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Enid Wistrich, former councillor with passion for politics and civil liberties

She caused controversy, attracting national media interest, when she announced she was opposed to government censorship and proposed her post be abolished.

16 April, 2020 — By Harriet Wistrich

Enid and Ernest Wistrich

MY mother, Enid Wistrich, who has died aged 91, was a well-known figure in Camden.

She was an active member of the Hampstead Labour Party and served for a number of years on Camden Council, the Inner London Education Authority and the Greater London Council (GLC) in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Born in 1928, Enid was the second daughter of Bertha and Zadik Heiber, both from Polish Jewish families.

She grew up with her sister Jacqueline in Kensington, west London, where her mother ran a shop on the high street selling ladies’ lingerie, corsetry and hosiery. Enid was 11 at the start of the Second World War and for a period she was evacuated to a Northamptonshire village where she lived with a family she remained friends with for many years.

When Enid returned to London she attended St Paul’s girls’ school and then gained a place at the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1947 studying government and politics.

This was a time when there was a determi­nation to build a better society after learning from the horrors of the war and Holocaust (where many relatives had perished). A new Labour government was elected with a radical programme that created the welfare state. At the LSE, Enid was enthused by the development of new ideas about the creation of social democracy.

Whilst a student, she was introduced through her family to Ernest Wistrich, who had left his home country of Poland just before the Nazi invasion. It was the start of a wonderful relationship that was to last more than 65 years until Ernest’s death in 2015.

After graduating from university, Enid took a research post and was then offered an opportunity to travel to the US to teach at a women’s college, Mount Holyoke in Massachu­setts.

This was in the early 1950s, and McCarthyism was rife in America. Both Enid and Ernest, when he visited her, were horrified by the appalling censorship and oppression of those with left-wing views. Upon Enid’s return to the UK, they resolved to become involved in politics and joined the Labour Party and the National Council for Civil Liberties.

Enid and Ernest started a family and had three children, Matthew, myself and Daniel. Tragically, Matthew died in 1971 at the age of 14, having become disabled as a result of brain tumours.

Both Enid and Ernest were very involved in local politics and were elected and served on Hampstead and then Camden councils. In 1973, Enid was elected as Hampstead’s representative on the GLC. Her first appointed post was to chair the film censorship committee, with a young, newly elected Ken Livingstone as her vice chair.

She caused controversy, attracting national media interest, when she announced she was opposed to government censorship and proposed her post be abolished.

She became a heroine of the civil liberties movement and, I am told, a pin-up at Gay News, when she took on Mary Whitehouse and the Festival of Light.

She was later appointed vice chair of the transport committee and took a great interest and role in improving London transport. Enid was also passionate about education and served on the Inner London Education Authority, taking a particular interest in special needs education and a number of school governor posts.

On Camden Council she chaired the Arts and Libraries committee and went on to be a governor of the Greater London Arts and the British Film Institute. In later years, Enid returned to academia and gained a Phd for her study on local govern­ment reorganisation and the first years of Camden.

She later obtained a post at Middlesex Polytechnic (later university), teaching government and politics.

She wrote a number of books, including on film censorship and the politics of transport. Later appointed as a university professor, she co-wrote and edited with David Smith, academic texts on “devolution and localism” and “regional identity and diversity”.

In the final years of her life and after Ernest’s death, Enid developed Alzheimer’s, but, despite the decline, she retained sharp moments and never failed to recognise those closest to her.

Many of my friends described Enid as formidable and slightly terrifying on first meeting, but soon found her also to be warm and hospitable. She was both of those things – a sharp critic and also interested, kind and tolerant.

It was this spirit of openness and acceptance – which she shared with my father – that allowed both myself and Daniel to follow the very diverse paths we have chosen – radical lesbian feminist on the one hand, and Hasidic orthodox Jew on the other – and yet remain a close and loving family.



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