by Anne Belworthy
My disappointment in Canterbury’s Labour MP
I joined the Labour Party in 1956 at the time of the Suez Crisis. The Labour leader was Hugh Gaitskell.
For over 40 years I was a member of the Canterbury branch. During that time, I held office at every level of the constituency party. I attended conference almost every year as a delegate and was an early member of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), which battled away during the 1970s, 80s and 90s to win the reforms that were all about giving power to the membership. The Canterbury constituency was affiliated to CLPD and overwhelmingly supported the reforms that we eventually won.
It was a great campaigning party to belong to, supporting many trade-union campaigns. Foremost among these was support for the miners during the year-long strike of 1984-5. We gave a holiday in Canterbury to the Silentnight beds trade unionists from Lancashire fighting the longest strike in history in 1985 and stood shoulder to shoulder in 1976-78 with the mainly Asian workers facing despicable conditions at the photo-processing plant at Grunwick.
At home we were continually fighting the regressive privatisation reforms by the Thatcher government, which were supported overwhelmingly by the Tory councillors in Canterbury. We ran a successful campaign against the transfer of the council’s housing stock to a private concern, even though the policy was ardently supported by the Tory council. By winning the argument and support of the tenants this was stopped. We supported the dustmen’s strike of 1979, caused by the right-wing attitude of the then Tory council leader Arthur Porter, by organising meetings and collections.
I have described some of the events during my time there to show the sort of party we were: above all a campaigning party of the left. We were operating within a national organisation within which, although fierce argument took place, you were allowed to express an alternative view to that of the party leadership. How different from today when, if you dare to make a statement against the cruel actions of the Israeli regime toward Palestine, you may have a member report you; or your social-media history may be trawled through by the “thought police” who decide your guilt. You then lose your membership, falsely accused of anti-semitism — as hundreds have been in recent times.
Having fought for so many years to see a Labour MP elected for Canterbury, it is truly heartbreaking to read now what Rosie Duffield says about her party, labelling us “probably institutionally anti-semitic”. We are not and never have been. Ms Duffield is someone who only appeared a short time before Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader. She has never been prominent in the trade-union or women’s movement, at least as far as I am aware, although she appears to have been completely enamoured of the idea of being an MP.
She claimed to be a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn after he won the leadership in 2015 and for a time after she was elected in 2017. Her victory was part of the biggest national vote for Labour since 1945, which was accompanied by a huge growth in membership to become the largest political party in Europe.
However, shortly after her election she chose to attend a rally in Parliament Square. It claimed to be against anti-semitism, but to many of us in the Labour Party it was clearly an anti-Corbyn rally — attended only by a few Labour MPs, but by many far-right people, including Ian Paisley Jr and Norman Tebbit. I understand that when asked shortly after by a wiser Labour head than hers why she went to this, she replied that a “friend” was going, so she decided to. Which actually sums up her lack of commitment and the political void that she represents.
I believe the statement she makes about being yelled at in a local party meeting in her latest list of accusations in an interview with the Jewish Telegraph on December 4 is highly suspect. If it really happened no one I know saw it…. And I know many in the party. It seems she uses this type of statement to cover up her poor attendance at local party meetings. She will not even engage in debate via social media. If she doesn’t like a question, correction, or debate of any kind, she refuses to discuss it but just bars those trying to question her from her pages. She remains totally unapproachable except to the people who are willing to hand out compliments on a personal basis. As far as I know, she has never experienced anti-semitism in her local party. When asked by a member at a party meeting to give an example she was unable to do so. She has chosen to jump on the bandwagon of some MPs who for all sorts of reasons are opposed to the left in the party.
For someone who has no history in the party, and was very lucky to be in the position of MP, having not been selected by party members in the first place, and who remains there despite having caused divisions within the membership, you would think she might have learnt to become more politically aware and inclusive. But no, she has ploughed on along the same divisive path, as the recent publication illustrates.
For Canterbury constituency Labour Party, with such a proud campaigning history, to now be represented by someone who has disappointed and upset so many dedicated members, it is sad indeed.
Anne Belworthy is a veteran Labour campaigner, presently living in Herne Bay. A member of Labour’s Herne Bay branch, she is the membership secretary as well as the delegate to the North Thanet constituency. She was the chair of Canterbury & District Pensioners’ Forum for 16 years.
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It was refreshing to read Anne Belworthy’s article about the trajectory of the Canterbury and Whitstable Constituency Labour Party since the election of its current MP. Her heartfelt sorrow will be shared by many who were elated by the defeat of Tory misogynist and right-winger, Julian Brazier. Anne’s reminder that the CLP was once an honourable organisation that demonstrated solidarity with the Palestinians and with local miners as well as workers on strike at SilentNight and Grunwick is in stark contrast to the present suppression of all forms of solidarity and democratic discussion.
Thanks for your reply Diane. Julian will be chuckling happily to himself at what has become of Labour, both in Canterbury and in the country as a whole, since he lost his seat, but it’s great to be reminded of what a real Labour Party campaigner looks like. Thanks to Anne for the piece, which we at Whitstable Views were proud to publish.