Charity & social welfare
Kent, Bruce (5 of 6) National Life Stories: General
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2009-08-31, 2009-09-05, 2009-09-24, 2009-10-06, 2009-10-29
Interviewee's home, London
Kent, Bruce (1929-) (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 5: [Session 4: 6 October 2009] BK felt that CND was a moral cause and went to Hume to ask if he could become the general secretary of the organisation. It was very low key in 1979. Then Francis Pym agreed to take Cruise and Polaris was to be replaced. People became switched on and very soon CND had 100,000 members. Harry Mister gave them premises in Goodwin Street in 1980. BK was not a very good manager, but he spent a lot of time round the country, speaking. He lived in Islington with George Haines till 1987. Lots of little groups started, against the missiles. Greenham camp grew up from 1981. BK finds it odd that they were women only, but it was heroic. Story of Heseltine there. The Coalition for Peace also worked against CND. [8:05] Lord Chalfont became a hawk. BK story of receiving roubles. BK went to the Communist party meeting in 1984, which fuelled press smears. Edward Thompson was supportive. It was a very intense time. There was lots of travel. In America Edward Leigh went ahead of BK accusing him of being a Communist. The public were fed a constant diet of propaganda. After Gorbachev things changed. Michael Howard the military historian, triggered off Edward Thompson who wrote the pamphlet Protest and Survive which started the European CND movement. It was important to have dialogue with people in the East. [17:22] BK went in 1981 to criticise Russia. He was put off at the time but Gorbachev picked up what he said later. In 1986. He started a unilateral ban on testing for 18 months. BK was nursing the growing events here in the UK. There were no splits. The SWP were manipulators and wanted the power. Story of Youth CND, which BK prevented being overtaken by the Trotskyists. There is an attitude which says that unless you can do everything at once it is no good. “The perfect is the enemy of the good”. BK most enjoyed meeting people and interacting with them. He got lots of support which was very moving. Anecdote of the book by the Sudetenland woman. BK was good on radio and television. Story of Geoffrey Howe and his son who worked in the CND office. [25:52] BK used to have notes on figures for his speeches, but otherwise talked to his audience with a joke or an aside. At the beginning of the 1980s the mission was to get rid of Cruise missiles and stop Trident. The subsidiary things were education in schools and ridiculing civil defence. They were so busy. They had spies in the office, Harry Newton for instance, and a break in too. They were monitored by the Americans and the Russians. One day they both arrived at the same time. CND was thought to be politically important, which they were not. The word “unilateral” was not helpful. BK tried to change the constitution to get rid of the word, but the dogma won. Details. They had an executive of about 20 people and a council of 100. Some were Communists and Quakers [34:37] The Trafalgar Square meeting in 1980 involved about 80,000 people. Montefiore turned the Church of England against disarmament at the meeting one year earlier. In 1980 it was overwhelming. So moving. The Hyde Park meetings were interesting. For one, BK was in New York and they fixed up a line for him to speak to the crowds in London. Description. More about the meetings. “Know your strength” They were always worried about people making trouble. The Class War Group were disruptive. Other incidents. Labour members of parliament would attach themselves to the front of the march. Story about Kinnock and other entertaining moments. [44:37] CND got involved with the Falklands war, opposing it. Then Pope John Paul II spoke against it. BK couldn’t see a link with CND and the miners’ strike, but there was a lot of personal aid. Staffing and advertising cost a lot and still does. BK has been on TV again recently and in advertising due to developments here and in America about the missile shield. Once people thought things were OK after Gorbachev, memberships and income dropped. CND is history for a lot of young people today. CND was a great experience which BK felt guided to do by God. [51:47] BK had a sense of ongoing estrangement from his church. Cardinal Hume and other bishops were kind on meeting him but thought he was in the wrong. BK felt he ought to be with CND. There was going to be an election in 1987 and things were hotting up. BK knew that Hume would tell BK to leave CND and he would not accept that order. BK went to David Norris, Vicar General and retired. It was the most painful decision of his life. Details. BK would have been a partisan political priest during the election. Resigning would have meant being treated as a layman, BK retired, but married a year later which changed things again. The present Pope does not like this state of affairs. BK does not officiate at mass, but goes to his local church and is very involved in the parish. BK has never had any communication from the church about what position he is in. There has been no pension. Hume sent him £2000 personally [1:01:17] There is a deed of 1921 for the Methodist church which the local RC parish church now uses, quite different. They now appreciate what BK is doing. The church is obliged to defend things they don’t believe in. BK doesn’t have to do this. He can be more honest. He does know the history of weaponry and so on too. And he has an internationalist view of the world and the gospel. Some people were very generous. Then BK bought his current house with his future sister in law. Now he has a garden which is fantastic. [1:07:29] He did not plan to get married. He had got Valerie the job at Pax Christi and they were friendly for years. Now they have a partnership of ideas. She is a historian and precise. Last night BK was on TV, and found he was filed as an anarchist in 1977. Valerie is a great cook and loves hospitality. Discussion of the control order as it applies to an Afghan for whom they gave a lunch on Sunday. [1:11:34] BK has never stopped working for CND, he is now a vice president, a post which he invented for Hugh Jenkins originally. Mention of others Walter Wolfgang and Joan Ruddock. [1:14:45] In 1985 BK was president of the International Peace Bureau. It was a professional body, prestigious. 250 peace groups are affiliated to it. Colin Archer runs it now, it is under-funded but it puts poverty and peace together. BK had to go to Geneva quite often. Events. He likes the international framework. Sean McBride got BK into the IPB. He met Bishop Tutu with Sean, who got the idea of the illegality of modern weapons put on the agenda. Tutu at the 1999 conference was marvellous. The National Peace Council closed itself down and became the Network for Peace. Modern IT makes a lot of networking irrelevant. [1:23:10] Valerie was very involved with some of these organisations as well as Pax Christi. During the 1980s it grew. Pat Gaffney helped PC to fight above its weight particularly in the RC church. It does a lot in South Africa and Palestine. At the most it has 3 people on the staff. The current Pope is critical of nuclear weapons, as is Rowan Williams. It has never made pacifism a condition of membership. They avoid this word. BK’s inspiration comes out of Pax Christi.
Life story interview with Bruce Kent (1929-), Vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.