UK Politics

107-year-old Hetty Bower a hit at Labour conference meeting

Hetty Bower
Image caption Kier Hardie was Labour leader when Hetty Bower was born

One of Britain's oldest women stole the show at a Labour Party fringe meeting, with an impassioned speech against government cuts.

Kier Hardie had just been elected leader of the fledgling Labour Party when 107-year-old Hetty Bower was born.

She has spent a lifetime campaigning for peace and improved standards of living for working people.

Although frail, and with failing eyesight and hearing, she spoke with a clarity and force undimmed by age.

"I have lived for a very long time and I have a very good memory," she told the meeting, which had been organised by the Daily Mirror to highlight the human stories behind austerity.

"I've lived through two world wars and I have spent most of my adult life working for peace on our planet.

"I don't think human beings are civilised while we still waste time and money killing each other, when we should be sitting at a table discussing how to improve the lives of ordinary people."

Cable Street

Mrs Bower, who recently took part in a march against the closure of a hospital near her North London home, shared a platform with Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey among others.

But although she needed a little prompting to get on to the subject of deprivation, she was far from overawed by the occasion.

She said she did not need to tell us "what poverty can do to people".

"You have eyes and ears that can hear and see. Neither of mine function properly now but I remember sufficiently to know just what it was like to see poverty and deprivation and the word 'welfare' was totally unknown.

"So we have progressed, but I'm now wondering what's going to happen to our welfare state and that is what I have to campaign about in the short time still left to me - peace on our planet and improvement of living conditions."

"I can remember hearing a mother discuss whether she could pay for the visit of a doctor or whether it's got to go on food for the family. I can remember women singing in the street for pennies generous people threw at their feet. Those days must never return."

A veteran of left-wing campaigns from the General Strike in the 1920s to the anti-Iraq war protests of 2003, Mrs Bower also shared her recollections of the "battle of Cable Street," in the 1930s, when fascists were prevented from marching through Jewish areas of East London.

"Hatred of other human beings will have to be totally eliminated throughout our land and that is what I, in the short time left to me, am still campaigning for - peace," she said to a standing ovation from Labour delegates.

Mrs Bower, who was in Brighton with her family, then headed off to meet Ed Miliband, the 12th man to lead the Labour Party since she joined it at the age of 17 (Ramsay Macdonald was the first).

"I don't know what she'll make of him," confided her daughter to BBC News.