Lino print, “May Day” by Ben Sands, signed artist’s proof, 1987, available to buy this weekend
It’s just over three
weeks to go to the Carnival, so you’ll excuse me if my next few
columns are all about the same subject. It’s all I can think about
The pressure is mounting. There’s a tonne of work to do and not much time.
We have 3,000
programmes to sell. We have to arrange medical cover. We have to
organise volunteers for the day. We still don’t have a marching band.
Neither the fire service, nor the lifeboats have confirmed if they
are coming, and we have no idea of how many floats we will have on
So many things crowding
in on my inner landscape, vying for attention, it would be easy to
forget some crucial detail.
For example, in the
programme we’ve listed all the businesses and people who’ve helped
us. I always knew I would forget someone, and I was right. It wasn’t
until I went into Sundae Sundae to buy an ice cream that I remembered
that they are sponsoring our Carnival King, Maurice, by giving us
freebies on the day.
So it’s a belated thanks to Sundae Sundae for all that you are doing for us. If I’ve forgotten anyone else, please let me know.
Our next big event is this weekend, Saturday 13th July, at St Peter’s Hall on Cromwell Road, where we’re holding a cabaret, raffle and auction. Our auctioneer will be my friend, Julie Wassmer, aided by her beautiful assistant Graeme Bosley.
Everyone knows how shy
and self-effacing Julie is, so please come along to offer moral
We have some wondrous things to sell, including a signed artist’s proof of a Ben Sands lino print, donated by his son Mat, and framed by Whitstable Framing. Also a Ben Dickson lino print and signed copies of two photography books by Vanessa Winship, who last year had a major exhibition at the Barbican.
Other items include a book of photographs by Gerry Atkinson, with an introduction by yours truly; a miniature copy of The Great Wave by Rocky van de Benderskum; a collage by Sadie Hennessy; signed copies of all six of the Whitstable Pearl mysteries by Julie Wassmer; and the complete works of CJ Stone, tied up with a shoelace as worn by CJ when he was a postman.
It’s the shoelace
that’s the collector’s item.
Obviously all of this
is worth money, but don’t worry if you are less well off: there will
be a raffle too, with lots of smaller items to be won. Music will be
by Steve Russell with poetry by Rik Collier and Pete Bingley amongst
Entry is by ticket
only, £3 per seat for a table of eight (maximum), or come along –
we’ll find room for you. Tables are going fast so please contact us
at our email address to buy yours: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The same applies if you
are in a marching band, if you would like to volunteer for the day,
if you can help us sell programmes, or if you would like join the
My realisation about
Carnival is that it belongs to no one, and to everyone at the same
time. You don’t have to be special to take part. You don’t have to be
clever. You don’t have to be brave. You don’t have to be rich. You
don’t have to be educated. You just have to be you.
everyone: Saturday August 3rd 5.30-7.30 starting on
It’s been a busy fortnight for the Carnival Association.
Firstly there was the rush to get the programme finished. If it hadn’t been for my brother-in-law, Matthew Valentine, I don’t think we could have managed it. A magazine editor in a previous incarnation he taught me all about the esoteric delights of a flat plan.
This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a plan of your prospective publication, laid out flat, on a single page. Prior to seeing it I had no idea what I was doing. Once I had it in my hands I was able to easily picture what our layout should be and then find the content to fill the pages.
I did the editorial content, while my fellow committee member, Andy Latham, did the adverts. I think his job was harder than mine, having not only to fit all these oddly-shaped adverts in a variety of different formats onto our already complicated pages, but also to find the advertisers.
I do think we’ve made a creditable effort between us, and that our little publication will make a worthy souvenir. It will be on sale in July, price £1, all proceeds to the Carnival fund.
Another major effort was taking possession of the Invicta model on the 16th of June. That was a memorable day for me, not least because it was my birthday.
The model was built in 1997 by Mike Souter for the 100th anniversary of the Carnival, so it is fitting that the new Carnival Association should take possession of it in our first year. Our thanks to the Crab and Winkle Trust for donating it to us.
Collecting it meant being close by for the arrival of the real Invicta, dressed up in High Vis vests and hard hats, and bustling about in an efficient looking manner, pretending to be part of the crew.
Leo Whitlock was there, esteemed former editor of this newspaper, now a PR man for Canterbury City Council. We exchanged a few words about the operation. It was very impressive, we both agreed, and Leo contrasted his own role, as a “keyboard warrior”, with the “real men” who had overseen and organised this heroic engineering feat.
Our job was to receive the model on a trailer. This was done by hoisting it over the museum building using the same crane that had previously lifted the Invicta. Once the road was clear, we pulled the trailer to its destination, where we built a shelter around it.
