The independent cross-party Lewisham East Hustings took place on Tuesday 7pm 12th June 2018 at the Salvation Army Hall in Catford, south east Lewisham. It’s not a forgotten corner. We remember the Battle of Lewisham here, not because our history books taught us, but in the front of a democratic assembly when a group of diverse and unified far left organisations sought to disrupt the local hustings tonight.
They come from disparate groups and unions; some older folk, battle weary from street standing for years of protests, relics of their younger union years. The younger hipster types with a blend of manicured beards, student activism and lip gloss – all unwittingly disrupted the democratic principle – of free speech. That was their goal – to drown out discourse or political dialogue and meaningful debate between the audience and candidates who filled the hall of the Salvation Army Hall – for those who were able to break entry into the buildings through the police security cordon, thronged by the increasingly and threatening chants of anti-fascist slogans.
So where were all the hateful racists, the cause d’etre for the far left protesters? Janet Daby may not have been there, but her Labour supporters and canvassers were. Accusations in Lewisham flying left and right outside of the hall, the audience remained mostly obedient, beholden to Janet Daby’s emptied chair, vacated by Heidi Alexander, former MP for Lewisham East.
Here, our previous by-election saw a 100% Labour win on councillor seats, annihilating all effective democratic cross-party opposition for the ever-spiralling debt ridden Labour council which sees the borough fall into the worse percentiles for educational standards in London. We are in the bottom 20% index for childhood related poverty too. With the South Circular Road pollution ever contributing to increasing respiratory disease, we don’t even have the luxury of hospitals free from disastrous Private Finance Initiatives (that’s “privatisation” to you and I) as the taxpayer pays off the brunt of these costs for the then new build Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, under a former Labour mayor. Labour have a lot to answer for. But tonight, they were not going to answer except with silence as their army of supporters outside set their work of protest in motion.
The hustings assembly inside the Salvation Army Halls, was at a far remove from their monologue and rantings ouside. Granted – they would have been plausible had there been a hate crime committed. Civil sweet talk over tea and muffins indoors, many of the audience were older residents making the most of an opportunity to decide on the meaning of a vote and ask questions.
Personally I have never been to a hustings. I’ve never even been political until the fate of the EU referendum convinced me that good men only need to do nothing for Brexit to prevail. For a man who is neither good nor trying to be bad, the question of democracy and respect for my neighbour is already hard to wrestle with. I have always identified with social justice; with a fair society which seeks to protect the weak; care for the widowed; nurture the orphaned and love our neighbour. Tonight, witnessing a throng of demonstrators, who seem to sincerely believe in the just cause: to “out” and refuse a platform for candidates and shout at the doorsteps of the Salvation Army, I was struck by making a cup of tea (one sugar, with milk) for a gentleman called David Kurten. I understand his UKIP party’s values: his former leader has already rent our country by long division and no Brexit mathematics will ever add up. Unlike the outside protester who had anachronistically charged an elderly volunteer with “you’re friends with Chairman Mao!”, I hold that ideology; the love of ideas or more precisely, abrogation of human respect for the love of ideas, opposes the condition of human being. It seeks annihilation; by force, by volume and by mass mobilisation at the flick of a twitter or Facebook post.
The hustings started with 2 more unseated candidates – the Green Party and the For Britain candidates who failed to arrive or make their way through the waves of protestors. John Hamilton, chairman, opened an invitation for the attending candidates to deliver their views and positions. That doesn’t make me left wing, although I confess that I did vote for Labour, until Tony Blair’s warmongering in my university days. Tonight, war was the last thing on my mind yet here we were, caught between two rivals: ideology versus human kindness. Or decency. Call it what you will, for a rose by any other name, is still a rose. The local audience who courageously made their way in, offered a list of considered and provoking questions, teasing apart the policy and positions of the panel of candidates. The team of volunteers worked over the questions to draw the threads and connect them together. To give a voice to the audience, respecting their presence; their attendance and their will to choose to come and listen. This was going to be a fascinating night, fielding the questions; watching some of the candidates squirm. Particularly the empty seated candidates whose emptiness was already squirming uncomfortably before our eyes.
It was all over. Just like that. A police decision was made to end the hustings for the safety of those protesters precariously perched on the narrow cramp South Circular Road pavement where traffic streamed, as much as for ours inside the assembly hall and the police. Democratic questioning, challenging and debating of the candidates views was under arrest.
Tonight, democracy lost.