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.


Nigel Farage is not the Fishermen’s Friend

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

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

It was a colourful affair

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

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

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

The Brexiteers

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

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

Thereason May

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

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

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

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

People on the jetty

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

What is it about this man?

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

Fights started to break out

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

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

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

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

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


All photographs by Gerry Atkinson:

From The Whitstable Gazette 12/04/18

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Whitstable review: The Lynching by Jackie Walker

MP must defend Israel free speech

I went to see Jackie Walker’s one-woman show, the Lynching, at the Whitstable Labour Club last week.

Jackie Walker, in case you’ve forgotten, was the Vice-Chair of Momentum, the organisation created to support Jeremy Corbyn, before she was accused of anti-Semitism and suspended from the Labour Party.

The show is obviously still in its developmental stage, and a bit clunky in places, but there were some excellent bits. One in particular stood out: a small questionnaire she handed out during the interval.

It asked three questions: 1) If I criticise a Jewish person, am I anti-Semitic? 2) If I question the legality of Israel to exist am I anti-Semitic? 3) What do you think is meant by anti-Semitism?

I answered “no” to the first question, “no” to the second question and “racial discrimination against Jews” to the third.

Jackie pointed out that how we understand the answers depends upon the context. If the questions were asked of an anti-Semite, then the same answers I gave would, indeed, be anti-Semitic.

I think that was a really clever and subtle point, and it is in this context that the criticisms against Jackie Walker can be understood.

What was most important to me was the opportunity to hear first hand the words of someone who has been hounded so relentlessly in the press, so I was rather astonished to hear that there were voices being raised within the Constituency Labour Party at the fact that the show was allowed to go ahead at all.

Pardon? I thought we believed in free speech? Not so it seems. Or not when there is a slim majority to defend.

Here is Rosie Duffield’s response:

“I could really have done without all this within my first few weeks in an all-consuming new job where my priority is helping desperate, struggling constituents with their asthma-causing mouldy flats or grandparents who’ve been on trolleys in hospital corridors for more than a day.”

To which I reply: well that’s your job Rosie, it’s what you’re paid to do.

Meanwhile it is our job, as concerned citizens, to try to get as close to the truth as possible. Hearing both sides of an argument is the first step in that process.


From The Whitstable Gazette 27/07/17

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, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE

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Whitstable politics: Rosie Duffield our new MP

At last we have someone who understands our concerns

First of all can I offer my heartiest congratulations to Rosie Duffield on her stunning victory in Canterbury last week.

At last we have an MP who understands our concerns, who has lived a life not unlike our own, and who will be able to represent the broad majority of her constituents in Parliament.

You can’t say that about Julian Brazier: a person about as remote from ordinary voters lives as it is possible to imagine.

I’ve had a few run ins with him over the years: most notably during our campaign to keep the Royal Mail delivery office open in Whitstable.

About 30 postal workers lobbied him after work. He listened politely, nodding energetically at all our points, and then hot-footed it directly to Royal Mail management and sided with them instead.

That says all you need to know about Julian Brazier. On the side of management and against the workers. On the side of profit and against public services. On the side of a remote and distant decision making process and against local people’s needs.

It was the same during the campaign to keep our Crown Post Office. Sir Julian sided with Post Office Ltd, saying “I have no problem with the Post Office moving into another store as part of a franchise.”

Had it been up to him, and the Post Office been moved into Budgens as was planned, there would not now be a Post Office in the centre of Whitstable, and no prospect of there ever being one in the future.

He was always quick to see a photo opportunity, and slow to give any real, practical help. Thus it was he turned up at the CHEK march against the downgrading of services at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital on June 3rd, while voting consistently with the government on legislation designed to undermine the Health Service.

Finally there is the little matter of his annual courtesy visit to the delivery office every Christmas. People used to run from their desks to hide, so patronising and out of touch was he.

At least this year it will be Rosie Duffield paying us a visit, a much more salubrious prospect.


From The Whitstable Gazette, 15/06/2017

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, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE,
fax 01227 762415


Whitstable Views: Letter to the Whitstable Times

Letter to the Whitstable Times by John Ledger 22/03/17

My Response to Apathy and Resignation

In reply to John Ledger’s letter (Whitstable Times 22/03/17) can I just say that I agree with him entirely?

If we do not change we are going to die as a country.

Which is why I was puzzled by some of his more ill-informed opinions.

Take the Post Office for instance. It is, indeed, dying on its feet. However this is not a natural process. It is entirely down to policy decisions having been made by successive governments.

The Post Office and the Royal Mail were once part of one seamless postal service. You bought your stamps from the Post Office and had your letters delivered by the Royal Mail.

