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Claire Wadey

LIKE MANY in the labour movement, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Audrey Wise, someone so vigorous that it is impossible to imagine her gone. My heartfelt sympathies go to her family and friends.

I first encountered the Audrey phenomenon at the 1996 Labour Party conference. Along with many others, I had braved a Blackpool monsoon to attend the Campaign For Labour Party Democracy rally, wanting to hear the likes of Benn, Corbyn and Skinner. However, we found that there was another tornado inside and it was Audrey’s words of fighting determination that we came away with. I left the meeting tingling, and from that moment on always made a point of not missing any of Audrey’s speeches. She was a powerful orator, a woman with immense drive and energy who would have all her points backed-up by an overwhelming array of facts, figures and anecdotes. She was simply an inspiration.

At last year’s conference I was privileged to campaign alongside Audrey and her daughter Val. As many have commented, Audrey was an indefatigable fighter for the causes she supported. She was bitterly disappointed that the Grassroots Alliance lost places, including her own on the Standing Orders Committee, and attributed this to a drop in the left’s campaigning and organisation. She was absolutely determined to reverse this and, at the end of conference, was already planning for this year’s elections.

Audrey’s obituaries have varied from honest and well-earned praise in the Guardian and the Independent to a surreptitious attack in the Times and a venomous hatchet job in the Telegraph. At first reading these last two greatly upset me, as they must have done many people. However, we should actually take comfort from them. After all, it is really a compliment to Audrey’s achievements and campaigning that the Tory press felt it necessary to speak so ill of the dead.

Audrey Wise was a wonderful woman and the labour movement is the lesser for her passing. However, more than the long tributes which she has deservingly inspired, I suspect that Audrey would most like to be remembered in our actions. I can still see her before me in Bournemouth saying, "Claire, we must organise better and carry on the fight".

Let that be her epitaph.