going to happen, nor why. His only guess is that it must have something to do with Universal Credit.

His money was reduced from around £500 a month to a little more than £300. This is supposed to cover all his needs, including food, heating, lighting…

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Guest Blog: “Deeds Not Words” – Why Rosie Duffield MP should take a lesson from the Suffragettes

By Julie Wassmer

The “Exclusive” in the Guardian featuring my Canterbury Labour MP Rosie Duffield, on Thursday 13th September, came just a day after I attended the important  demo in London, to stand alongside women who had travelled to Westminster all the way from Lancashire, in order to raise awareness not only of the dangers of fracking but of an important debate that was taking place in parliament that day.

100 Women Julie Wassmer and Paddy with Gandhi at Westminster 1
Julie Wassmer at the #100women demo in Westminster, Wednesday 12th September

As a Canterbury constituent and someone who has been fighting fracking in East Kent and elsewhere for the past 6 years, I had written to my MP asking for her to lend support to us at the debate. But I received a reply from her office on 10th September explaining: “Unfortunately Rosie is unable to attend the debate on Wednesday 12 September as she already has another event in her diary.”

I was appalled to read in the Guardian article that in spite of having “had a lot of constituents asking me to be part of it” (ie the fracking debate) Rosie Duffield didn’t feel she could attend as she “didn’t get to write a decent speech,” because she was dealing “with the media” following a motion of censure from her local party members.

Really? What a slap in the face to all those constituents who wrote to her for support on this important issue to discover she failed to attend an important debate because she was too busy putting out “exclusives” like this one? Can she not see that her job is, principally, to support constituents rather than plastering herself all over the papers?  It’s really very simple – it’s called prioritisation.

Rosie, if you had really cared about missing this debate I would have happily written your speech for you, as would any of the women who had travelled in 2 coaches all the way from Lancashire – and who have been active in fighting fracking for the sake of their families, on the front line in Lancashire and elsewhere, and  who know far more about it than you could ever hope to know.

The amazing veteran environmental capaigner Anne Power almost 87 years of age at 100 Women demo in Westminster.
The amazing veteran environmental campaigner, Anne Power, almost 87, at the #100women demo

Take a lesson from campaigner, Anne Power, who, at almost 87 years of age, sat in Parliament Square all day on Wednesday 12th to draw attention to that important debate. Take another lesson from Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, who actually found time to leave parliament and come and talk to all on the demo and to assure us all that we have his support.

Please don’t use a Guardian “exclusive” to opine about a local censure motion having prevented you from doing your job. That job is to support constituents – not whine about the fact that a group of Labour Party members was so concerned about your recent conduct and press statements bringing unnecessary and unwarranted pressure on the leader of your own party, they put forward that censure motion in the first place. It’s my understanding that the motion was withdrawn almost immediately so why the great need for you to keep dealing with “the media” three days after the event? Are you using that motion to advance your own victimhood for your own purposes?

If so, it’s not working. It’s clear your actions have already alienated local party members but all you have now done with this Guardian exclusive is alienate ordinary constituents, like me, who actually worked hard to get you elected. We campaigned for you, not because you are Rosie Duffield (most constituents didn’t have a clue who you were) we did so because you were a representative of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Voters may have put a cross beside your name on the ballot paper but their vote was for Jeremy. That’s why they accepted Labour posters in their windows and their homes. How do I know that? Because they told me. Why did they tell me? Because I distributed those posters. That’s how I know.

I also know that there are many who will not lift a finger to help you fight another election in this constituency. And they will never vote for you again either. With your comments in this article, you now owe an apology to every single fracking campaigner who turned out to Westminster last Wednesday while you kept away with “another event in your diary” to brief “the media” instead.

And remember that wafer thin majority of 186 votes you keep going on about? Congratulations on making it even thinner. I’m ashamed to say we might as well have had a Tory MP here for all the good you were to us in Westminster this week. But most of all I am ashamed that my Labour MP should have given the finger to all the brave, fearless campaigners in communities in Lancashire who have Cuadrilla’s fracking rig as an uninvited neighbour.

At the #100Women demo, we wore the colours of the suffragettes. And the motto of the suffragettes was “Deeds not Words.” Maybe from now on you might try spending less time offering “words” to the media – and more time on “deeds” for others – especially those who are desperately fighting a toxic industry – and they do that for you too.

So, regrettably I say shame on you, Rosie Duffield.

photo blue
Julie Wassmer is an author and campaigner. Her crime novels are set in Whitstable, where she’s lived for 20 years. Photo by Jon Eldude

www.juliewassmer.com

Labour Club: 40th Anniversary

I’m sitting in the Whitstable Labour Club, looking at the board above the fireplace on which is written the names of the honorary and founder life members. Of the 33 names up there, I recognise 19.

