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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, August 06, 2004
    Margaret Simey
     
    Learned today (a week after the event) of Margaret Simey's death. One of Liverpool's finest champions, and specifically a champion of the people of Liverpool 8, that area much-maligned by outsiders who only see it through a framework labelled '1981 riots', but much-celebrated by generations of local people who know it as the city's one great multicultural quarter, hotbed of creativity, haunt of artists, musos and clubbers seeking edge.

    Poor area too. And always vulnerable to maladministration and manipulation by city leaders. Simey did her best, in her 98 good years, to challenge that. Nationally famous for insisting that the police accounted for their actions in the wake of the riots (a campaign well remembered by her son in his wonderful BBC radio interview last week), locally known for her tireless campaigning and advocacy work in the area.

    The Liverpool media got their obituary title right: A life lived for good of all. That's worth reading too, for the tributes from ordinary folk who saw her (unpretentious to the last) as one of their own, and to put her in perspective among the other great women of modern-day Liverpool: her philanthrophy influenced by working alongside Eleanor Rathbone in Margaret's early years in the city, her political radicalism shaped during her apprenticeship with the formidable Bessie Braddock.

    While one Margaret did all in her malign power to destroy cities like ours in the eighties, our Margaret did all she could to transfer benign power to the people. She was tough on Thatcher's messenger-boy Heseltine when he came to straighten Liverpool out: "I kept telling him that if he just listened to Toxteth, they could teach him. But he told me there was no room in his plans for anyone like me." But she was equally tough on the local people who for too long, she saw, had become 'welfare-dependent' and thus disempowered. She called us all to rediscover the source of the charitable and radical vision of collective responsibility which had been a strong feature of Liverpool's civil society in the past.

    I met Margaret once or twice - no great boast for she was always on the streets of Liverpool 8, if I'd been around more I'd have seen more of her. Sat in community meetings which she would invigorate even in her great age; meetings between hard-nosed politicicans, tired and disenfranchised local campaigners and the business classes there to get their hands on new European money, and she would command respect from all.

    Margaret Simey, a hard act to follow. I hope we will see her like again. We need to.

    [Guardian obituary here]
    [Margaret Simey booklist here]