Tea with Kropotkin – The search for Jacob

How do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found? Especially after over a century has passed? 

For over a decade now I’ve been on the hunt for information about my great great grandfather and turning up very little. So we have a handful of facts and a lot of conjecture. But from what little we have he was a truly interesting fellow. 

Jacob front and centre at his grandson’s wedding. He was extremely ill but determined to be there. He died the next day.

We know he liked to lie on censuses, in fact he keeps adding extra years to his age in order to seem more authoritative. 

We know that he came from an azkenezi jewish family in eastern Europe, although some suggestions have been Russia the only place we can track him down is a Shetl near Kovno in Lithuania. One of the reasons tracking him down before his move to the UK is that the place was targeted by the einsatzgruppen who most likely killed any remaining relatives and records about Jews were destroyed. 

We know he was a revolutionary, a bolshevik and an anarchist. The family story is that he fled the pogroms and being forced into the tsars army. This story never changed so is most likely true. 

We know he lived in the east end of London where he raised a family and lost his first “wife”. 

The family story was that his first wife Polly died of a botched abortion. Thanks to old Bailey court records we know that this is true and that the midwife who performed the abortion was prosecuted and found not guilty. 

We know Jacob was a very active trade unionist, he was one of the founders of the Jewish Tailors Union (which was one of the founding unions of the Labour Party). He got blacklisted in London, moved to Manchester for a while and eventually emigrated to America because he was unable to get work in the UK. 

We also know that he was close to Pytor Kropotkin. He took his children to have tea with him and also introduced them to Maxim Litvinov. 
We also have written evidence of him sharing a platform with Emma Goldman in London and the two of them came from the same Shetl, because of the propensity for jewish people at the time to only marry other jewish people there is a good chance the two were related. 
Here is where the conjecture gets interesting. 

Jacob was a regular attendee at the Whitechapel Anarchist tearooms set up by Rudolf Rocker. Other regular attendees (when in London) were Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. As Jacob was close to Kropotkin and Litvinov it is unlikely he wouldn’t have known the movers and shakers in the Russian Revolution.

However the tearoom was not purely an eastern European thing. Amongst those who took tea and debated there were Keir Hardie and Ramsey  Mcdonald as well as other high ranking members of the Labour movement. As Jacob was an active trade unionist and his union was one which formed the Labour Party it can be assumed that he at least had a passing acquaintance with early Labour MPS. 

Jacob seems to have been mixing with some of the key figures in left wing history. 

We also know that his son Louis was deeply involved with the Labour party and had a fair amount of influence with the Attlee government.  The question is how far this was due to Jacob. 


Cooperative Women’s Guild Speech

In 1883 our foremothers came together with a common purpose, to fight for equality within our movement, to promote women and for education for women and children. 


They were troublemakers and rabble rousers not cake bakers and jam makers.


Before our party was on its feet, these were the people who brought women into politics, provided training and increased women’s confidence. And this is still something they continue to do.


They say that if you want something done then you give it to a busy woman, and based on their history the Women’s Guild have been very busy women. Amongst the campaigns they were heavily involved in were those for fair wages, maternity rights and women’s suffrage, where some canny women realised that until they could vote, women’s power lay in their shopping basket. In this way they were harking back to the Rochdale Pioneers.


In my home town of Nottingham, the local Guild set up one of the first Family planning clinics in the country, with the aim of enabling working women to control their own fertility. This was part of a wider campaign by the national guild for better public health and access to healthcare. 


Unlike what certain newspapers think, White poppies were not invented by the stop the war coalition, instead they are almost as old as red poppies and were created by the Women’s Guild. To this day many guildswomen wear red poppies to remember the fallen and white poppies as a pledge to work towards future peace.


Even now, with their future in question, guildswomen are continuing to fight, fight against the sexualisation of children, against the extra cost of single rooms in hotels and to save our NHS. Guildswomen will staff the picket lines to provide cover for nurses and ambulance staff who feel unable to.


In all climates the Guild has kept the flame of cooperativism alive, we shouldn’t allow them to go quiet into that good night.


We ask the party to provide support to the guild, to offer both practical help and solidarity and to use its considerable skills and experience to help the guild continue into the future.

Apples and Activists – Keeping it Co-op

This Saturday there will be a vote which decides the entire future of the Cooperative Party. An election which has been mired in controversy and anger over the way it has been run. If we don’t get our vote out then we could lose our sister party and lose a major voice for the Cooperative Movement. We’re already heartbroken over losing the General Election; I couldn’t stand it if we lost on Saturday.  Please vote YES to 9 and 10


Over the last few weeks I have heard many people talk about the Cooperative Group’s values and principles. They talk of these values as something special, something worth fighting for and something that has been passed down to us. These are the things that make the Cooperative so much more than just a shop, more than just another ASDA or Tesco on the high street; things that make it part of a movement. There are groups of people who shop, insure and bank with the Cooperative because they believe in these values and find them more and more attractive.