Well I say “we”. It was Andy Latham who had built the shelter previously, which we only had to bolt and screw together. It was also Andy who had found the trailer and made it fit for purpose. I claim no credit whatsoever for any of this, but I did donate part of my birthday to its execution.
Being there for the arrival of the Invicta, and receiving the model, made us feel like we were now firmly embedded into the history of the town.
Our last great effort was to run a benefit down the Umbrella Centre, featuring Ivan’s All Stars and the Native Oysters Band, which raised a total of £811.90. Our current balance now stands at £2,535. There’s another benefit at the Labour Club on the 29th.
So it’s thanks to everyone who has helped us out so far. If you’d like to make a donation, our PayPal username is the same as our email address: email@example.com.
Janet Street-Porter has been writing about Whitstable again.
The bulk of her column in Saturday’s i-newspaper was about the new chief executive of John Lewis, Sharon White, the first black woman to run a large UK retail business, and the future of High Street retailing in the UK, given the threat posed by on-line rivals.
Her mention of
Whitstable is towards the end and follows on from a paragraph about
the growth of the luxury sector – up by 50% in four years,
apparently – and a reference to the fact that many of these luxury
retailers operate out of “small boutiques in premium places.”.
This is when our town
gets a mention.
“In a small town like
Whitstable in Kent, for example, tourists flock to walk up and down a
High Street lined with small retailers,” she writes.
I wonder which shops
she’s referring to exactly? Whitstable seems swamped by coffee shops
and Co-ops these days.
Meanwhile a number of
the independent shops are either already closed, or are about to
Herbaceous has gone. Pet’s Pantry has gone. Kites and Things has gone. I wonder how many more are under threat?
These were amongst the
most significant, unique, quirky and unusual shops to grace this, or
any other High Street in the country.
wholefoods, incense, Buddhist paraphernalia, stained glass window
hangings, herbs, spices, eco-friendly washing up liquid and bamboo
socks, amongst other things.
I used to swear by those bamboo socks. They were soft, comfortable, hard-wearing and with anti-bacterial properties that meant you could wear them for days on end without them becoming smelly.
Herbaceous wasn’t just a shop. It was the hub and social centre of the Oxford Street community. Belinda, the proprietor, likes to chat. People would pop in there to spend the time of day, to talk about their troubles, or to get advice on herbal remedies, which she would dispense with jolly alacrity.
Talk about retail
therapy. In Belinda’s case this was literally true.
The other shop I used to enjoy was Kites and Things. I used to love looking in their window at all the strange gadgets they had on display.
I bought a chaos pendulum from there once. It was in the form of a frog dangling from a rod over an electromagnet.
Unlike a normal
pendulum, which is only subject to two forces – gravity and momentum
– and whose movement is entirely predictable, the additional force
of the magnet (and the opposing magnet in the base of the frog) meant
that its movement was chaotic and unpredictable. It never repeated
the same movement twice.
Unfortunately it was
also very irritating and I had to dismantle it in the end. I lost all
the parts when I moved house.
I’ve also bought a “Demon Dentist” wooden construction kit, a flying monkey that screams through the air, a squidgy ball that stuck to walls and two dinosaur glove puppets.
How many shops do you
know that carry that kind of stock?
Well Herbaceous is
moving to a shed in Teynham, from where Belinda hopes to run a mobile
herbalist working the festivals, and Kites and Things is now in the
Harbour, so we’ve not seen the last of them yet. We’ll have to see
how they fare in the future.
What’s certain is that
our High Street is poorer for their loss, and that no amount of
luxury boutiques, coffee shops or Co-ops can ever hope to replace
Whitstable was once famed for the diversity of its High Street. Not for much longer I fear.
“Was the ghost of David Elliott trying to contact us by electronic means?”
It’s been a memorable
week. Firstly my family were over: my brother from America, and my
sister from Tenerife. We were burying our Dad’s ashes next to Mum’s
in Whitstable cemetery.
We cracked open the
last bottle of Dad’s home-made Elderberry wine. Unfortunately it was
undrinkable. It was sixteen years old and it hadn’t aged well. But we
poured some of it into the grave, alongside a picture of Mum and Dad
on their wedding day, while my other sister read something she’d
found tucked away in Mum’s jewellery box, which had obviously been
left for just this purpose.
Later in the week, on
Easter Saturday, I was also involved in helping a friend scatter his
Dad’s ashes out at sea, near the Maunsell forts.
This was the first time
in over 35 years of living in Whitstable that I’ve been to the forts.
Close up they are an impressive sight: like the rusting relics of
some ancient alien invasion which took place centuries ago.
