FRED WHITEMORE, former Lord Mayor of Canterbury and a major driver in the transformation of Labour politics in Canterbury, has died peacefully on New Year’s Day at the age of 79.
He read politics at Worcester and Nuffield Colleges Oxford, and then lived in Northgate, and later Oaten Hill, Canterbury, for many years.
When Fred Whitemore arrived at the newly opened University of Kent in Autumn 1965, Canterbury gained a significant advocate for the City, and over many years an assiduous and skilled public representative with the patience and presence of mind to build alliances and to argue strongly for the policies he believed in. Appointed as an Assistant Lecturer in Politics, specialising in the British Labour Movement, he immediately became the “Senior Member” for the newly formed University Labour Club and a key figure in the development of the Canterbury Labour Party. Prior to 1965, Labour’s electoral performance in the City had been dire. In all the 120 annual ward contests for the old County Borough between 1945 and 1965, Labour nominees had been elected on only 5 occasions. The local City Party was very small, and the Constituency Party almost moribund.
However, the creation of the University began a long period of revival which transformed its membership and leadership, leading to outright control of the Council in 1972 with Labour candidates being elected for every seat. In this long-term transformation of local politics, Fred Whitemore was key. In effect he created the local political leadership that had been lacking and brought sophisticated campaigning to the City, which culminated in the election of Rosie Duffield to the House of Commons in 2017 in a seat that had been consistently Tory since 1868. He wanted an end to the dominance of what he called the local shopocracy and a voice for the marginalised and forgotten families, many of them on housing waiting lists.
Elected for the first time in 1972 in what was then Dane John Ward, he was the longest serving Labour Councillor in Canterbury history, becoming at various times Deputy Leader and then Leader of the Labour Group, Chair of the Housing Committee, and Parliamentary Candidate in the 1992 General Election. An early victory was the use of major 1940s prefab housing sites at Downs Road and Thanington for new social housing, in preference to the private housing that had been planned there by the outgoing Conservative Council. Fred advocated the creation of the Northgate Community Centre to support one of the most deprived areas in the City, and was an early activist in the Scrine Foundation, a homeless persons Charity and the forerunner of what is now Porchlight.
Becoming Lord Mayor of the wider Canterbury District in 2001 during the period of Lib Dem and Labour control of the Council, he immediately opened Tower House to the public, transforming it from being the Mayor’s Parlour to a venue that could be used by all. During this period he pressed the Council to purchase the Ridlands Farm site with the objective of it being used for social housing – and this is part of the land that may now form the core of the proposed new hospital for Canterbury.
After losing his Council seat in 2007 Fred became one of the first lay members of the Cathedral Chapter, and was influential in opening job appointments to advertisement. He also became a Cathedral Guide and enjoyed imparting his deep knowledge of the history of the Cathedral to visitors. As an academic, Fred was a fine teacher, a long term supporter of students, active in changing individual lives for the better, and was Chair of the University Politics Board for several years. Fred Whitemore has had a significant impact on local politics and has influenced major policy developments in the City for nearly 50 years, as a Councillor, civic activist, community campaigner, and as a lay member of Chapter.