Blackheath: a birthplace of rebellion, not just Golf

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) giving an election address on Blackheath, General election February 1874

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) giving an election address on Blackheath, General election February 1874

The Blackheath Societys new digital archive of photos and prints is a reminder that Blackheath is not just a sleepy Kentish village, famous only for the invention of Golf, that became a south London suburb. Blackheath also has a proud radical past.

The archive was subject of a week-long exhibition at Blackheath Halls in late September, which I was lucky to be at the launch of. Though the exhibition is now over, all you need do is go to www.blackheatharchive.org, register with your name and email address and you can browse all 1,500 images collated so far.

The archive is an organic thing and needs to grow further. The Blackheath Society welcomes donations of photos (I am donating some of my own limited archive of photos of places, and political events, in Blackheath and Westcombe Park from the last 15 years). Read more of this post

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Baroness Thatcher: why the best reaction from the left is dignified silence

ThatcherBy coincidence, just a few hours after Baroness Thatcher’s death was announced on April 8th, a friend and I had tickets booked to see This House, a play by James Graham at the National Theatre, in which Mrs Thatcher is not portrayed on stage but whose presence is felt throughout.

The play’s subject is the desperate measures taken by the Labour Whips to keep the Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1970s in power. The small cast has to take its own desperate measures backstage, as the taut script requires many nifty costume changes from the drab brown suits of Labour MPs to the slightly smarter garb of the Conservatives, with a smattering of Liberal, Ulster Unionist, SDLP, Plaid Cymru and Scottish nationalist MPs thrown in for good measure.

Oddly, the only women who feature prominently on-stage are two young Labour women MPs, Helene Hayman and Ann Taylor, who are negotiating their way through the macho world of the Parliamentary Labour Party, just as Thatcher had done a decade before in the Tories. Read more of this post

French lessons

IMG00419-20120412-1116It is a huge relief that Francois Hollande has won the French presidency. He has shown that a candidate of the left can win resoundingly in Europe, and there is a valid alternative to austerity. Although everyone predicts bruising clashes with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Franco-German relations (witness Kohl and Mitterrand) have often bridged the political divide between the Partie Socialiste and the German Christian Democrats.

I was in southern France over Easter and the friends I spoke to predicted Hollande would win, although neither of them had a great deal of enthusiasm. One of them, normally a Green voter, was uninspired by the Green Presidential candidate, an MEP and former magistrate called Eva Joly  (a Jenny Jones lookalike with zany green glasses), and was not much more inspired by Hollande either, but she was definitely voting for him, in the second round at least.

Three things are surprising about French Presidential elections, aside from the fact that they are fought over two rounds: firstly the very high turnout by UK standards  (more than 80% in 2012: the last time that number went to the polls in the UK was 1951). Read more of this post

Why I am a socialist

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks believes God gave us free will and that Judaism is a religion of protest unlike other religions which are of acceptance with the hope of eternal bliss. Religions – which Marx said were ‘the opium of the people’. God’s gift of free will is the only way that the Chief Rabbi and other theologians can explain why there is so much suffering in the world. It is not God’s will but the result of bad choices made by the humans he created in his image.

I am a Socialist because I believe that I can help make the world a better place for everyone based on ideas of co-operation, sharing and allowing everyone to have a fulfilled life. Like the Chief Rabbi I believe in free will but not as a gift from a God but as one of the key attributes that makes us human. It is an attribute that can now be explained by current scientific thinking. Like the Chief Rabbi I want to protest at the injustice and suffering in the world and not to blindly accept mantras like ‘Laissez-faire’, or that ‘market capitalism’ is the only economics that works!

Because of climate change and the scarcity of natural resources I believe that we will have to adopt Socialist ideals such as sharing resources if we are to survive as a species.

55 years ago I read Aneurin Bevan’s book ‘In Place of Fear’ and it inspired me to get involved in politics. The ideas in the book are still relevant today but the language and the narrative is of its time. I find talking about Socialism to younger generations difficult, because after 50 years, the experiences of younger generations are so different to those of mine. There is an urgent need for a latter day Aneurin Bevan to write a book that will be a modern narrative of how Socialist ideas can work in the context of the inevitable consequences of climate change.

Roy Preston
Chair, Blackheath Westcombe Branch