Letter to Editor: Wife of chair of Harlow Council responds to councillor Morrison’s blog on visit to Parndon Mill

Politics / Thu 27th Jul 2023 at 02:22pm

A response to Cllr Kay Morrison.

IN her recent blog post for YourHarlow, Labour Councillor Kay Morrison recounts her visit to Parndon Mill, a place brimming with creativity and community spirit.

While her appreciation for the artistic haven is evident, it is essential to recognise that her visit was part of a non-political civic engagement hosted by my husband, Cllr Andrew Johnson with Mayors and Chairs from across Essex and Hertfordshire joining the Deputy Lord Lieutenant and staff from Harlow council; indeed, the photo she used in the blog was taken by Andrew himself on the day to publicise the event. Now whilst he wears the chain Andrew is non-political and I know he won’t comment on Kay’s blog as he views it as crucial to maintain the integrity of non-political events and avoid using such visits for political gain; instead focussing on celebrating the community of Harlow he represents. However, as an ex-councillor myself in my first term, for the area in question, let me respond to Kay.

Firstly, it is essential to address the quote she attributes to Margaret Thatcher – The quote is often purposefully taken out of context, as her actual statement was far more nuanced and detailed. In an interview with Woman’s Own in 1987, Thatcher said, “I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’ ‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

Thatcher’s point was not at all to deny the existence of society, as Kay spuriously attempts to suggest but to emphasise the importance of individual responsibility and self-reliance. She believed in empowering individuals and families to take charge of their lives and support their communities voluntarily, rather than solely relying on the government for every aspect of their well-being. This philosophy is not at odds with the notion of community; instead, it completely underscores the idea that a strong society is built on the foundation of responsible and engaged individuals.

Conservatives have a long history of supporting community initiatives and fostering the growth of the arts in British society. Throughout the years, Conservative governments have introduced various programs to promote community development, such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and the Big Society initiative under David Cameron’s leadership, whilst I was a councillor. These initiatives aimed to encourage volunteering, social responsibility, and community collaboration, empowering local communities to address their unique challenges collectively.

In the realm of arts and culture, Conservatives have consistently recognised the value of creativity and its contribution to society. The support for the British arts scene has been evident through funding for museums, galleries, and theatres, as well as measures to protect and promote cultural heritage. The National Lottery, established under John Major’s government, has provided substantial funding for arts and cultural projects, nurturing artistic talent and enriching communities across the UK.

Locally we have seen the Playhouse, shamefully closed under a former Labour council, protected, nurtured and improved by the latest Conservative council. It was a pleasure last year to watch the amazing pantomime there and one of the Highlights of my Husbands year as chair 2022/23 was Celebrate Harlow, where Andrew and the creative team at the Playhouse drew together some of the very best artistic talents Harlow has to offer. It was so pleasing that a Conservative Councillor celebrated and promoted the Arts in our community, as Kay would have us believe that only one political party understands the concept of a community. She is wrong.

Turning back to Parndon Mill, the vibrant artistic community described by Councillor Morrison, it is important to acknowledge that such a thriving creative hub is a testament to the enduring spirit of individual enterprise and collaboration. The artists and craftsmen, independent business men and women, who have made Parndon Mill their base embody the very essence of self-reliance and artistic pursuit that Thatcher championed. Long may they and a free-market capitalist economy continue.

Shona Johnson

Ex Conservative Councillor for Hare Street & Little Parndon and Great Parndon

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9 Comments for Letter to Editor: Wife of chair of Harlow Council responds to councillor Morrison’s blog on visit to Parndon Mill:

James Leppard
2023-07-27 14:46:13

An excellent and accurate response by former Cllr Shona Johnson. Cllr Morrison, seeking - albeit very clumsy and ineffectual - to score crude political points from a non-political community event really does show a lamentable lack of the decorum, style and grace that we might expect from our elected councillors.

Alderman Durcan
2023-07-27 17:23:02

Election fever more than actual common sense I suspect. Regardless,big up Kay for bothering.

James Leppard
2023-07-27 21:02:18

Alderman Durcan, Common sense as opposed to good sense, which is far less common.

2023-07-27 22:03:08

Wait labour closed the playhouse and the cons re opened it ?

2023-07-28 01:40:27

As Cllr James Leppard alludes to, Harlow Labour is seriously deficient in any notion of savoir faire.

Bill Oweing
2023-07-28 05:23:49

It looked like a political event to me a load of boring people wearing cheap polyester suits in the middle of summer with more gold chains on display then at a snoop dogg convention. Was this picture taken during covid? if so where's Borris Johnson? Inside mixing the cocktails?

2023-08-11 10:29:46

An interesting read but on the basis of wanting to be transparent, which I'm sure all elected representatives which to be, the comment about the Playhouse being 'shamefully' closed by the Labour Council has a fair bit more to it which has been conveniently omitted. Extract from Hansard (official record of Parliamentary Debate) former Labour MP for Harlow in 1997: "The playhouse opened in 1971 for live theatre, films and exhibitions, and has developed and increased its range of activities considerably since then. For the next 23 years of its existence, Harlow playhouse worked effectively. However, in hindsight, I believe that it became overly reliant on funding from one source: the district council. That funding ceased in 1993 when Harlow council was capped by the previous Conservative Government. I was a member of the authority at that time and I can register the fact that the council received the biggest percentage cap in one year—50 per cent.—of any local authority in the country. The playhouse saw its funding cut from more than £500,000 per annum to about £150,000. Regrettably, that led to the playhouse's closure for one year to regroup and restructure and seek new funding streams. As a result of that restructuring and reshaping, the new playhouse re-opened in 1996 with a mission to re-establish itself as a community theatre with atmosphere, a busy amateur programme and lots of events for young people by new groups while continuing to host touring professional productions. It has been a success story and the playhouse regularly sells out—it has had 23 sell-outs since January this year. The pantomime, which is a huge event in the local community, played to 93 per cent. capacity houses and received rave reviews in The Stage. More important, in 1997–98, 350 performances played to more than 45,000 people—the equivalent of more than half the population of Harlow. That statistic registers the vibrancy of the theatre." Full speech can be found here if interested - https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1998/jul/07/harlow-playhouse So the Playhouse was closed for a year in 1995 as a direct effect of the majority of its funding being removed by the then Conservative government, to allow it to find alternative funding sources. So, it wasn't 'shamefully' closed by a Harlow Labour council, it was 'shamefully' closed because a Conservative government slashed its funding to a level it could not operate at. One line facts need context. This also implies that Labour shut it and the Conservatives reopened it, which they didn't. This is a typical soundbite statement which hides the actual reasoning and Shona Johnson should be ashamed.

2023-08-11 10:30:53

...that would have been an easier read if the comment field allowed the formatting to come through rather than it be a wall of text.

2023-08-11 10:50:27

Wasn't it the Conservatives that originally ceased their support for The Square, displaced the Rock School at a time when they should have invested in a new building? Shedding all kinds of Arts and sports provisions in the name of giving people so kind of independence and self determination is an abrogation of the role of a local Council and a way of privatisation services. It's a typical tory strategy run things down and sell them off. Other examples include Water Companies, Railways, Harlow sports centre. I seem to remember Cllr Joel Charles led the off loading project that threatened to close Pets Corner and the theatre. As a result access to the Arts is too expensive for most Harlow families. Parndon Mill even had to raise its own funds to get a clean and sustainable source of water! So much for support for the Arts!

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