I read a piece I’d written called The Secret Life of Waves. It’s about wave formation and how this relates to the process of life and death on this planet; based on a TV programme of the same name which I had watched only a few weeks after my Dad had died.
While I was reading my friend Mary’s phone kept going off. The Google assistant was making random announcements in the middle of my talk. I had to stop reading at one point to ask her to do something about it.
Later, after I’d finished, she told us what had been causing the disturbance. For some inexplicable reason her phone had landed on the Wikipedia entry for someone called David James Elliott and was trying to alert her to the fact. He’s a Canadian actor of no particular importance.
What is remarkable is
that the name of the person whose ashes we were there to scatter was
also David Elliott: middle name Edward, as opposed to James, but
otherwise the same.
I’m not quite sure how
you would account for this. Materialists would say that it was a
coincidence, but would have to admit, even then, that it was a pretty
Jungians have a word for it. They call it synchronicity, which according to my on-line dictionary, is “the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection”.
I’m not sure what to
think. Is there an “acausal connecting principle”, as Jung would
have us believe? Or was the ghost of David Elliott trying to contact
us by electronic means?
That’s strange in
itself, and gives a new twist on the notion of haunting, that a
modern ghost would use the internet to go about it.
Of course the other
possibility is that Mary had accidentally activated her Google
account which had overheard the name David Elliott – often
mentioned in the course of the afternoon – and had then looked up the
I suppose, on
reflection, that this explanation is the most likely, although it did
seem uncanny at the time.
Of course all of this was taking place during Easter week, a time when, traditionally, we are supposed to be meditating upon the meaning of life, death and the resurrection.
My only observation is that life goes on. Even in the midst of our ceremonies the sun was shining, the flowers were blooming and the birds were frisking about in the blossom-laden branches, engaged in their on-going Spring rituals.
Really, under these circumstances, it’s not possible to be sad.
As read out near the Mauncell Forts Saturday 20th April 2019:
I only met David
Elliott the once, at the sheltered housing in Canterbury where he
spent his final days. I was taking Jon to visit.
There was a meeting in
the common room. The vicar was there. David was talking to the vicar
at the top end of the room. They were both standing, as if on
ceremony, David with his back to the wall, and the vicar standing
before him, like a subject before his King. David was shaking the
vicar’s hand warmly, looking him straight in the eye and declaiming
loudly in a voice suffused with wry good humour.
“I’m a hundred years
old,” he said. “I might not be around next week.”
This wasn’t what I had
expected. I knew that David had dementia and had been depressed, but
in this room full of lost, lonely and desperately confused people, he
stood out like a lantern in a cave.
It is true that what he
was saying wasn’t actually true, in the strictest sense of the word,
but he said it with such verve, with such confidence, that it might
as well have been.
He had a patch over one
eye, which made him look like a pirate, and huge hands which entirely
enclosed the vicar’s normal sized mitts.
He had been a railway
man most of his working life, and he was a steam train enthusiast,
Jon told me.
Later he came and sat
with us, and I was made aware of the deep affection between them.
Jon had lived with his
Dad for many years, in a council house in Whitstable, where David
soon became a local character. Jon said that often, when he was in
town, the shop assistants would ask if they were related. When he
said yes, they would get all enthusiastic, telling him how much they
enjoyed talking to his Dad, and how they looked forward to him coming
in as he brightened up their day.
At David’s funeral
Bernadette Fisher, the councillor, told a wonderful story.
She said both Jon’s
Dad, and Tory councillor Ashley Clark, had been fighting against the
Devine Homes development on Duncan Down. One day someone had cut
through the wire fencing that the company had put up to stop people
accessing the land.
Later Ashley and David,
accompanied by his three legged dog, found themselves sitting on a
bench nearby. Ashley said, “whoever cut that wire must have been an
David opened up his bag
to show the ex-copper the bolt croppers he had tucked away in there.
“You might be sitting
next to an angel,” he said.
Jon also gave a eulogy
which he ended with a beautiful thought. He said: “I feel somewhere
between science and mysticism the quantum universe does not forget
such spirits and characters like his and he may be on a higher plain
or in another dimension waiting for us to join him.”
Jon is much wiser than
he thinks. He often surprises me with his observations about life.
It was Jon who helped
me to get over the death of my own father. He told me about a
programme he had watched on TV, and suggested it gave us an insight
into life and death.
The programme was
called The Secret Life of Waves. It was made by David Malone, and it
was on BBC 4 on the 31st July 2018. This was not long
after my Dad died, so I watched the programme at Dad’s house on
That was strange,
watching a programme my Dad wouldn’t have watched, mid-afternoon on
his TV, without him there.