So, just to give you a flavour: there’s Peter Seymour, who had been a communist but who converted to Labour. He was also a member of the Co-op Party. I remember one conversation with him, when he told me about the years after the war, when the council estates were being built, and the Co-op was in the ascendency. “It was like the revolution had already happened,” he said.

There’s Maud Ehrenstein, who was like this dowager socialist from the 30s. Rumour has it that on her death bed she ripped off her oxygen mask and shouted: “up the Miners!” She was very impressive to my younger mind: this older person with real dignity, still ferociously committed to her core ideals.

Then there’s Fred Rowden – Rowden is a Whitstable name – who was the first customer. Fred told me the story of when the Black Shirts came to Whitstable. They held a rally at the Horsebridge, but were greeted by the Fire Brigade’s Union, who hosed them down, sending them scuttling from the town.

One of my favourites was Griffith Roberts, a toothless Welshman who everyone knew as Taff. He, in turn, called everyone “Vic”. One day my sister asked him what his real name was. “Griffith Owen Roberts,” he told her, in his gloriously melodic Welsh accent. After that I always called him Griff and he always called me Chris.

Or there was Stan Guildford, who was the Chair for a while, with his pork-pie hat, his Groucho Marx moustache and his pipe. “A witty curmudgeon who wanted a better world,” as a mutual friend, Andrew Ling, described him.

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the club’s foundation, on the August bank holiday 1978. There were 20 founder members, who each put in £20. A further £300 was donated by the local Labour Party branch, and then more money elicited to provide the cash float and to fill up the fruit machine. It is said that the jackpot was won on the first night.

The place very nearly didn’t open as – ironically – the draymen were on strike. They had to find an alternative brewery and buy in stock from the cash and carry.

Older readers will remember that it was originally situated under the railway arches, where the Alimo restaurant is now. You could tell the time by the trains rumbling by overhead and rattling the glasses.

I first became involved in 1984 when I moved to Whitstable. I was in the Miner’s support group, which used to meet in the club on a Friday evening. So my first public experience of Whitstable was standing outside the Co-op, shaking a bucket, collecting money for the Kent Miners.

We held a benefit, and got an extension to the license, which had the club packed out with students and young people. After that we held benefits on a regular basis.

I referred to this as the win-win economy. The club made money. The benefit made money. The bands used the back room for practice and played for free, while the club provided a venue for the town. Everyone had a good time and nobody lost. Imagine if all economic activity was like this!

The club has always been as a much a community resource as a Labour one.

Our first anti-war meetings after 9/11 were held down there. We had people from all parties and all faiths: Christians of all denominations, Buddhists, Greens, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, the lot. It was like an ecumenical gathering for everyone with an alternative point of view. It was after we left the club that the anti-war movement in Whitstable fell apart.

I’m personally convinced that the reason Whitstable remains a Labour stronghold is because of the club.

My dad loved it here. It was me who introduced him. In his last years, as he became increasingly fragile, everyone was very protective of him, making sure he got home all right, and that, when he left his wallet or his phone, he always got them back. As part of his eulogy I read out some words from him thanking the club for all that it had done.

As you can imagine, this weekend will be a celebration of the club’s history and its connection to the town.

There’s something happening every day and I’m sure, if you want to visit, you’ll be made very welcome.

https://www.facebook.com/TheWhitstableLC/

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The Last Post

By the time you read this I will no longer be a postman. I will be a retired person instead.

So this is my goodbye letter to everyone I’ve delivered mail to over the last 13 years.

I’ve done many rounds and pushed many letters through many letter boxes all over Whitstable.

Most recently I’ve been delivering to Borstal Hill, Harbour Street and Sydenham Street. In the past I’ve delivered to Herne Bay Road, Ham Shades Lane, Canterbury Road, Island Wall, Middle Wall and the High Street. And those are only the main roads. There have been many others, too numerous to mention.

I’ve delivered to Whitstable, Tankerton, Seasalter, Swalecliffe and Chestfield.

Perhaps some of you will recognise me. Perhaps, even, some of you will remember me with affection.

I dread to think how many letters I’ve delivered in that time. Millions.

Most of it has been complete rubbish – advertising mail, junk mail, sales brochures and the like – but some of it has been important.

I’ve delivered Christmas cards, birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, Easter cards and New Year’s greetings. I’ve delivered postcards from around the world. I’ve delivered hospital appointments, letters from loved ones, invitations, commiserations, congratulations and heartfelt thanks. I’ve delivered people’s wage slips and winnings; maybe even a love letter or two, who knows?

I’ve seen many changes.

Probably the most significant change has been the move from Whitstable to Canterbury, which, some of you will remember, I campaigned against vigorously.

Associated with that has been the move from delivering from a bicycle to delivering from a van. This has completely changed the nature of the job.

