Shock and concern has been expressed about a recent booking at Friends House, where Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke about his new book
There was shock and concern among Quakers last week when it was discovered that the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg took part in an event at Friends House in Euston.
The booking for the event in The Light on 21 May was taken by the Friends House Hospitality Company and was partly to promote the MP for North East Somerset’s forthcoming book The Victorians: Twelve Titans who Forged Britain.
According to the Eventbrite listing, the event was a debate and included another person on stage to challenge the MP. Some Friends queried if the event could be called a ‘debate’ when the £31.90 ticket included a copy of the book.
Outrage on social media soon spread with many people expressing shock and concern at how such a booking had been allowed. Several people highlighted the irony of allowing such an event to take place in Friends House just days before British Quakers were gathering at Yearly Meeting to discuss ‘power and privilege’.
The Hospitality Company responded by tweeting: ‘Penguin books are hosting a book event tonight in Friends House. Jacob Rees-Mogg is in conversation with Tristram Hunt talking about his book… Friends House is a place of peace and tolerance, with strict booking criteria…’
Another poster replied: ‘If the “strict booking criteria” justify giving space to a marketing event for historical revisionist nonsense by someone whose activities in politics are so antithetical to Quaker values, we need to review them.’
According to sources, some staff at Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) were also ‘very unhappy’. However, Paul Parker, recording clerk for BYM, said: ‘We let meeting space in Friends House to a wide range of organisations, and have a lettings policy to make sure these groups aren’t in serious conflict with Quaker beliefs. This booking was made by a reputable publishing firm. Staff considered it carefully, and took the view the booking should go ahead. We know these judgements are subjective, and it’s not always easy to get it right – but we’re always glad to learn from experience. BYM trustees were already planning to review the lettings policy and will consider whether we should make changes which enable us always to uphold Quaker values, while working within the law.’
According to the Letting Policy, the letting of rooms in Friends House is ‘a valuable opportunity to publicise Quaker work and beliefs’. A booking may be refused if ‘the aims and policies of the organisation or individual are in serious conflict with Quaker beliefs’ and written details are normally requested. The policy also states that: ‘When the activities of a customer seem to be contrary with, or be directly prejudicial to, the work of the Society, the head of operations will consult relevant staff in other departments and, if necessary, refer to the recording clerk.’
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