However recently there has been an attempt to break away from these values and away from the wider Cooperative Movement. Claims are being made that the Cooperative Group needs to change or it will sink. Allan Leighton the chair of the Cooperative Group has stated that “It’s the apples, not the activists, which will transform the coop.”

As part of the attempt to break away from the Cooperative Movement, the Cooperative Group has put its century long connection with the Cooperative Party up for grabs.

Often an unknown and misunderstood organisation, for 98 years the Cooperative Party has existed to promote Cooperative Values and Principles in Parliament and ensure that Co-operators get elected and that the wider cooperative movement has a voice in politics and policy.


In 1917 one hundred and seven independent co-operative businesses voted to establish the Co-op Party, because they recognised that the changes they wanted to see and their vision of a better, more equal society wouldn’t happen without political action.


Alfred Waterson – First Cooperative MP

There were immediate results of this action with the first Cooperative MP Alfred Waterson being elected in 1918. Although elected solely as a Cooperative Party MP, Waterson chose to accept the Labour Party whip, I suspect in part because in the British Electoral System the only way to have any impact is to work with a larger party. It wasn’t until 1927 however, that there was an official recognition of this rather canny decision and unique relationship and a decision to stand joint candidates. This has been a successful electoral relationship for the Cooperative Party with them currently being the 4th largest political party in the House of Commons (24 MPs).

The electoral pact has led many people to confuse the two parties or assume that the Cooperative Party is just another wing of the Labour Party, another Fabian Society or Progress. This assumption is completely false, although the Cooperative stands joint candidates with the Labour Party, in all other ways they are an individual Party with their own membership, staff, national executive committee (NEC) and policy platform, all of which are independent of Labour’s.

If there has been a piece of legislation which has benefited consumers you can safely bet that there was a Cooperative Party MP at the heart of it. If there has been a change in the law which has improved the situation for Cooperatives and Mutuals you can presume that there is a Coop Party MP there and if there is legislation around protecting the environment and encouraging renewables again it is more likely than not that there is a Coop MP there.
The Cooperative Party has used the last 98 years well; growing, evolving and becoming a major voice in the political landscape. It may actually be the Party which is the best value for money for donors.


Since 1917 the majority of British retail cooperatives have been absorbed and combined into the Co-operative Group. The Cooperative group has become a major beneficiary of 150 years of British Cooperation and the investment of time, money and passionate commitment by Cooperators, including politicians, much of which has taken place in the last 100 years.

As the main beneficiary of our long and glorious history, and as Britain’s largest cooperative, it must be asked if the Coop Group have a duty towards the wider cooperative movement or are they solely responsible to its current members?

How much of the development that they profit from can be put down to the influence of the Cooperative Party?

Are we just shoppers or are we pioneers of another way of doing politics?


Please vote to Keep it Coop. Ballots close on the 13th.

Quick hit

I’d like to recommend that everyone reads Nan Sloane’s excellent comment is free article in the guardian

http:// http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/29/five-ways-more-women-uk-politics

Her suggestions as what needs to be done are eminently sensible and I find myself agreeing with every single one.

However what I found most interesting was the top picks comment on this piece by chattykathy14

But unfortunately we (non professional politicians) can’t get past the selection panels which are composed of party activists and hold to the view that if you haven’t been a member since 1931, attended every branch meeting and campaigned for t’Party at every opportunity, then you don’t get selected.
I’ve been carpetbagged on two seats (one is my home constituency, the other borders it): first by a well connected Oxbridge type who is making a real hash of winning an extremely winnable margin (the campaign workers are brilliant. She isn’t); second by an incomer who doesn’t understand the complexity of constituency and who admitted that she’s only here for experience. My consolation prize was to be begged to stand in the local elections. I declined. I want a shot at Westminster. I’m still looking for seat.

This is what puts women off. You try. You fail. You find out why you failed and its nothing to do with your particular qualities or qualifications. You retire from the fray because it’s so loaded against you.

There seem to be a lot of assumptions in this comment so I will break down my immediate response.

I find it interesting that she both complains of party members needing an eon of experience then talks about “carpet baggers”. The two seem to me to be mutually exclusive, if they only selected people who have attended every branch meeting why would they then turn around and select a newcomer who doesn’t understand the constituency?

Maybe the selected candidate did a better presentation, canvassed members thoroughly and convinced them she was the candidate for them. The majority of selections happen outside of hustings, candidates who canvas members, take the time to get to know them and their issues and has a cup of tea with them.

Standing in your own constituency or neighbouring you are more likely to be known to the party members and sadly more likely to make enemies or be friends with people who have enemies. Being well known can work against you as well as with you. Coming in fresh can win candidates support because they don’t come with this history and baggage. Yes, shenanigans do happen, but in my experience they are a lot rarer than gossip would make them out to be.

