When Hetty met Ed

Last week, we took three people deeply affected by Austerity to Labour Party Conference, but it was Hetty Bower, aged 107 and undimmed in strength or clarity, who caught Ed Miliband’s eye. We introduced Hetty to Ed just after our packed fringe meeting, and he never stopped mentioning her afterwards in almost every speech. I, and plenty of others, have had the same experience with Hetty. She has lived an extraordinary life on the front and back seats of history (a living, breathing prototype of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart). She fought at the Battle of Cable Street, and she was part of the General Strike, she campaigned against both world wars, and lived through the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. But what is so arresting about Hetty is that her life is not just lived in the past. In 2013, when I first encountered her, she was in a photograph – a 107-year-old woman in a waterproof yellow cape marching in the rain against cuts to the Whittington Hospital. She was like a tonic in the fight for social justice – the word ‘inspiration’ is too weak.
The thing is, I watched her have the same effect on Ed Miliband. At the end of our meeting he asked her if she had any advice for him as Labour leader (Hetty first joined the Labour Party 70 years ago though she has been in and out since). “Stick to the principles of the Labour Party,” she told him. “Social justice.” I knew then the Labour Party would be safe in Ed’s hands.
Here’s a little film of Hetty and our other speakers Mary Laver and Jack Monroe – and their meeting with Miliband (or rather, his meeting with them).

Leave a Reply