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Sunday, 14 February 2016

Fran Cowling, Peter Tatchell and Althea Jones-Lecointe

I spent a couple of hours researching and thinking about the latest No Platforming story: Fran Cowling, the LGBT officer of the National Union of Students emailed the organisers of a conference due to be held in Canterbury tomorrow to say that if Peter Tatchell was going to be on the platform, as scheduled, she wouldn't take up her scheduled place there. Despite the fact that Tatchell has spent most of his life as an (effective) human rights campaigner, Cowling denounced him as transphobic and racist - on both counts, there appears to be absolutely no evidence.

I tried to find out a bit about Cowling. Her Twitter account had already been shut down. Her NUS role is described on the NUS website and, as I read it, can certainly be supported.She did have a LinkedIn profile and, on my first trawl, I made a few notes but on second trawl the Profile had disappeared. So I only have my notes which are verbatim from the Profile. Frances Cowling described herself as a:

Confident, driven and passionate Ph D chemistry student [ at the University of London] looking to broaden her horizons with new experiences. Broad interests and experience in liberation politics and student activism. Strengths include...

But there, unfortunately, my notes end. But you get the idea. It seems there is a career to be made out of liberation politics and, perhaps incredibly, you can go after it on LinkedIn. Whether intolerance counts as one of her Strengths, I do not have the notes to tell you.

_ _ _

Althea Jones-Lecointe, 17 February 1969, University College London
The speaker in the background is Professor Michael Dummett
At far left on the platform is Obi Egbuna; next to him Robin Blackburn

Nearly fifty years ago, 1968 - 1969,  I knew a PhD chemistry student at the University of London who was also into liberation politics, Althea Jones-Lecointe, one of the nine defendants in the 1970 Mangrove Restaurant trial at the Old Bailey and a very articulate spokesperson and leader for the Black Panther movement in Britain. The Mangrove trial was a fairly typical example of a Metropolitan Police attempt to stitch up a group of people who the Met's political masters in the Home Office wanted stitched up. Jones-Lecointe and Darcus Howe defended themselves and Ian MacDonald (later QC ) defended the other seven. Despite a fairly hostile judge, all nine were acquitted on all charges by a jury with 10 white and 2 black members.

I can't imagine that Althea Jones-Lecointe would have trawled her liberation politics as a career booster. She could do a withering look and I think that would have been her response had you suggested it (though the withering look would have been combined with attempts to suppress laughter).

She was a very clever and insightful person and in due course she returned to Trinidad and Tobago - where she still lives - and pursued a  career as a practising and research haematologist with a special interest in sickle cell disease (I just Googled her publications).

But if you want to see what this other London Ph D chemistry student was doing fifty years ago, try

Or just Google You Tube + her name if that is easier.

_ _ _

Student Activists? I prefer their Earlier Work. (see next Blog for some more discussion of Platforms and No Platforming, then and now )


  1. Not for nothing, but African LGBTI organizations have said that they no longer wish for him or Outrage! to participate in campaigns in Africa.

  2. Note that the letter referred to by Doctor Nick is from 2007 - a lot of water has gone under the bridge in the last 9 years.

  3. Most African LGBTI activists refused to sign the letter. It makes vague allegations, no evidence