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Anne Kerr (1925 - 1973)

Anne Kerr's adult life was defined by war, and her personal, religious and political response to it. After leaving college in 1942, she volunteered for the Women's Royal Naval Service and was based at various ports on the south coast.  During this period she met her first husband, James Clark, with whom she had a son, Patrick.  Returning to London after the end of the war, she worked as an actress and in broadcasting, before entering politics locally in Putney.  She built her political career and reputation within the British peace movement, during a period defined by opposition to nuclear weapons and by the Vietnam War.  She died of alcoholic poisoning in 1973, the year that a cease-fire was declared in Vietnam and a peace settlement agreed.  She was 48 years old.

 

Poster for anti-Vietnam War demonstration on 21 October [1967] [DYO/12/102]

 

'It is about time that you had a woman to represent your constituency in Parliament - not in North Vietnam' - Sir John Rodgers, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks, 1967

 

From a Methodist family, Anne Kerr's political life was rooted in her Christian faith. This is revealed by her early involvement in the radical pressure group Christian Action, established by Canon John Collins in 1946.  Christian Action worked for reconciliation with Germany, provided humanitarian relief to the starving in post war Europe, and later, opposed the apartheid regime in South Africa.  Kerr sat on the council of Christian Action from the 1950s onwards.  She took part in a tour of Eastern Europe in this capacity in autumn 1956, witnessing the Poznan Trials and the political pressures within the Soviet bloc which exploded in Hungary only weeks after she returned home.

 

During the same period she was also active in the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in Britain, which gathered momentum after a number of controversial executions, including that of Derek Bentley in 1953.  A mass rally to launch the National Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment was held at Methodist Central Hall in 1955. As a Labour councillor and later, a Labour MP, Kerr continued to be involved both with the Bentley case and the wider movement, until abolition was enacted by the Wilson government in 1965.

 

 


CND March, 6 April 1958 [copyright Getty Images] - this
was the first Aldermaston march

 

In 1958, she followed Canon Collins into the newly formed Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of which he was the first chair.  Kerr gained much publicity for herself and the movement by her readiness to speak at public meetings and to take part in the early Aldermaston marches, which also began in 1958.  In the early 1960s, she became a member of the non-violent direction action group, the Committee of 100, led by Bertrand Russell.  This group used more radical methods of campaigning against nuclear weapons, including a number of mass sit-downs.  Kerr was amongst those arrested and briefly imprisoned before the most significant of these, planned to take place on 17 September 1961 in Trafalgar Square.

Anne Kerr entered parliament in the period between the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 and the implementation of operation 'Rolling Thunder', the sustained bombing of North Vietnam by the United States in late February 1965.  She moved away from the unilateralist position which prioritised the abolition of nuclear weapons and recognised the Vietnam War as a greater and more immediate threat to global stability.  She addressed the first public demonstration of opposition to American intervention, held in Trafalgar Square in April 1965, and helped to develop a specifically anti-Vietnam War movement out of the existing network of peace groups.  She worked closely with the British Council for Peace in Vietnam and Medical Aid for Vietnam, and chaired the British Liaison Committee for Women's Peace Groups.

 

'No to war', 19 February 1968 [copyright Getty Images] -
women marching on Downing Street in protest against the
Vietnam War

  

Her relationship with the Labour Party in government became increasingly ambivalent as the decade progressed and many of her aspirations failed to be realised.  As a member of the Tribune Group, she aligned herself on the left of the party (with her second husband, Russell Kerr MP), and was periodically opposed to the government on major issues, such as prices and incomes policy, Rhodesia, the Commonwealth Immigration Act, the annual defence estimates and the white paper, 'In place of strife'.  Kerr regularly attended conferences abroad on themes of peace, disarmament and the Vietnam War, a fact that did not go unnoticed by an unfavourable local press and which led to comment from her political opponents that she was neglecting her Kent constituency. 

 

Her traumatic experiences during the Democratic Convention in Chicago in August 1968, when she was caught up in violent confrontation between the police and anti-war demonstrators, received extensive publicity in the British and North American press.  By the time she lost her seat in the 1970 general election, she had been campaigning against the war for over 5 years.  No longer in parliament, she turned away from the anti-war movement and set up her own pressure group, Women Against the Common Market, to raise 'the issue of the shopping basket'.  This depended for its impact on liaison with other anti-Common Market organisations and never attained widespread support.

Biography

 

 

Photograph of Anne Kerr
on an anti-Vietnam War
demonstration, 15 November
1969 [DMK/1/224]

 

Born in Putney, 1925

 

Member of Christian Action, the Christian Socialist Movement, the Methodist Peace Fellowship and the Fellowship for Reconciliation

 

Founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 1958

  

Labour councillor for Putney, London County Council, 1958-1965

 

Founder member of the Committee of 100, 1960

 

Labour Member of Parliament for Rochester and Chatham, 1964-1970

 

Member of the Tribune Group of Labour MPs and signatory of the Socialist Charter, 1968

 

Chair of the British Liaison Committee for Women's Peace Groups

 

Founder of Women Against the Common Market, 1970

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Page Last Updated : 10/1/2009