Then the description of local government as a consolation prize and dismissing it because they want Westminster. If I was a local party member I would be rather annoyed at this attitude, it sounds to me as if they are dismissing the importance of councils and how vital what they do is. Maybe local party members think she needs some seasoning and experience or maybe they think she would be really good as a councillor.

Whenever you put yourself forward for something you run the risk of disappointment, it’s how you respond to that and your behaviour afterwards that truly shows what sort of person you are and make party members support you in future.

I always remind myself that it took Betty Boothroyd five attempts (and numerous selections she didn’t get) before she was successful and look how far she went.

Linking days

Things I have been reading this week

Go Away Galloway: Why rape deniers shouldn’t be welcomed at the London School of Economics

I am still a Bennite

How to write in circular gallifreyan

The Stasi and Metadata

Is David Cameron trying to bring back foxhunting

Plea for blood as stocks hit four year low

New! In pointlessly gendered objects

The truth about buffer zones and the harassers who hate them

Five things Tony Benn gave the UK

The Germans play monopoly

I thought he was an apple juice hater

A fair and faithful fighter, she smouldered with the will to save the world

This article has been sparking some interest and as the blog I originally wrote it on is defunct I decided to republish it on here.

Article originally published 05/02/12 some details may be out of date.

When I speak to people about politics, especially in the Labour Party, a common complaint is that Young Women just aren’t interested in politics. To many being interested in politics is all about attending Branch or G.C meetings and running for office.

To which my reply is always the same “well have you asked them?” This gets varying responses from ummm… to well we did once but didn’t get any response back so didn’t bother again. They then go on to complain about young people in general which gives you an idea of what the real problem is.


People expect that young women won’t be interested in politics and therefore don’t put the effort in to welcome them to meetings or invite them to events. Many young political women I have spoken to have at some point attended a meeting and had a bad experience. In my own experience my first Branch meeting scared me off for a year despite already being politically active within the Labour party. There is this expectation that if you are new to a group your role is to sit down, shut up, listen and learn. Very few people felt welcome in their first meeting which is a major issue for any new member let alone young or female ones.

Going to a branch meeting where you don’t know anyone is a scary experience that could be made easier simply by people greeting you with a friendly word and a smile. There is an already acknowledged problem of male members monopolising any discussions, added to this is the idea that young people don’t know what they’re talking about and a tendency to talk down to them unless they are a member of long standing or to chastise them like a small child.

With experiences like that is there any wonder that young women don’t tend to go to branch or G.C more than a couple of times? Yet this doesn’t mean they aren’t politically active; many are involved with single issue campaigns, electioneering, online activism and protests. All of these methods of political activism are just as valid as working within the party system.

The main issue as I see it is the lack of young women running for office. I have been told that at 23 I am the youngest women elected at borough level and above. (This has recently changedCompare that to the case of Jake Morrison elected councillor at the age of 18, the difference between 23 and 18 may not seem much but as much as “a week is a long time in politics” the same can be said for years of age. So why are young men running for, and getting elected, office and young women not doing the same? Could this be due to their lack of participation within the Party organisation? The sexism and ageism inherent in the system? A lack of confidence in young women resulting in them not being put forward? or simply because they cannot be bothered?

Firstly I don’t believe that it is because they cannot be bothered, I know many capable and amazing young women within the Labour Party some of whom have run for election. If we draw comparisons with the workplace, studies have shown that men will apply for jobs when they have around 20% of the qualifications needed whereas women will only apply when they have closer to 80%. There is a confidence gap between the genders and women tend to perceive themselves as less skilled or able than they are. Because of this women who run tend to start in unwinnables and go on to become a better “bet” as they get older and more experienced in electioneering.

The sexism and ageism within politics has been handled many times by writers and academics more skilled than myself suffice to say a quick google search will bring up many excellent articles
Intelligence Squared Debate
LSE Blog
The Guardian

It is all well and good discussing the sexism in politics but what can we do about getting young women involved? Rather than spend all my time criticising I would like to suggest some practical methods that I have found have worked personally.