We used to start early, now we start late. We used to be out on our own, now we work in pairs. We used to be able to walk or cycle to work, now we have to drive. Its like someone looked at all the parts of the job that used to give us pleasure and a sense of pride and decided that those were the very things that needed getting rid of.

The atmosphere in the Canterbury office has been toxic at times. Nothing like the old Whitstable office, which used to be fun. Many old posties have left as a consequence.

The other great change has been the privatisation of the Royal Mail; although, I have to say, this hasn’t affected the job in any material way.

We still push letters through letter boxes. We still walk up and down garden paths; the difference being that these days the profits go to private institutions instead of back into the service as they used to.

Of course, if you remember, the ostensible reason the company was privatised was that letter volumes were down due to the fact that we all use emails and texts these days.

What no one predicted at the time was that the same technology which dispensed with the need for envelopes and stamps, also allowed us to do our shopping on-line, which has lead to a significant growth in the volume of packets.

In fact the Royal Mail has seen a healthy increase in profits since privatisation, and not because of anything the private owners have done – not because of efficiency savings or modernisation, most of which was done previously at public expense – merely as a natural by-product of new technology.

As for the future: who knows? It’s not my concern any more.

So that’s me: signing off as a postman for the very last time. I do hope to be delivering these words of wit and wisdom however, via your newspaper, or on the internet, for some time to come.

*************

From The Whitstable Gazette 14/06/18

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

fax: 01227 762415

email: kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk

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Nigel Farage is not the Fishermen’s Friend

I went along to Whitstable harbour to greet Nigel Farage on Sunday. He was there ostensibly to support the local fishermen in their protest about the transitional deal being imposed upon them by the EU, which the fishermen oppose.

It was a colourful affair with Whitstable’s fishing vessels circling picturesquely outside the harbour, setting off flares and smoke bombs and firing distress signals into the air, which shrieked upward in an arc of smoke and then exploded with a loud crack.

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It was a colourful affair

The fishermen seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I saw a number of them clutching cans. Is there such a thing as being drunk in charge of a fishing boat, I wonder?

There were people from both sides of the argument there, both Brexiteers and Remainers, plus at least one – namely me – caught firmly in the middle, having voted for Brexit, but from a Left Exit, not a Ukip, point of view.

The contradictions within the crowd were evident. The Remainers were holding EU flags, while the Brexiteers were flying Union Jacks. Both claimed to be on the side of the fishermen.

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The Brexiteers

The fishermen, meanwhile, while they probably voted to leave, are actually left in the worst of all possible worlds: the British Fishing Industry having been being locked into the Common Fisheries Policy by the transitional deal until the end of 2020, but without a say on quotas. By that time the entire industry could be decimated. No wonder they feel betrayed.

This was made evident by the old fishing boat they set light to on the beach, which they had renamed Thereason May: a clumsy pun on our Prime Minister’s name, obviously accusing her of treason.

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Thereason May

Quite how the metaphor of “burning your boats” applies to this situation wasn’t made clear.

A number of good friends were there, including Julie Wassmer with her megaphone, and Christine Dorothy, who had made a sign based upon an acronym of Nigel Farage’s name. It said: “Fisherman’s Advocate? Real Agenda Gargantuan Ego!”

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The author, with Christine’s sign, with Julie Wassmer with hers

Farage himself arrived at six o’clock. He climbed on board the Site Seeker Whitstable Boat Trips vessel in the harbour. When he passed through the harbour entrance there were people on the jetty jeering.

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People on the jetty

What is it about this man? Up until this point the gathering had been mainly peaceful, but it was as if his presence galvanised the crowd, which became instantly divided into separate camps.

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What is it about this man?

Fights started to break out, with people from both sides attempting to grab the others’ flags. I saw one Remainer woman being punched in the face, while one of the smaller boats edged close to the shore and sprayed the Remainers with sea water. I have a photo if anyone wants to make a complaint. Technically this was an assault.

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Fights started to break out

Farage’s belated attempt to hi-jack the fishing industry’s concerns is belied by his voting record in the EU. Official records show that over the three years while he was a member of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, he turned up for just one of 42 meetings.

Greenpeace states that “during three major votes to fix the flaws of the Common Fisheries Policy, Farage failed to vote in favour of improving the legislation.”

The irony of all this is that it isn’t only the EU that is at the bottom of the Whitstable fishermen’s woes. According to Greenpeace, fish quota allocation favours large over small vessels, with just three large fishing firms controlling nearly two-thirds of England’s fish quota.

“The distribution of fishing rights within the UK’s fleet is entirely the responsibility of the UK’s fisheries minister,” they say.

Quite how a public-school educated ex-commodity trader came to pose as the fishermen’s friend is another matter.

*************

All photographs by Gerry Atkinson: http://www.gerryatkinson.com/

From The Whitstable Gazette 12/04/18

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

fax: 01227 762415

email: kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk

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