by Kevin Higgins
Each witch hunt is a tribute act to the last.
There is always a committee of three.
The gravity in the room is such
they struggle to manoeuvre
the enormity of their serious
faces in the door.
Except in the TV version,
there is hardly ever a microphone.
Though they will usually give you
a glass of water and, if you ask,
tea in a slightly chipped cup.
The better quality of witch hunt
will provide you with a plate
of sandwiches which, these days,
would likely include
coeliac and vegan options.
One member of the panel interviewing you
is always a man with a shakey voice
who obviously doesn’t know what he’s doing.
His wife thinks he’s at the garden centre.
Another is a woman trying
on a posh accent for size
who looks like she’s dreaming
of killing you
in some way that would give her
It is written,
somewhere deeper than law,
that no such committee
shall ever be constituted
unless it contains
at least one ex-hippy.
There is always the moment
when a pile of typed pages emerge
from an already opened envelope,
and one of them asks you:
how, then, do you explain this?
And the three of them sit there,
pretending it’s a real question.
And you realise this committee is history
paying you the huge compliment
of making you (and people like you)
the only item on the agenda;
that in asking you about what you said,
did, or typed on the mentioned dates,
they reveal themselves
like the black tree at the bottom of the garden
that only shows its true self in winter.
The poem is inspired by all the various witchunting committees I have faced since I became an activist, joining the Irish Labour Party in 1982 at the age of 15. I was expelled from the UK Labour Party in 1991, having been investigated by the British Labour Party in 1989, 1990-91, and, before that, by the Irish Labour Party in 1988. I was suspended from the British Labour Party in 2016 and apparently remain suspended, or may even have been expelled again? Or maybe not. My local branch of Labour International says I am still a member. But Labour HQ won't confirm this, though I have asked them to. And I didn't receive a ballot for the recent Leadership and NEC elections.
Kevin Higgins (centre) as Chair of Galway West Labour Youth in April 1984