Obituary: Keith Pattenden 28 September 1955 – 1 May 2018
“Keith has just died listening to Bob Dylan (his favourite musician) with a copy of Socialism Today at his bedside.” – Liz, his loving partner.
It’s with much sadness we report that Keith Pattenden, a former Socialist Party full-time worker in our printshop and long-time secretary of east London party branch, finally succumbed to lung cancer on 1 May.
Keith joined the Socialist Party in Leicester in 1980 where he worked at a nearby biscuit factory as a forklift driver (a job he hated).
He moved to London in 1992 to work at our printshop in Hackney Wick, only to be asked to drive the forklift! He continued to help print the Socialist when the printshop was relocated to Clapton and then to Waltham Forest.
Keith wasn’t simply a ‘technical worker’. He was fully versed in Marxism. He was a formidable exponent of the Socialist Party’s ideas which he unhesitatingly delivered at east London labour movement meetings.
Keith never missed a demo or picket line, where he would be seen holding the Socialist high.
Keith was a socialist internationalist and actively assisted our sister party in Ireland in the 1990s up to the mid-2000s – travelling to Dublin and the south of Ireland to help in key elections and in fighting the iniquitous bin tax (see remembrances below from comrades in Ireland).
Keith also developed a deep understanding of socialist movements and national liberation struggles in sub-Saharan Africa.
This enabled him to play a pivotal role in establishing the socialist Cameroon Democracy Campaign (CDC) in the mid-1990s, which assisted asylum seekers in Britain allied to the Cameroon social democratic opposition, recruiting several to the Socialist Party.
Before the CDC started, no asylum claims from Cameroon had been successful for years. By highlighting the risks to socialist activists in Cameroon, CDC forced the home office to begin accepting refugees that had fled to Britain.
Keith’s burning sense of fighting injustice once had an unintended consequence. When living in East Ham, his house was burgled.
He couldn’t understand why the police who came round seemed to have something against him, till after they left he saw in the mirror that he was wearing his ‘free Winston Silcott’ t-shirt!
In 2008, Keith and his partner, fellow socialist Liz, moved to north Wales where he worked as a NHS hospital porter.
They adopted a son, Tomos, and after being flooded out of their home moved to North Teesside in 2015, where again Keith found work in the NHS.
The Socialist Party sends its deepest condolences to Liz and Tomos (eight) on the loss of Keith.
Keith’s funeral will be on Friday 11 May, at 5pm, at Kirkleatham (Redcar) Crematorium, Fishponds Road, Yearby TS11 8HH
Immediate tributes from comrades in Ireland
Keith’s death came as a shock as we didn’t know he was ill. For Socialist Party members in Dublin and the south of Ireland generally, Keith was well-known and fondly thought of.
Keith was nearly a fixture over here in the late 1990s up to the mid-2000s when he assisted us in key elections and other campaigns.
There was a really great bond between him and the comrades and the situation, a special connection. I think he liked the tempo, attitudes and sense of humour here. And everyone here really liked and appreciated him.
I think it was the time he spent in my company that exposed him to and perhaps turned him on to Bob Dylan in a serious way. We shared many occasions just listening. Keith was a lovely bloke.
Kevin McLoughlin, Secretary of the Socialist Party in Southern Ireland.
I remember Keith came over during the bin tax battle in 2003, not long after Joe Higgins and Clare Daly (then elected Socialist Party representatives – Joe a TD [MP], Clare a councillor in Dublin) were imprisoned for a month for civil disobedience.
Obviously we were involved in a very intense battle and the party’s HQ was mayhem. Keith was involved in helping us organise the work, active in the daily stalls we were doing in the city centre, selling the paper and intervening into demonstrations outside the various court cases.
A very sincere and humble guy and having him over here was definitely a positive for us. I also remember him doing a door-to-door collection in Whitechurch, Dublin, for the legal defence fund. I’d say we raised the guts of around €700 on it.
From East London
When I moved to London at the end of 1994 Keith Pattenden was the secretary of the local Militant Labour branch. I soon got to know a hard-working, dedicated socialist, fighting for working class unity and workers’ rights in east London, above all in the run-down, rotten right-wing Labour borough of Newham.
Keith burned with indignation at injustice and racism – and was a proud member of our party and the Committee for a Workers’ International.
These were difficult times for socialists but Keith led by example. In campaigns against the far-right, racist BNP, which was trying to build bases in Beckton and Barking, and in the struggle against attempts to close King George hospital A&E, Keith was in the forefront. As he was in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when we put forward a non-sectarian, socialist alternative to the opportunistic policies of Respect, a big force then in Newham, and others.
