Walter Wolfgang : biography
Walter Jakob Wolfgang (born June 1923) is a German-born British socialist and peace activist. He is Vice President and Vice Chair of Labour of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a supporter of the Stop the War Coalition. He became known to the general public after cameras recorded him being forcibly ejected from the annual Labour Party Conference in Brighton on September 28, 2005 for shouting "nonsense" during Jack Straw's speech on the Iraq War, in an incident that provoked much media comment and embarrassed the Labour leadership.
In August 2006 Wolfgang succeeded in his bid to become a member of Labour's National Executive Committee.
2005 Labour conference incident
Wolfgang attended the 2005 Labour Party conference as a visitor and sat in the part of the hall reserved for visitors, which is at the back. During a speech by then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in response to Straw's "We are in Iraq for one reason only: to help the elected Iraqi government build a secure, democratic and stable nation", Wolfgang shouted "Nonsense!". Some witnesses claimed he then may have added "That's a lie and you know it!" and/or "Pack of lies!".
In full view of the television cameras, several conference stewards, who were on alert for any attempts to disrupt the speech, then picked up and removed Wolfgang and confiscated his security pass. Erith and Thamesmead Constituency Labour Party chairman Steve Forrest, who was sitting nearby, was also removed for voicing his objections to Wolfgang's treatment.
The Labour Party leadership quickly apologised for the 'heavy-handedness' of the incident, but Party Chairman Ian McCartney said on the BBC's Newsnight that evening that the conference had the right to expel repeated hecklers. The following day McCartney appeared before the media with Wolfgang and personally apologised to him. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, apologised to Wolfgang on the following day's Today programme on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Breakfast, stating that he should not have been removed.
Wolfgang justified his actions by saying "when you have an international debate that does not deal adequately with the international issues of the day, the least you can do, if someone is talking nonsense, is say so". He was quickly hailed as a hero by sections of the Labour Party and sections of the media. His expulsion, and the use of anti-terrorism legislation, was condemned by both the political left and right as symptomatic of an increasingly authoritarian tendency in the Labour Government and the gradual erosion of civil liberties.
Wolfgang's pass to the Labour party conference was at first withdrawn following the incident, but this decision was later reversed and he returned to the conference the following day to a "hero's welcome". In his closing speech at the conference, John Reid said "I'm sorry about yesterday. … We didn't want it, it shouldn't have happened, it's not the way we do things. Everybody is really sorry and we apologise for that."
Wolfgang was born in Germany. As Jews, his family suffered persecution under the Nazis, and in 1937 his parents arranged for the teenaged Walter to move from Frankfurt to Britain (this was before the start of the Kindertransport programme). Wolfgang attended Ottershaw College, Chertsey, while his parents followed him to Britain two years later and settled in Richmond. During World War II, Wolfgang volunteered to serve in the Royal Air Force but was rejected due to a physical condition. After the war, Wolfgang qualified as an accountant; he joined the Labour Party in 1948. He allied with the left and was Secretary of the Bevanite pressure group 'Victory for Socialism' from 1955 to 1958. He co-authored several of Victory for Socialism's pamphlets, including In Pursuit of Peace (1954) and The Red Sixties (1959); Wolfgang also assisted Hugh Jenkins in writing Summit Talks and on an unpublished work on Socialism in general in the late 1950s.
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