My name is Elizabeth Anne Belworthy — known as Anne — and I am 85 years old.
When I joined the Labour Party my surname was Reid; for the longest spell of activity in the Canterbury constituency party I was Anne Shenow and my name is now Belworthy: this is due to divorce and widowhood and remarriage. I am listing this in case records are trailed and what I am saying is disputed because of name change.
I first joined the party at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956. This was as a 19-year-old, and I was horrified that our government was taking us into war over the Suez Canal, which belonged to the people of Egypt anyway, but was a throwback to our old colonial days. I was not a “political” person, although I did have a strong sense of social justice; I just knew that this was very wrong.
Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell’s broadcasts on TV impressed me and I joined. My mother and father had worked for the party and as a child my dad would read to me sections of the Daily Herald in order to impress on me the good things that the Labour government was doing after the war. He was a trade union rep for the Railway Clerks’ Association at the Canterbury West station. I think this impressed me, and so I did think that Labour was for the ordinary people even then. I knew all of the names of the Labour cabinet from a young age.
My first experience of working in the party was in the village of Sturry, near Canterbury, where I lived as a young married mother. I was in the women’s section of the party, mainly putting on social events, running bazaars to raise funds for the elections in the constituency. My name was Reid.
My marriage broke down and with three children I moved to Canterbury and had difficulty in finding the party for a short time, but one day Reg Race, who later became a Labour MP, canvassed me for the local election. He was a pretty poor student at the University of Kent and very active in regenerating the local party, which was at a low ebb — and so I was in again. My name by then was Shenow.
From then on, I would pay for babysitters to look after the children so that I could be fully involved. I became branch secretary and I was also social secretary, putting on events to raise funds with other members and holding parties at my house. The branch depended in those days very much on the support of the students and lecturers from the university, and it was from that involvement that my political education began.
I was working as a clerical officer for BT Canterbury from 1971 and became the secretary of the clerical workers’ branch of the NCU — now the CWU. I was elected each year, and I did this for 21 years until I took early retirement in 1992. I received a gold badge for my years of work in the union. I was also joint convener for what were then five unions in BT: this was entitled BTUC secretary. I was given full-time release to do this work. I was a single mum and, with the great help from my mother, managed to have this career and raise my three sons as well.
For the Labour Party I became the constituency secretary at this time for the Canterbury CLP, and later chair. The party at that time was vibrant with trade union delegates, socialist societies, and delegates from the three branches in the constituency: Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay. I was delegate to conference many times, speaking on three occasions and I met many of the giants of the party in those days.
The Labour Party at that time had been trying to find members that would apply to be magistrates. Following a good speaker at a Canterbury branch meeting urging us to apply, I agreed to and the Labour Party nominated me. Following the interview, I became a magistrate for five years — years that I found difficult, as the miners’ strike took place during that time and the magistrates’ bench was not an easy place to sit. Officers sent down from London’s Metropolitan Police who rampaged through our mining villages had handed out some rough justice, and cases coming before our courts were hard to bear, especially sitting alongside middle-class women and wives of local businessmen with their own particular prejudices. I did not enjoy that job, for there were few bright patches, although I was pleased to hear from one solicitor that several of them were pleased when they saw that I was sitting on a session.
I took on being Labour agent for the 1979 election and took two weeks of my annual leave to do this; my house became the local party HQ as Canterbury did not have one. There were 42 district council candidates then, and the parliamentary candidate — and I remember how hard it was.
Two years before South Africa gained independence, in 1992 I became secretary for Canterbury District Anti-Apartheid Group. It was a small group, but with sterling work with Maurice Mason and Don Poole from the local Communist party, we managed to raise quite a bit of money for the African National Congress. We had some good speakers come to Canterbury and we shared these with the party on internationalism and understanding.
On taking early retirement from BT following privatisation, and along with three other retired trade unionists, we formed the Canterbury & District Pensioners’ Forum. I ran it as chair for 16 years, bringing together older people with different political persuasions, working together for the benefit and inclusion of older people. We gained funding from various official bodies, produced quarterly newsletters and quarterly meetings with interesting speakers, held a monthly song club with a professional musician running it, and held Christmas and midsummer parties free of charge. Sadly, when I could no longer carry on due to ill health, there was no-one to take the pivotal role that was needed. Even now I get the occasional phone call from people wishing to join the forum.
When I moved to Herne Bay in 2000, Labour was quite a moribund party there. I took secretary and another member took chair. It was not a contested election. Nobody wanted the jobs. The party had a low membership until 2015 and Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader when, like other parties across the country, it rocketed.
I have continued to be active and, up until this year, have been membership secretary and press officer for five years. I was delegate and executive member to the North Thanet constituency party until the Labour Party of Keir Starmer terminated my membership just before Christmas for supporting a group entitled Labour in Exile Network (LIEN), a group of active members who have also been ejected from the party for various doubtful reasons, mostly for discussing issues that branches and members have been banned from discussing by the party nationally.
On Saturday December 11th 2021 I received an email saying that my membership of the Labour Party was terminated. I will hear shouts of joy from one or two members, but I know that my many friends recognise what I have put into the Labour Party since the age of 19, which has resulted in 65 years of active membership.
None of my first submission to the party after being notified that my membership was under review was acknowledged, and I received no acknowledgement for answering accusations, and so it continued…
I made a full submission in July, answering the accusations of antisemitism, and with a potted history of my years of activism (see above) plus letters of support from the branch chair and a long-term member of Herne Bay branch. I had no response. I answered all of the four accusations. I then got a further email on November 17 and replied below to the party’s governance & legal unit (G&LU):
I have today received a further email from the G&LU with accusations of supporting Facebook posts of Labour in Exile.
I received a previous letter of allegation dated July 26 (case no. CN-12705) to which I gave a full response to the accusations. I have never heard anything about my response to the accusations, even though some of today’s allegations precede that date.
In response to today’s email I can only say I am not a member of LIEN. There is nothing in the posts that I have supported that states I am.
All I would ask is: are we now banned from looking at sites on the internet that your department has decided we must not look at? Is it not worrying that this is nothing to do with the so-called driving-out of antisemitism but something entirely different? Please could my first submission be read and responded to before you put before me these further accusations?
Thank you, from a member of 65 years’ length.
They appear not to have read any of the first submission but then looked for further “wrongs” with no reference to the first. They have never acknowledged any of my submissions.
On the 11th December I got an email terminating my membership only citing the LIEN accusations.
All of this happens to members if they are reported by another member. Ironically I have “liked” on Facebook posts by others in our party whose names appeared on the photo shots of the accusations. They posted it but were not reported.
My expulsion was because someone reported me. That’s how it works.
The four antisemitism accusations consisted of “likes” on Facebook sites of posts in support of Palestine’s struggle against the Israeli government.
It hurts because I have never uttered a racist remark in my life.
The second letter I got, three months after the first, ignored my previous submission and just said my membership was suspended because I had supported Labour in Exile.
The party leadership has proscribed that group, so I am out for supporting it. This is despite the fact that I am not a member and have only ever liked posts on Facebook prior to the group being proscribed.
Is this democratic or fair?
More by Anne Belworthy:
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