It’s a science
programme, about waves and wave formation, but it contains an odd
piece of biographical information, which is why it stands out.
At the beginning of the
programme we are introduced to David Malone’s Mum, who is sitting on
a bench with her husband, on a cliff overlooking the sea. It was this
view, Malone informs us, that first informed his fascination with
“What is so exciting
about waves is that they reveal what is usually hidden from view,”
he says. “You can actually see energy in action. They present
insight into the forces that rule the Universe. Waves are not made of
water. It’s not the water that’s moving, it’s the energy. Water is
the medium that transmits the energy. Waves are a form of transport
The bulk of the
programme consists of various demonstrations of the truth of this
“Energy is the
invisible force that drives the Universe,” he says. “Energy can
never be destroyed, it can only change from one form to another. Even
after the wind dies the energy lives on in the waves.”
This is when the
programme shifts, and he starts talking about waves in general, as
opposed to the watery waves we’ve been discussing so far.
“Waves of energy are
found throughout the Universe,” he says. “The world is actually
filled with waves. Everything is in motion, in process. Waves are
Thus mountains are in
the process of rising and falling, like the waves in the sea; it’s
just that we don’t see it this way as it is happening too slowly for
our eyes to register. There are hidden waves throughout the world,
too fast, too slow, or in a medium too invisible, for our eyes to
catch a glimpse of. There are waves in the vacuum of space, waves in
the congealed weight of matter, waves in the air, waves in the sea,
waves of heat and waves of cold. There are waves in the terrifying
expanse of intergalactic space-time, and in the infinitesimally
small, paradoxical world of quantum reality, where thoughts can
influence matter. Waves are everywhere, as movement, as change.
Everything is in the process of change. The Buddha said this too,
over two and a half thousand years ago.
“Our lives are in
continuous change,” he adds, speaking about the human dimension
now, “a dynamic process of change.”
It’s at this point that
he tells us that his Mum had died during the making of the programme,
and that he had been thinking of her the whole time.
Life too is a wave, he
was saying. It is a wave of energy that passes through us, like the
waves in the sea. We are not flesh, any more than the sea-waves are
water. We are energy, and energy never dies. Just as the sea-waves’
energy is transformed as it crashes on the shore, and becomes
something else – a sound, a wave in the wind, which then joins the
rest of the air-currents to make new waves in the ocean – so our
life-energy wave carries on too; to where we do not know.
Perhaps, as Jon
suggests, it shifts to the quantum universe and enters another
dimension. Perhaps his Dad is really an angel after all. Perhaps his
Dad and my Dad are sitting together right now, drinking quantum
whiskey, and reminiscing about things that never happened.
Just because you cannot
see something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Being a member of the carnival committee isn’t exactly what I’d planned for my retirement. I’m supposed to be writing a book. Well I still am writing a book, sort of. It’s just that no actual writing is taking place. I’ve got half a chapter, lots of notes, and a ton of books to read.
The book is about
Magic. When I said that at one of the committee meetings, someone
asked, “is that magic with a c or magic with a k?”
There’s no difference. “Magick” is the archaic spelling of the word. It’s how Magic is spelt in Dr Johnson’s famous dictionary, first published in 1755.
The spelling was revived by Aleister Crowley in the early 20th Century in order to distinguish his own brand of ritual magic from the Harry Houdini stage-craft variety. My favourite story about him appears in a book about Austin Spare, the London artist and Crowley contemporary, who also practised Magic.
Crowley liked to assert that he could make himself invisible. One day he was marching up and down in the Café Royal in London, in full magical gear, with no one, apparently, paying any attention. A tourist asked a waiter who that was?
“Don’t worry,” said
the waiter, “that’s just Mr. Crowley being invisible.”
Anyway, the reason I changed my mind about being on the committee is that I decided that Carnival is itself a magical act.
A friend of mine
recently described me as “a Master of Time and Space”. It took me
a while to figure out what he meant.
All human beings are
masters of time and space. By making plans, by working with others,
by fixing a date and a time and a geographical location, we will be
able to co-ordinate ourselves so that – hopefully – something
extraordinary will appear on the streets of our town.
The Carnival. Something with its roots deep in history. Deeper, even, that the 121 years of Whitstable history it has already claimed.
“Carnival is a tradition. It’s a spectacle. It’s a living pageant… if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.”
One of the things that drew me to it was the date: the first Saturday in August. That’s Lammas, the ancient Ango-Saxon fire-festival which marks the first harvest. It’s also Lughnasadh, celebration of the Celtic god Lugh, patron of skill, crafts and the arts, as well as oaths, truth and the law.
