Stop Graveney Marsh Solar Farm

Guest Blog by Matthew Hatchwell

On May 10, 2020, the Daily Telegraph published an article about the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park (CHSP) just outside Faversham on the north Kent coast.  If it goes ahead, it would be the largest solar power station in the UK, covering 900 acres of farmland, containing nearly a million solar panels, and including a battery storage system five times larger than the current record-holder, in Australia.  Local residents, although supportive of solar energy in general, oppose the scheme for a number of reasons, including safety risks associated with the massive battery and the environmental impacts of building a solar power station on a site that lies below sea level in an area that is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels as a result of climate change.

Impression of Solar Farm at Graveney © Jim Bennett used with permission.

According to the Daily Telegraph article last week, “a spokeswoman for the developers, Hive Energy and Wirsol, said safety was ‘at the heart’ of the farm’s design and a battery safety management plan has been agreed with the Health and Safety Executive, as well as Kent Fire and Rescue Service.”  When asked to confirm the existence of such an agreement, KFRS replied that they had “at no stage agreed to or signed off any plans relating to the project as suggested in the news article.”  Lithium ion batteries of the type proposed for Cleve Hill have caused fires, explosions and releases of toxic hydrogen fluoride gas in similar facilities in the US, South Korea and elsewhere that have led respected solar industry and financial investment commentators to caution against their use at other sites until safety questions are answered.

Regarding its impacts on biodiversity, the Daily Telegraph article reported a claim by Hive Energy and Wirsol that: “The solar park will deliver a 65% increase in biodiversity on the intensively farmed site.”  In fact, the comparison should not be between the CHSP scenario and intensive farming, which is notoriously bad for biodiversity, but with the alternative that was being planned by the Environment Agency for the site before the solar power station was proposed: reversion to salt marsh.  Salt marshes are the second most productive and valuable ecosystem in the world after coral reefs, providing a suite of benefits including not only wildlife habitat but also protection against coastal flooding, nutrients for marine organisms, carbon sequestration, erosion control, recreational opportunities, etc.  Data from other sites in the UK where agricultural land has been allowed to revert to salt marsh, in Essex, Kent and West Sussex, show that such an initiative at Cleve Hill would result in a dramatic increase in biodiversity compared to the current land use or any increase that might result from conversion to a solar power station.  The increase in biodiversity that is being promised by CHSP developers is far from guaranteed in any case, since there is no way of knowing exactly how bird and other species — including marsh harriers, Brent geese, water voles and many others — would react to the vast area of solar panels, the height of a double-decker bus, that they intend to install.

There is no doubt that the UK and every other country in the world should be moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources.  Solar technology should be obligatory for all new houses. The proposed Cleve Hill project demonstrates, however, that not every initiative would deliver on the promise of clean energy.  It makes no sense to locate such a project on land that lies below sea level and that was previously earmarked for reversion to salt marsh.

Join me in showing your opposition to this reckless project by signing the petition at http://chng.it/KkQYCfyh9T.  For further information, see https://favershamsociety.org/cleve-hill/

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Matthew Hatchwell is a wildlife conservation consultant living in Faversham, with a particular focus on European eels (the only Critically Endangered species that occurs at the Cleve Hill site).  He is the former Director of Conservation at the Zoological Society of London and previously led conservation programmes in Congo and Madagascar for the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

Couldn’t pay, wouldn’t pay, didn’t pay

The battle to defeat the poll tax

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment. It’s called Couldn’t Pay, Wouldn’t Pay, Didn’t Pay. It’s about the anti-poll tax campaign in Kent in the early 90s.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the most crucial year of the campaign, which included the famous poll tax riot which took place in London in March 1990.

Several prominent organisers were imprisoned for non-payment of the tax. It was called the Community Charge by Margaret Thatcher, but universally referred to as the poll tax by everyone else.

It was one of the most successful examples of political rebranding in modern British history.

The book is compiled and edited by Eric Segal, secretary of the South East Kent Trade Union Council. Eric was one of the principle organisers of the campaign, being the secretary of the Kent Anti-Poll Tax Federation at the time.

He was also imprisoned for his stance, spending a month in jail in August 1991. All elected officials of the Anti-Poll Unions, which had sprung up throughout the country, took their positions on the understanding that it could result in jail time.

Indeed this was the principle tactic of the campaign, the refusal to pay the tax.

We had our own little anti-tax group here in Whitstable. It was called Whitstable Against the Tax, which afforded the wonderful acronym WAT, a reference to Wat Tyler who had led the Peasants Revolt against the original poll tax in 1381.

He was killed by officers loyal to King Richard II on June 15th of that year.