Since then, of course, the Royal Mail has been privatised. But in order to do this, the government had first to deal with its liabilities.

Its pension scheme, which had been deliberately run down by the company in the early part of this century, and the Post Office, which has always made a loss, were taken on by the government, while the profitable part, the Royal Mail, was sold off on the cheap to its backers in the City.

This is known as “privatisation of profit, socialisation of cost” and is the means by which all privatisations are effected.

The same thing is happening to the NHS right now. Prior to the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (which laid the foundations for privatisation) all NHS regions were in surplus. Now all but one of them are in deficit. (See graphic, above).

Mr Ledger is right to say that the NHS will not survive under these conditions. Just like the Royal Mail it is being deliberately run-down in order to hand the cheap-to-administer parts over to the private sector, while the tax payer is left to deal with what remains.

What this will inevitably mean is a two-tier system: a sleek, slick, shiny new part for those who can afford it, and a run-down, over-worked, stressed-out rump for the rest.

The reason why the system was good in its day, as Mr Ledger says, is that the burden of cost was shared by the nation as a whole and not loaded on to the individual. This was the very essence of the post-war consensus which gave us more than 30 years of prosperity, security and increasing living standards.

So yes, Mr Ledger, you are right: we are a much different country now. It’s the post-Thatcher neo-liberal consensus that has ruled the game for the last 40 years, leading to stagnating living standards, greater insecurity and more inequality as a consequence.

None of this was inevitable. All of it is due to deliberate policy choices, and if we don’t change soon, as Mr Ledger says, “we are going to die as a country”.

Christopher Stone.

Whitstable MP: Julian Brazier and Cannabis, who regulates the sources?

A few weeks ago our MP made a number of statements regarding the controversial retailers UK Skunkworks after a young man, Matt Ford of Whitstable, almost died from the effects of smoking one of their products.

I responded by saying that while these legal highs are untested and potentially dangerous, some of our illegal drugs are relatively safe. I sent Julian Brazier a copy of the story.

Here is an extract from his reply: “I am told by sources I respect that cannabis is both a much more potent drug than its namesake of the 60s and 70s and that it is now one of the major causes of schizophrenia – as you know we have a worrying rise in mental illness among young people.”

This brings up a number of questions. Where is the evidence? If it’s true that there is a rise in mental illness among the young, can it be shown that this is caused by cannabis?

Isn’t it just as likely, given that young people have had their futures stolen from them, – that they are the first generation in more than a century destined to be poorer than their parents – that the rise in mental illness might have other, more immediate, causes?

Should we be surprised if they are turning to cannabis for relief?

You will also notice that his reply is based upon hearsay. Who are these “sources”? If the government’s own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs says one thing, but Julian Brazier’s sources say another, how are we to know who is telling the truth?

This, of course, brings us to the question of democracy.

It’s fairly clear that Julian Brazier knows next to nothing about drugs. No MP can be an expert on every subject. Consequently he is always going to be guided by sources of information – or misinformation – which lie outside the public sphere.

The question then has to be, how do we regulate those sources? When an MP has business interests he is obliged to declare them. Perhaps he should also tell us the names of the people who inform him.

Whitstable People: Brian Haw, conscience for the world

I went to the Brian Haw memorial gig at the Whitstable Labour Club on Friday. In case you don’t know, Whitstable is raising money to make a bench in celebration of Brian’s connection to the town.

What you might not know is that there’s a specific association with the Labour Club too, in that Brian’s brother, Richard, was the chairman of the club for many years. Richard was also at the gig, and it was great to catch up with him again after all this time.

I also met two of Brian’s children, Pete and Catt, both of whom made fine speeches. It was interesting to hear the small details of Brian’s former life, when he was just an ordinary Dad, bringing up a family in Birmingham.

It was very touching because of course he became such an international figure in the end, recognised by people all over the world.

This is what made Brian’s protest so powerful. He was an ordinary man, who, by an unwavering belief and a fierce commitment, became the conscience for the whole world.

He was a deeply spiritual man, but he wasn’t like so many spiritual people, content with just praising God. He saw that he also had a duty to God, to fight against the injustices of the world.

There is no greater injustice than the murder of innocence. Brain Haw left his own family behind and by this act threw off the shackles of tribalism. He gave up his own children to become a father for all children.

As we know, Tony Blair has often claimed to be a Christian. But what a different kind of Christianity this must be to the one that Brian practised.

One form of Christianity revelled in its power and influence and was able to justify the invasion of a sovereign state and the murder and mayhem that followed. The other stood in fierce condemnation of this and, like an old testament prophet, roared out his truths to the world.

One became immensely rich, while the other gave up everything – including his life – for something much more meaningful.

From The Whitstable Gazette.

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, Gazette House, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE, email

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