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One Week With John Gulliver - Enid and Ernest Wistrich celebrate 50 years of marriage

Enid and Ernest Wistrich on their wedding day in 1950
Enid and Ernest Wistrich today

Published: 9 September, 2010

THERE was, of course, an unexpected political edge when Burgh House, in Hampstead, was packed on Sunday evening with the family and friends of Enid and Ernest Wistrich, who gathered to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary.

The couple are well known for their roles as past Hampstead and Camden councillors. And then there was Enid’s time on the Greater London Council and Ernest’s unsuccessful bids to become a Labour MP, before playing a major role in the European movement.

And to their surprise there was a congratulatory telegram from the Queen, no less, who sends them out to long-married couples as well as those reaching 100.

It was read out by their daughter, Harriet Wistrich, the human rights lawyer who represented the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent man shot dead by the police in a Tube station terrorist operation five years ago.

And as she finished reading the telegram, Harriet smiled and declared: “Long live the Republic!”

An old book’s insight into the ‘new’ politics

WHEN Highgate Professor Emeritus Mike Newman wrote his biography of the late Ralph Miliband – father of Ed and David, who are battling it out for Labour leadership – little did he know that he would be able to unlock so many secrets eight years later.

With all the interest in the family, the book, Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left,  first published in 2002, is due to be reprinted by Merlin Press, I have learned.

It has become very much a reference point for writers and journalists trying to understand the two brothers and their political background.

Refugee Ralph Miliband, who lived in Primrose Hill, died in 1994 aged 70 following heart trouble and was arguably one of Britain’s most charismatic and influential left-wing intellectuals.

Prof Newman, 64, has just retired from the London Met University in Holloway, where he taught politics and international relations for nearly 40 years.

What Ralph would have made of New Labour and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, which all happened after his death, is anyone’s guess.

But he decided to leave the Labour party after the Americans invaded Vietnam in the 1960s.

Ralph joined the likes of activist Tariq Ali to vigorously campaign against the war.

Professor Newman said: “The then Labour Government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson may not have sent troops to Vietnam, but it was effectively supporting the American led war by refusing to denounce it.  

“Ralph described it as ‘the most shameful chapter in the history’ of the Labour Party.”

Who, exactly, are our ‘leaders’ speaking to?

WHAT a yawning gap between the life of Wayne, a big burly builder who came to my home on Friday morning, and the world of eager-faced Labour party faithfuls I met a few hours later at a hustings at the Town Hall.

There they sat in the Council Chamber soaking up speeches about the Labour party leadership contest.

They were of all ages, mostly of the professional class, and mostly aged 40 and upwards.

Few, I thought, worked with their hands. Few lived in Wayne’s world.

There was plenty of talk about “causes” and the “nation’s deficits” and how the Tories would squeeze the poor.

There was even some talk about the failures of the defeated Labour government.

But as I sat there I wondered what Wayne would have made of it all.

He probably never goes to a political meetings, isn’t in a trade union, and perhaps rarely votes.

But it is the votes of the Waynes of this world Labour must win if it is to assume power.

Wayne earns the “median” London wage of about £500 a week. That falls to £380 after tax.

And for that Wayne has to get up every day at 5am and turn up at his depot in Romford by 6am.

He and his mate arrived at my home at 8.30am – window fitters for a national company but, in essence, they are self employed.

Though taxed by their  employer, they have to cover the cost of diesel and parking fees.

Wayne, a father of two, is 40, wide-shouldered, with bulging muscles.

If you saw him in the street you’d think he worked out a lot.

But he doesn’t have to because his job is the equivalent of a daily work out. “It’s hard,” he said.

“I’ve done it all my working life but what can you do? You have to pay the mortgage – you have to pay the bills!”  In the past few years his back has gone. 

“I was bending down at the depot the other day when it went again – and I couldn’t straighten up,” he said.

When that happens he  takes special painkillers prescribed by his doctor. 

He has no choice. He has to go to work. You see, he has to pay the bills!

After the job was finished – it took nearly five hours – Wayne needed to collect my cheque. 

“We get 8 per cent of the value of the job,” he said. “So the more it costs the more we get. But we cannot go back without a cheque.”
The world of the Waynes of Britain is the same, whichever party is in power, it seems.

As is the lot of so many manual workers, the damage he does to his body is not the concern of his company.

No one talked about the Waynes of this world at the Town Hall in a language he would have understood.

That said, there were moments in speeches from Ken Livingstone and Diane Abbott that touched on their lives – especially about how Labour had failed to build low-rented council housing.

Wayne may have felt more at home with a speech by one of the main leadership contenders, Ed Miliband, at a meeting at Haverstock School on Sunday who described how women workers at a catering company had complained to him about their conditions and management.

Wayne, I think, would have nodded in agreement at that.

I think, too, that he may have warmed to a rabble-rousing speech by Frank Dobson at the end of the meeting when he described “financial speculators” as “thieving bastards” who were the “paymasters” of the government.

Right or wrong, that would have set Wayne thinking.

But he would have fallen asleep at the Town Hall.

Comments

That was beautiful! 50 years

That was beautiful! 50 years of marriage, woah! They set an example to young couples who seem to head for divorce on trivial issues.

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