We had our own newspaper. Called Wat Times, it was my own personal foray into the world of political journalism, and marks the first time I effectively put pen to paper.

Sadly all copies of the paper have long since disappeared.

The very unique thing that the Whitstable group did was to organise a march from Canterbury to London, following in the footsteps of Wat Tyler.

This led to a little straggling band of punks, hippies, socialists and assorted ne’er-do-wells, traipsing through the Kent Countryside for several days shouting pointless slogans to a string of sleepy villages.

What none of us had realised at the time was that, actually, most of Kent serves as a dormitory for London, and that large parts of the county are empty in the day time.

To mark the release of the book there will be an event at the Labour Club on Thursday March 12th. It will feature talks by Eric Segal and Nick Dent. It was Nick who organised the march to London.

There will also be songs by Nigel Hobbins, who was on the march with us, and who has written a song commemorating the event. Signed copies of the book will be available.

What the book reminds us is that you don’t have to rely on Parliament to oppose a government. It was the anti-poll tax campaign which brought down Margaret Thatcher. Full of maniacal confidence previously, she resigned in a welter of tearful self-pity in November 1990.

It was the end of an era.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 20/02/20

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.

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So you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn

So you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn.

How do you know you don’t like him? Have you met him? Have you spoken to him? Did he come round to your house and kick your dog?

No. You saw him on the telly. He was bit scruffy and he didn’t know how to do his tie up properly. He didn’t bow his head enough at the cenotaph. He didn’t sing the national anthem. What else do you know about him? He’s an anti-Semite and a terrorist sympathiser is he? Google it. Where can you find an actual anti-Semitic or pro-terrorist statement? You can’t, because there are none.

You like his policies. You want railways and other utilities back in public hands. You don’t see why foreign-based state-owned rail companies should be taking profits from our subsidised rail system. You want to see our Health Service properly funded. You don’t want to see it sold off in a trade deal with the Americans. You don’t want to see our nurses using food banks. You think that corporations that use our infrastructure should be properly taxed. You are against tax havens and tax cuts for the rich. You are fed up with foreign wars.

But you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn.

Shall I tell you a secret? We don’t live in a democracy. You think it’s one person, one vote and that the will of the majority should prevail? It’s not. You get your vote, your thirty seconds of choice, between the man with the red rosette and the man with the blue rosette, but it’s the will of the most well-off that prevails. Power resides in the hands of those who have the most wealth, and governments do their bidding, not yours. So the choices you get are the choices between one set of wealthy people’s priorities and another, between one brand of free-market capitalism and another: between the blue Tories and the red Tories, Tory-heavy and Tory-lite. Your choices don’t come into it.

But you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn.

We’ve had relentless negativity about him since he first appeared on the scene. Why would that be? Maybe it’s because he’s offering you a real choice. For the first time in a generation, those are your priorities being set out before you, as a set of policies, not those of the wealthy elite. The same policies brought to you by the 1945 Labour government, and by governments across the Scandinavian world. Not extremist policies: Social Democratic policies. Policies that are known to work. So, unable to attack the policies, they attack the man.

It’s been non-stop, day-in and day-out, since he first won the Labour leadership, from every branch of the establishment. From the BBC, from the Guardian, from the government, from members of the Labour Party, those whose career trajectory has been knocked off track. From the Daily Mail and the Sun. Is it any wonder you don’t like him really? If the BBC told you that cornflakes were bad for you, and repeated this message every day for five years, chances are you wouldn’t like cornflakes either.

A friend of mine asked me why the Labour Party didn’t pick a more charismatic leader, a more handsome leader, someone who looked good on the telly?

That’s because we were fed up with Tory-lite. We were fed up with only getting the choice between one form of free-market capitalism and another. We were fed up with being told that if you didn’t pick the policies that suited the wealthy elite, you wouldn’t get into power. But what’s the point of power without principles? Tony Blair got us into power. He was handsome, charismatic and he looked good on telly, but look where he took us: into an illegal war in Iraq that has caused devastation across the Middle East, and terrorism across the world.

He also, coincidentally started the process of privatising the NHS. In other words, Tony Blair was a Tory, not a socialist.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson is refusing to talk to Andrew Neil, refusing to meet the public except in carefully stage-managed photo-ops, refusing to take unvetted questions from the likes of you and I. He’s being sold to us like a commodity, like a soap powder brand or a type of washing up liquid. Get Brexit done. Get Brexit done. Hands that do dishes. It’s an advertising slogan not a political platform. How many of you know what his actual policies are?

So this is my appeal to you. So you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn. Fair enough. But let’s look past the individuals and instead look at the policies. Take a look at the Labour Manifesto, then take a look at the Tory Manifesto. Weigh them up and consider them. How many of these policies are for you and your family, and how many are for the wealthy elites?

