Wednesday 22 January 2014

Stormy weather in Henley

In the beginning there was a UKIP town councillor and he had dominion over the good people of Henley-on-Thames. The name of this councillor was David Silvester and it came to pass that David had a message for his people. So he wrote to his local newspaper, the Henley Standard:
"Sir - Since the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, the nation has been beset by serious storms and floods... Is this just 'global warming' or is there something more serious at work?"
Flooding in Henley-on-Thames, Thameside
Biblical floods in Henley?
And that letter, linking the recent flooding in the Thames Valley to God's apparent wrath over same-sex marriage, was enough to unleash another storm. But behind the headlines this week about Silvester's folly, there was a quieter story about a community pulling together and the power of grassroots activism. 

It all started last Friday, when Emma Vanstone, a manager at BT Global Services, posted a message on Facebook. She alerted her friends, including the BBC Radio Berkshire presenter Andrew Peach, to Silvester's letter in the Standard. "Try not to spit out your coffee," she told us, before describing how Silvester had drawn "a biblical link between our recent foul weather, and the rights of our gay brethren to marry". 

Within hours, Emma's outraged friends were writing to UKIP and John Howell, the local conservative MP. Amongst this group of indignant Henley-ites was Tamsin Lovatt, the blogger and market gardener behind bosleypatch. She took to Twitter to denounce Silvester's views to her 1000+ followers. 

Tamsin's various tweets caught the attention of the Huffington Post, which followed up on the story and blasted it into the media stratosphere. At the same time, Andrew Peach secured an interview with Silvester on BBC Radio Berkshire, where the councillor took the opportunity to expand on his thesis, against the advice of his political masters at UKIP. Silvester described being gay as a "spiritual disease" and revealed how he prayed for gay people to be healed. 

When UKIP was shown a transcript of the interview, it realised that it could no longer stand by its councillor and suspended him from the party. By Sunday the story was all over the BBC, ITV, Sky News and the newspapers. From one status update on Facebook, a mighty oak of a story had grown. Emma followed up with another post and a different metaphor: "The smartphone is mightier than the sword. Happy day."

Silvester, however, still holds his post as councillor on Henley town council and plans to go independent, following his suspension from UKIP. On Monday I signed a petition on, started by another of Emma's friends, Sarah Butcher, calling for Silvester to resign. Like many other residents in Henley, I object to being represented by a man who peddles such nonsense.

If and when he is stripped of public office, Silvester will be nothing more than a misguided loony. I found it apt that his missive to the Henley Standard last week was published alongside another letter from a lady who believed she had spotted a unicorn in the woods near Cane End. She has written to the National History Museum to substantiate her claim. It seems to me that the likes of Silvester also belong in a museum, while the rest of Henley moves on with the times. 

Meanwhile, the sun has come out and the floods are receding, which must mean - as blogger Vanessa Holburn pointed out - that God has changed his mind. Thank goodness for that.

Photo of Councillor David Silvester's letter to The Henley Standard 17/1/14
David Silvester's letter 'Divine disapproval' in the Henley Standard

For more weather updates, check out @Ukipweather on Twitter! The account was set up in the aftermath of the Silvester row and already has more than 100,000 followers. For God's view on the recent events, look no further than the Evening Harold.


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