There are far too many examples to list. Suffice it to say, wherever working class people were in struggle, Keith was there. One stand-out campaign which best illustrates Keith’s patience and tenacity was in the fight for asylum rights for Cameroonian political refugees.
Keith spent many hours in discussion with our new-found comrades from Cameroon, building up their cases and, after long, hard struggle, being instrumental in them winning their battle.
A different example of his indomitable will came when his flat was burgled. He did not have much to steal, of course, but his precious Bob Dylan collection was taken. A lesser person would have crumbled, but Keith took it on the chin and came back stronger.
I’ll never forget Keith. His principles. His love of music, and of hot (very hot) curry and a pint a beer.
I’ll miss him, and I send my heartfelt sympathy to his partner Liz.
Manny Thain (who succeeded Keith as east London branch secretary in 2008)
The North East
Keith came to live in Redcar in the North East in 2015, joining our Teesside branch. Despite having a job which entailed working most evenings, Keith was immediately involved in most aspects of our work.
Although he lived in the far south of our region, he often took the bus and train to travel to Newcastle, Darlington and Middlesbrough and elsewhere for local demos and rallies. We were always pleased to see him on these activities because he was one of our most dependable comrades. Armed with the Socialist he always sold a fair few papers. Certainly we missed his presence at this year’s May Day event in Newcastle.
Keith was hard working and unwavering in his support for the Socialist Party. His solid commitment shone through, and this was particularly noticeable in the last months of his life, when his health was clearly in decline. During this time he attended both our Socialist Party national and regional conferences; and he still went out in the cold and the rain selling papers.
He also meticulously collected Fighting Fund donations and paid money into our building fund, ensuring that the ideas he’d dedicated his life to could be continued.
It was a privilege to work alongside Keith in our struggle for a socialist society. Condolences are sent from everyone in the Northern region to his partner and comrade Liz Cowell and their young son Tomos.
Elaine Brunskill, on behalf of the Socialist Party Northern region
When we established a Socialist Party branch in Bangor, North Wales, in 2007, I was the only active member who had previously been a member of the Socialist Party. Therefore, it was a big assistance to the fledgling branch when Keith and his partner Liz moved to North Wales in 2008. Despite the long journey from Rhyl in the middle of North Wales to Bangor on its west edge, Keith would try to ensure he attended every activity and branch meeting he could.
He always took time to try to encourage comrades to develop their skills as speakers, writers and campaigners. Keith would always encourage others to come to the fore. This included me, such as when Keith had been asked to write an article for the Socialist on the situation in the Congo, something he was quite knowledgable about, but after a chat walking back from a stall with me, he encouraged me to write it.
Keith was also someone you could always rely on, he was instrumental in the success of our protest against the Israeli bombing of Gaza in January 2009 when our small protest of about 15-20 mushroomed into over 100, with many people wanting to join the Socialist Party as a result.
Our first ever North Wales wide meeting with comrades from Bangor in the west to Wrexham in the east was held in Keith and Liz’s house in Rhyl.
Many of us who were active Socialist Party members in North Wales were pushed out of the area by either the lack of employment opportunities or the hostile weather (the latter in Keith’s case!). But like me, I’m sure all of us who met Keith there will be saddened by him no longer being with us.
Iain Dalton, former North Wales Socialist Party branch secretary
Keith’s dedication to the Socialist Party and before that, the Militant, was remarkable from the very first. Convinced of our ideas, but living and working in Ashby, an hour’s journey from Leicester where our nearest branch was in the early 1980s, and working long shifts as a fork lift truck driver, Keith could not get to branch meetings very often.
But Keith was a voracious reader and a careful student of Marxism, despite his entirely self-depreciating modesty, and this sustained him in the long weeks that separated him from contact with our lively discussions and campaigning work in Leicester.
He would suddenly turn up, with a month or two’s subscriptions and paper money saved up in a coin jar, and with his slightly awkward but touching enthusiasm and friendship completely undiminished.
He took our ideas into his union, Usdaw, combating the local right-wing union officialdom and remained a fierce opponent of all bureaucracies in the labour and trade union movement to the last.
We both moved (at different times) from Leicester to work on the printing presses at our national party headquarters in Hackney, and later he was my branch secretary in the East London party branch. In all this dedicated work, he was an anchor for the party in the stormy seas we navigate.
Dedicated to our party to the last, he loyally attended our national congress in March of this year despite the very serious progression of his illness. He will be greatly missed.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 5 May 2018 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.