  1. Form a new members committee with a mixture of ages whose job it is to welcome new members, possibly by taking them for coffee or to the pub so they get to discuss things in a less structured and pressured environment.
  2. If you see a new member, go up and introduce yourself. Have a chat, make them feel welcome and share your agenda if they don’t have one.
  3. Don’t judge them, don’t talk down to them and don’t assume they have no experience in the Labour Party and that they don’t know anything.
  4. Get to know new members, it’s basic but it works. All it needs is some time. I recently got tickets to a preview of an art exhibition and invited a young female member as I knew she’d enjoy it. Afterwards we had an amazing conversation in the pub and found how much in common we had. Now she has a friend she is more likely to attend meetings.
  5. Get active on Social media, many young people are more likely to be contacted on facebook than by post. A simple tweet “are you coming to the meeting tomorrow” is more likely to get em to attend than a sheath of minutes, agenda etc
  6. Organise social events outside of meetings, this could be a women’s group or simply a meetup in a local cafe for young women to meet, compare battle stories and feel like they aren’t alone. If you have particularly crafty young people a regular stitch and bitch could work here. There is actually a labour knitters group on ravelry
  7. Don’t automatically nominate them for youth officer, it’s patronising and overwhelming. I have been told so many stories about people turning up to their first meeting, being elected youth officer and then being expected to be responsible for all the young people and organise things.
  8. Support them, I wouldn’t be a councillor if it wasn’t for the support of two amazing party members who got to know me and then convinced me to not only run but to go for a winnable seat and apply to be a joint Labour and Coop councillor. Mentoring can also play a big role here. Ask young women who have achieved in the party if they would be willing to do this.
  9. Introduce them to the world outside the local party. For instance, being a member of the Fabian Society can better arm them to take part in debates, the Coop Party can be an amazing experience for young people, especially summerfest.
  10. Don’t let meetings be all business, yes it’s important but people get involved in politics for more than Apologies, Minutes, Matters Arising, Officer Reports and AOB. Having a discussion on a issue that interests them is more likely to make them attend more often in the chance of more.
  11. Don’t always moan about All Women Shortlists, the more that men talk about how sexist they are the more likely young women are to feel that they aren’t as able to run and shouldn’t even try because “they are taking places from capable men”. I understand you have concerns but the SAME ARGUMENT has been going on for TWENTY YEARS. What do you think you have to say that is so original and going to overthrow the whole system?
  12. If you have capable young women for Bevan’s sake ask them to run.
  13. If you have young women who have got elected make a big deal of them, nominate them for conferences, positions, get them speaking gigs and make them as visible as possible. The more visible women are the more likely they are to inspire other women to run.
  14. When they are elected don’t just pigeon hole them as the young person who only does youth issues.

But most importantly, going back to the beginning, Ask them! Ask them to attend, ask them why they aren’t attending and ask them what you can do to encourage them to attend.

You never know until you try!

Also published on Labour Rose and Young Labour Councillors


Is there anybody out there?

Hey blog,

long time no see.

I know I’ve been awful at updating this thing, all I can say is I was busy, also uninspired and flat out lazy.

I was inspired to give this lark another go by this post Supporting Johanna Baxter, you should read it. It’s great.

I have made it very obvious on a number of media that I am opposed to the whole idea of slates. People urging me to support a slate really puts my dander up, I feel like they aren’t asking me to think for myself, just follow this predetermined line. In internal Labour Elections I work at finding out who the candidates are, if anyone can vouch for them personally and what their record is like. Then I vote for Ken Livingstone because Ken. I make no apologies for my total political fangirling around Red Ken, when first elected I was given a copy of his first autobiography and told to read it as “the most complete and in-depth book available on local government” (one day I hope to get him to sign it).

So Johanna standing as an individual, not on any slates intrigued me. I felt rather inclined to vote for her simply because of that. Then I learnt more about her and was very interested. A Labour activist since she was 16, growing up in a Scottish CLP as the granddaughter of a Killoch Pit miner, then a London CLP Secretary for 9 years and also a national officer for the Prospect Union. Having never met a representative of the NEC she was determined to shake things up and give members more of a stake in their National Executive Committee. Now in the Labour Party independent candidates don’t win, the slates have money and strength. (She didn’t win, but due to the elevation of Oona King to the Lords she got on as the next highest supported candidate.  She lost by only 172 votes In itself a huge achievement)

When she took her seat on the NEC expectations were high, and she didn’t disappoint. From the start she maintained a steady flow of communication in both directions, few active members can claim not to have heard of her regular reports. She publicised what she was doing and what decisions were being made, both through her reports (sent to CLPs, published on Labourlist, advertised on twitter) and her blog. You can also contact her directly on Twitter, she’s one of the most accessible people I know on there!

Apart from her skillful use of electronic media she did something which surprised and delighted me, in her first 52 weeks she visited 52 CLPS (you still owe Gedling a visit Jo). Not only was this something that had never been done before. but she did it off her own bat, in her own time and using her own money.

Two exhausted campaigners at the Feltham and Heston By-election


Not only was I impressed by her hard work and dedication but I was starting to class her amongst my good friends (bias alert) So when the 2012 election came up I was very happy to pitch in and campaign for her. But really her work speaks for itself and that’s why she was re-elected, not due to any campaigning, but due to her.

So hopefully if you read this you will click on some of the links i’ve scattered like confetti through this article, contact her and make your mind up.

I will remain #TeamJohanna