Meanwhile, to get a sense of what the Tories real priorities are, try these few sample facts out for size (follow links for verification).

Since being in power the Tories have:-

  • increased the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in the UK by 183%
  • increased homelessness by 165%
  • increased foodbank use by 3,800%
  • increased the national debt by 80%
  • increased outsourcing to private companies in the NHS by £15 billion (since 2015)

And you say you don’t like Jeremy Corbyn? Maybe it’s time think again.

It’s More Than the Brexit Election

It’s class warfare in the most class conscious country on the planet.

The UK’s very tribal and class conscious. Urban, working class people in the old manufacturing centers, like Manchester or Birmingham, tend to vote Labour. Rural people, where ideas of patronage still hold, are more inclined to vote Conservative. The ruling elite, historically, all went to the same school. Twenty Prime Ministers went to Eton, plus large numbers of Cabinet Ministers and countless Tory MPs.

Labour members generally have more modest backgrounds. Until 1945, most Labour Party members were working class. Since then a significant number of lawyers and other professionals have joined the party, a process that had its apotheosis with New Labour in the 1990s. New Labour was the creation of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and was an attempt to rid Labour of its old Socialist credentials, to turn it into the British equivalent of the Democratic Party.

It almost succeeded.

By the time of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise, in 2015, a significant proportion of the Parliamentary Labour Party were Blairites. This was achieved by the simple expedient of parachuting Blair loyalists into vacant constituencies against the members’ wishes. If you want to understand the current struggles within the Labour Party you need to be clear on this point. Unfortunately for Blair and his allies, the membership of the Labour Party didn’t change. Given the opportunity to vote for someone outside the political establishment, they chose Corbyn, the rank outsider.

At this point the balance of the world shifted, both for Labour, and for the country….

Read more here

Save Graveney Marshes

Solution to solar conundrum could be found right above our heads

I went for a walk this weekend with my good friend Helene Williams, the artist. We caught the train to Faversham, and then came back to Whitstable through Faversham boatyard and Graveney marshes. We managed to get lost along the way. We ended up skirting the back end of Graveney and cutting through several farms.

It was like an adventure. We had no idea where we were half the time but we got there in the end. It took about four hours.

Along the way we were passing cottages and farm houses.

All of them had the same poster in their window. Save Graveney Marshes, it said.

I remember being annoyed when I was walking this way last year. I came to a cottage which had fenced off part of the river bank. I was unable to walk by the creek and was forced to take a diversion. They had one of those Save Graveney Marshes posters in their window.

I thought, “well if you’re going to privatise the river bank, then we can privatise the marshes for our energy needs.”

It occurred to me that these people were NIMBYs and I had no sympathy for them.

On reflection I think I was being a little uncharitable.

Obviously we do need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, but Graveney marshes are such a unique and pristine habitat, it would be a terrible loss both to the wildlife around there, and to us walkers.

Also, on closer inspection, this is not quite the environmentally friendly technology it appears to be.

It’s not only the size – it will be the largest solar farm in the whole of Europe, covering an area greater than Faversham – it will also incorporate some as yet untested technology in the form of a giant battery array, three times larger than any built before.

Given that these batteries can catch fire, and that, when doused in water, they can pour off clouds of deadly hydrogen fluoride gas, and you can see that this could be an accident waiting to happen.

The trick is that it will allow the company to trade in energy, buying it in at the lowest price, and selling it on once the prices have gone up.

This is probably the real reason that they are interested in this project, rather than any environmental considerations.

The whole thing may be just a ruse for the financialisation of our energy supply.

Of course we do need solar power, the question is, where to put the panels? There’s an obvious answer to that. Go stand stand on the top of Borstal Hill on a sunny day and you’ll see: a landscape of roofs warming in the sunshine.

There should be no new houses built without solar panels, and all south facing roofs should have them fitted as soon as possible.

The only drawback to this scheme is that it wouldn’t be making profits for the energy companies.

Which is probably why it isn’t being considered.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 19/09/19

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

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Brexit: which side are you on?

The following story could be a parable for our times.

It’s about Eshu, an African trickster god who is always quick to exploit the limitations of the human mind.

The story goes that there were two friends who had sworn eternal allegiance to each other. Eshu heard about them and thought, “we’ll see about that.”

One day the friends were working in two fields on either side of a road, when Eshu passed between them.

He had on a hat which was white on one side, and black on the other, and he stopped, briefly, to wave a greeting.

Later, when the men were taking lunch, one of them said, “did you see the stranger wearing a white hat earlier?”

His friend said, “yes I saw him, but he was wearing a black hat, not a white one.”