In recent years people
had started to take the Carnival for granted. It became something
that stopped the traffic and got in people’s way every August, that’s
Well I, too, have stopped the traffic on a number of occasions. I stopped the traffic in the 90s, when we demonstrated against the new Thanet Way. I stopped the traffic again in the early 2000s when we demonstrated against the Iraq War. I also stopped the traffic twice as a postal worker, when we were demonstrating against the closure of the delivery office.
This will be the first
time I’ll have stopped the traffic demonstrating for
something, as opposed to against something. We will be
demonstrating for fun.
To make myself feel at
home I plan to march the entire route chanting “What do we want?
Carnival! When do we want it? Now!”
As to why Carnival is a magical act, here’s what I think: Carnival is a tradition. It’s a spectacle. It’s a living pageant. It will bring the people of Whitstable out onto the streets. Some of us will be dressed in silly clothing.
It will also be fun. It
will be a laugh. We will be actively entertaining ourselves, as
opposed to being passively entertained by the media.
And if that’s not
magic, I don’t know what is.
The Whitstable Carnival takes place on August 3rd this year. Assemble corner of Pier Avenue/Northwood Road, Tankerton 5.00 pm. Set off 5.30. Finish Belmont Road approximately 7.30pm.
Whitstable has four of them. There’s one on Canterbury Road, one on Oxford Street, one on Faversham Road, and now the new one on Cromwell Road, where the old delivery office used to be.
Every one of them carries exactly the same stock.
The new one also doubles as a Post Office. Whitstable needed a Post Office. It didn’t, however, need another Co-op. So while the Co-op is often half-empty, the Post Office, which only has two counters and one member of staff on at any one time, can sometimes have queues running out into the shop.
What half-baked turnip thought it was a good idea to give planning permission for a new supermarket right in the middle of a residential area? Didn’t anybody imagine that it might lead to trouble?
The first problem,
immediately, was the amount of light it bled out into the street. It
was like a stadium down there, like there was a football match going
on every night on Cromwell Road. The light blasted into people’s
bedrooms making it impossible to sleep.
complained to Environmental Health but it took 6 months before that
was toned down to tolerable levels.
After that it was the youths gathering at night, swigging out of beer cans, smoking skunk and squabbling amongst themselves; or pulling up in suped-up cars, music blaring, with the thud of the bass-line like a booming heartbeat. They’d leave their engines running, while the doors would slam twice – once on the way in, once on the way out – before roaring away again.
Finally it was the
early deliveries, sometimes as early as 6.20, before it had even got
If you’ve been kept up
late at night by the tribal rituals of rowdy youth, the last thing
you want to hear is the bread van pulling up at 6.20 in the morning,
slamming doors and rattling crates about.
Of course the residents
complained, both to the Co-op, and to the council. It’s against
planning regulations for deliveries to be made before 7am, as if this
wasn’t early enough already.
But the council have a
trick. You make a complaint. The council says, “OK, we’re dealing
with it.” The council talks to the Co-op. The Co-op says, “OK
we’re dealing with it.” And then the case is closed.
The problem being that
the deliveries continued to arrive before 7am. People continued to be
woken up early.
So the residents
complained again. Again the council spoke to the Co-op. Again the
Co-op said they were dealing with it. Again the case was closed.
And on and on and on
like this, over and over again. It was like they were kicking the can
down the road, as if the only thing that mattered was the procedure,
not the result.
The new Co-op opened in February 2018. It’s been more than a year, and still the deliveries are turning up before 7am.
The thing is, all of this was predicted. If you read the objections to the development on the council website you’ll find concerns about light pollution, traffic volume and noise all listed in there. Everyone already knew it would cause a problem.
In other words, the
council were forewarned. They decided not to do anything about it
before the building was raised, and they continue not to do anything
about it now the building is there.
The irony of all this
is made clear in the notice the Co-op has in its window. “Love Your
Neighbourhood” it says.
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 Officein 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
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.
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
This statement was
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 4March. 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”.
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:-
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:-
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”
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:-
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:
for your important and fascinating contribution Eric, now please do
as I asked (as you are clearly a Chris Williamson fan) and unfollow
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.”
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?”
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
Labour Movement accepts
full membership to both non-Jewish and
non-Labour Party members.“
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.”
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.
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
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
mentioned, Luciana Berger has now deserted Labour for the Independent
Group, formed not only of the disgruntled Labour exiles: Chukka
Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin, Shuker, Joan Ryan and Angela
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:-
“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?
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.
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
Julie Wassmer lives in Whitstable. She’s a writer and campaigner for human rights and environmental issues such as fracking.
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.