No such thing as “politically homeless” on this woman’s agenda

Gill Knight has been a political activist since she retired some 18 years ago, and the chaos that has been UK party politics in recent years has not had the power to change that at all. She was actively involved in anti-austerity, anti-benefit sanctions and housing campaigns with Unite Community before the Labour Party started cutting back on members, and that work continues to this day.

Unite women’s workshop

Gill was Women’s Officer for Hastings and Rye CLP from around 2016 until their AGM in October 2021. She told that meeting the reason she was standing down was that she didn’t think the local Labour Party was interested in women’s rights.

International Women’s Day parade

During her tenure as Women’s Officer, she worked, through Women’s Voice, to encourage women to come forward to be councillors, running some excellent political education and outreach events for local women, including International Women’s Day parades and talks, and sessions of confidence building and public speaking delivered by her union, Unite. She founded a Labour Women’s Forum after obtaining a grant from Labour’s Regional HQ for it. She then organized a series of meetings to draw up a constitution and programme of events, including Ella Baker community engagement training. During her time active within the party, the percentage of female councillors in Hastings rose to almost 50%.

Hastings women's forum
Hastings Women’s Forum planning meeting

Her activities in the Party were not, though, limited to the remit of her Women’s Officer role. She worked in the local party office in 2015, when Sarah Owen (now MP for Luton North) was the candidate for Hastings and Rye, and has taken part in campaigns and canvassing in both local and national elections every year, so she was neither a “single issue” member, nor one of those who was only active under one particular leadership.

She attended the party AGM in December 2022 expecting her active involvement to continue but, when voting came up, was informed curtly that she was not a member, and should not be at the meeting. At first, she thought perhaps her direct debit had run out – she was slowed up (for a while!) after having a stroke a year or so back, so it was easy to imagine something might have gone wrong. She emailed the local Party Chair but got no reply. Checking her bank account, she found that her last payment had gone out in September, and on applying to the CLP Secretary, was told that the party had cancelled her membership in October. There had been no communication at the time and to this day, there has been no explanation.

This blogger can’t find anything in the Labour Party’s rule book that allows for the rash of unexplained suspensions and expulsions the Party has been indulging in, and Gill herself is particularly angry that so many Jewish socialists, including several in her own constituency, have been targeted.

Running a People’s Assembly stall at a trade union rally

However, there has been no pause in Gill’s political work. She told me this story over a coffee at a local community gathering after the NEU rally for teachers on 1st February, where I found her on the local People’s Assembly stall – a new initiative for our town that she is helping to set up. She is the Housing Officer for the Sussex Coast branch of Unite and along with Rory Heap, initiated a sub group which now goes under the title of Housing Action Group. She tells me they have been campaigning to make housing a trade union issue, and it is now on Unite’s National Forum. She had much to tell me about the urgent housing needs in our town, and what Unite Community are doing about it. She still works with former Labour Party comrades including councillors, via Unite’s Housing campaigns.

She also volunteers for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and is currently working with the Israeli Campaign Against House Demolitions, and attends national women’s conferences, taking part in feminist campaigns in the UK and internationally.

At a feminist lunch meeting with Lisa-Marie Taylor (FiLiA lead) and Leah Levane (socialist activist and former Borough Councillor)

Gill hasn’t found being outside the party made much difference to her political work. I asked her whether she’d notice the difference when the next election campaign comes around.  She said she doesn’t know how that’s going to be, yet. She won’t campaign for, or vote for, any political party that breaks its own rules, and doesn’t respect democratic process.


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