I think you can guess the rest. The two friends fell to arguing, and eventually to fighting, over whether the stranger had on a white or a black hat; so much so that they were in danger of killing each other.

It took another intervention from Eshu, who showed them the hat, for them to see that they were both right, and both wrong at the same time.

This is how I view the Brexit debate. Both sides are right and wrong at the same time.

For instance, on the remain side it’s popular to present those who voted leave as bigoted and stupid. All the racists are leave voters, they say. But while it’s true that all the overt racists are on the leave side, remain too has its share of bigotry. In this case the bigotry is directed against a leave-voting working class who they perceive as inherently racist.

Remember Gordon Brown being caught on mic after an exchange with Labour supporter Gillian Duffy? He called her bigoted because she referred to Eastern Europeans “flocking” into the country.

The failure on Gordon Brown’s part, as well as on the remain side in general, is the dismissal of people’s very real concerns over immigration as mere bigotry. Gillian Duffy was making a point borne out of her own experience in the community in which she lived. To have that dismissed as bigotry is itself a form of bigotry.

Meanwhile, many on the leave side have bought into the rhetoric about a no deal Brexit.

There’s no such thing as a no deal Brexit. We either have a deal with the EU, or we have a deal with the US. If we choose a deal with the US (which is what Rees-Mogg and his crew are after really) then we can kiss the NHS goodbye, as everything in our welfare state will be up for grabs by American corporations.

We would become the new Greece off the coast of Northern France, a failed state with every last vestige of our sovereignty up for sale, while the ruling elites park their fabulous wealth in tax havens around the world.

The truth is, the problem has almost nothing to do with the EU. It’s the crisis of late capitalism, which the whole world is experiencing. Capitalism can no longer generate the profits it used to. In order to keep the value of stocks high it is now consuming the means of existence itself.

Austerity – whether plied by the EU or by our own Eton-educated elites – is the wrong answer to the wrong question.

What we need is a return to the social democracy of the post-war years, which brought unprecedented wealth to the whole nation.

Leave or remain, we need a Labour government.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 05/09/19

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

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Whitstable property: Fortresses of Excess

I’m sitting on one of the benches overlooking the golf course, by the railway bridge at the end of West Cliff, as I’m writing this. It’s a lovely late summer morning, with just a hint of autumn in the air.

What I’m looking at are three buildings that look like medieval fortresses.

Maybe you’ve seen them. They sit at the junction of Island Wall and Saxon Shore, as if guarding the entrance to the golf course, three large statements in glass and stone, wholly out of keeping, in style and scale, with the buildings that surround them.

They are still in the process of being built. One is finished, and is already furnished and decorated like a show home, the other two are in various states of completion.

Who gave planning permission for these monstrosities? Who thought it was appropriate, in our little town, to allow these gross, ugly, oversized indulgences to spring up and spoil the view?

I’m fairly certain you used to be able to see the sea from where I’m sitting.

The reason they look like medieval fortresses is that they are characterised by a huge round wall on one side, like the keep of a Norman castle, with two small windows like arrow slits very high up.

They are designed by Kapra Developments, whose website gives the following specifications:

Four large en-suite bedrooms, plus a master bedroom suite, all with balconies, on the top floor; a large open plan kitchen on the ground floor, with a 4m long island, and a separate prep kitchen, plus a living area with surrounding decks and balconies overlooking the golf course and gardens; and a double garage plus utility area on the lower ground floor, with additional space for a home cinema, home office and gym.

Pardon? How many people do you know who would require a private cinema and gym in their home? How much will these properties sell for?

What is certain is that no Whitstable family could afford them. They are not being built for the people of our town.

It is a measure of the kind of world that is coming into being that such open displays of wealth and status are becoming the norm.

I wonder if this is why they are made to look like medieval fortresses? Is it because the people who choose to live in these places will be as isolated from their surroundings, from the town and its people, as the Norman Aristocracy were from the peasants they ruled over in feudal times?

The super-rich are not just quantitatively richer than the rest of us; they are qualitatively different too.

According to a recent survey, the 25 richest families in the world control $1.4 trillion between them.

That’s such a large number it’s almost impossible to get your head around.

A trillion is a million million. If I tried counting up to a million, it would take just over eleven and a half days. Counting up to a trillion, on the other hand, would take 31,709.9 years.

This is wealth beyond imagining. If you want to know why the world is in such a mess, you really need look no further.

Wealth rules. It makes the world in its own image. We are not moving forward as a society, we are going backwards. Despite a housing shortage in our town, all the prime development is going to serve rich people from other parts of the world.

The poor have always been with us, it’s true, and the rich also. But such monstrous disparities in wealth and power haven’t been seen since the Middle Ages.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 22/08/19

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

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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

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

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

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/

club

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