97-year-old Mr. Shindler, a resident of Italy, is a vocal campaigner for voting rights for British citizens resident abroad. He is currently a claimant in a case lodged against the Council of the European Union by lawyer Julien Fouchet, in a bid to have the Brexit referendum declared illegal since Brits abroad were not allowed to vote if they had been out of the country for more than 15 years.
Harry kindly answered our members’ questions about his campaigning and views on Europe.
Sandra Stretton: “Has bringing this action given you a new lease of life?”
Harry Shindler: “The present case against the EU is, of course, not the first. As you may know, we have made our case in many courts in the EU, including the highest. In fact, I started with a petition to the Commission in Brussels, and that was 14 years ago. Whilst it may not have given me a ‘new lease of life’, it certainly helps you not getting too old!
It’s said that the UK loses many battles – but wins the war in the end. We’ve lost in most courts. Let’s hope that we win this one!”
Steve Wilson: “What was the first event in your life that motivated you to become politically active?”
Harry Shindler: “There was no ‘one event’. I could do no other than become active in politics. We were a very poor family in one of the poorest areas of the UK, for though I was born in Lambeth, I grew up in the Portobello Market area of North Kensington. I didn’t just see the poverty all around, but lived it.
I went to school in Portobello Road and worked on Saturdays in the market. I left school (and schooling) at 14 and entered an engineering factory in Park Royal. There I met men and women who wanted to change and improve our lot. I joined with them. I went on to work as an election agent for 17 years and served as the General Secretary of a national organisation in the pub industry. I took early retirement to be with my grandsons in Italy.”
Rachelle Hughes: “What can we do as individuals to help speed your [Votes for Life] campaign through Parliament?”
Harry Shindler: “Sadly, our ‘Votes for Life’ bill still needs to go through all of the stages in Parliament. We can do little to speed up the parliamentary process. But of course, the more MPs we win over, the easier the road will be.
We have been very patient as the years have passed. And this patience has paid off. As has our not making the issue a party political issue. We work with all who support our aim. We just want the right to vote.”
Pam Wallace: “I have written to many MPs regarding Votes for Life. Are there other people that would be worth contacting?”
Harry Shindler: “You’ve done a great job in contacting MPs – so what else? May I suggest letters to Glyn Davies MP, who is the sponsor of our bill? Let him show in Parliament his postbag, with hundreds of letters of support.
Of course, letters to MPs from “groups of British citizens in Spain” etc. carry a lot of weight with MPs. Moreover, if they include a reminder that our family in his constituency expects him/her not to block the bill in Parliament, well that might give him/her food for thought!”
Ruth Woodhouse: “What would you say to the MP who told me, with regard to Votes for Life, ‘If someone chooses to live in another country, I don’t see why they need to have a say in the government of this country when they are not going to have to live with the consequences’?”
Harry Shindler: “The ‘someone’ is a British citizen, and wherever he/she goes, that goes with them. We don’t measure Britishness by so many miles from Charing Cross, and the further you go, the less British you are! No, you are born British and no matter where and how far you travel, you will always be British. If I go to work and live in Hong Kong, does that make me Chinese? We are the unpaid ambassadors for our country. But not all ‘choose’ to be abroad. A large percentage are abroad for reasons of employment.
Ray Stonebridge: “What would your old wartime colleagues have made of this separation from Europe after the 70 years of peace you all earned?”
Harry Shindler: “This is the most important part of our work – PEACE – 70 years of PEACE. If only for this we should remain in the European Union. Many of my old comrades will be as sad as I am when we’re told the older generation voted to leave Europe. We, who went through it all, as did the citizens in the UK, must hammer the message – it’s peace within the EU, but for how long outside the Union? I believe that if membership of the Eu gives us peace, then with all its faults, I’m for staying in.”
Many thanks to Mr. Shindler for giving us an insight into the reasons behind your campaigning – you’re an inspiration to us all!