Meeting pulls MP talk amid threats of violence

Brighton Meeting House has cancelled an event with MP Chris Williamson after they were warned that there may be violence

Brighton Meeting House was the third venue in less than a week to cancel an event with MP Chris Williamson after they were warned that there may be violence. The Derby North MP was suspended from the Labour Party in February for claiming that Labour had been ‘too apologetic’ in the party’s anti-Semitism row.

Penny Cloutte, from Brighton Meeting, told the Friend that when the talk was first proposed, after ‘careful thinking’, the Meeting decided to go ahead with the event because of ‘freedom of speech’. However, before the talk on socialism and inequality on 8 August, the police contacted the Meeting to tell them that a previous venue had cancelled the event due to violent threats. The talk was also pulled at Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, after Labour MP for Hove Peter Kyle intervened.

Penny Cloutte said: ‘We cancelled because those we rely on for our security – the police and our private security firms – had both told us they couldn’t guarantee there would be no violence if we allowed the meeting to go ahead. We also had an email from Friends House discouraging us because they were already getting a lot of negative comments on Twitter about hosting the event.’

She added that the issue highlighted the difficulties Friends experienced in negotiating bookings: ‘We found that we had landed in the midst of a bitter fight between the left and right of the Labour Party and the differing, highly charged perspectives on the conflict in the Middle East.’

Quakers in Britain tweeted that the event had been cancelled on 8 August: ‘Quakers in Britain recognise that anti-Semitism is a real and growing problem in the UK and globally. Anti-Semitism, as with all forms of racism, contravenes our fundamental belief that all people are equal and precious.’

Several people thanked Quakers in Britain for the decision, with one tweeting: ‘Thank you for ensuring that your Meeting House continues to stand for love, tolerance and spirituality.’

Brighton Quakers tweeted on 12 August: ‘We know there have been strong feelings aroused regarding the booking and cancellation of a talk by Chris Wiliamson MP. We have not had time to consider this as a whole Quaker community in Brighton and will respond more thoroughly once we have done so.’

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