Friday, May 25, 2007

One Up On Gordon Brown

Seeing Off John McDonnell

I once achieved something which Gordon Brown's camp ensured he would not have to do. I defeated John McDonnell in a Labour Party ballot.

It was back on 12 January, 1986. The North East Derbyshire Constituency Labour Party held a selection meeting to appoint its Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. It was held at the Derbyshire Miners' Offices in Chesterfield.

Those Were The Days : Different Shades Of Red

The shortlist of candidates were Reg Race who had previously been a hard left MP in the Campaign Group, John Dunn the Miners' nominee who had played a key roll locally in the 1984 Miners' Strike and at that time was a supporter of the Militant Tendency, the late Ted Fearn who was the Constituency Party Secretary, John McDonnell and myself.

Apart from John McDonnell and Reg Race, it was a local and fairly incestuous affair. Although Reg had recently moved in to a neighbouring area.

I had taught John Dunn on the Derbyshire Miners' Day Release Courses which had at one time been held in the very room in which the five of us were seated whilst we awaited our turn to appear before the Selection Conference. He was an active member of the Constituency Party in which I had held several different posts and I knew him to be a highly able and forceful character. He had been adopted as the Miners' nominee (at least in part) because of the role he had recently played in the Strike.

Ted Fearn like myself taught politics and he was a member of the same Branch of the Constituency Party. We had worked amicably together on a whole number of Labour activities. He was at the Sheffield Poly and I was at the University.

When we were all together, John McDonnell sat staring into the electric fire. It turned out that he was not speaking to Reg Race, whom he later claimed had crossed a picket line when a full-time NUPE officer in the south of England. John had been nominated by the Wingerworth Labour Party, who I viewed as being one of the more moderate Branches in a fairly left-wing Constituency which included Clay Cross, where more than a decade earlier their 100% Labour Council had been involved in a famous rent rebellion against the Tory Government. But John only bagged Wingerworth votes!

Not What You Know, But Who You Know

From what I picked up John was the the most effective speaker that day, but under the old delegatory system votes tended to be tied up before the proceedings started. So John MacDonnell and Reg Race were eliminated on the first ballot. John Dunn went out on the second ballot as (a) the NUM had lost a slice of its past delegates strength due to pit closures and (b) Labour only had a majority of 2,006 in the seat and numbers were scared of losing it if they ran a candidate with known Militant links.

So the final vote was determined between Ted Fearn and myself. I probably made it in the end because of my links with the NUM via my Industrial Day Release teaching. They had earlier decided to opt for me if John Dunn's nomination fell.

So John McDonnell once more had the cards stacked against him. The following day I went with my wife to talk to the Wingerworth Branch of the Party to smooth over their temporary addiction to his charms!

What Might Have Been

But if John had finished top of the poll instead of bottom, he would have arrived in the Commons ten years earlier than he did. Just think of how much that would have advanced his cause. He would probably, at least, have cleared the recent nominations hurdle to face Gordon Brown. So it looks as if in the end, I was to blame for doing Gordon Brown a good turn!


alex said...
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Anonymous said...

Dear Harry,

This was a very interesting post - as usual.

I would like to ask you this, however: Would it be alright if I added your posts concerning the bids of Beckett and Livingstone as "guest entries" on my own, brand new, blog? They would be most welcome given that they provide very valuable information to younger generations of Labour Left-wingers, eager to reclaim the Party.



P.S. My new blog is hosted at . I have linked to you and LFIQ.

Harry Barnes said...


I am more than happy for you to use my material on Ken and Margaret as "guest entries". You will appreciate that my political stance is rather semi-detached from the Benn/McDonnell stance which you and your friends are pressing on your blog. Some of this will be clearer in a longer piece which I am working on at the moment. At the moment it is called "What's Left for the Left?" But, on the other hand, I survived in the Campaign Group for 17 years from 1988.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Harry, I appreciate that!



Bob Harper said...

Hi Harry, thanks for bring back memories of the selection meeting. Killamarsh branch was supporting John Dunn, when he was knocked out we switched to you, so we played a small part in the story too.

Wonder what would have happened if John Dunn had won the selection: he would probably have still been in Parliament - and challenging Gordon?

Chris Paul said...

Are you looking for Brown to parachute you into a safe seat Harry? Perhaps one of the SCG vacancies ... an alternative reading of the story is that John would have trodden on still more toes if he had been in HoP for 10 more years ...

Harry Barnes said...

Chris Paul,

I gave up a safe seat in order to enter the University of Life of the Third Age (if not the organisation). But Brown could always send me to the Lords if he gave me the brief of trying to get rid of it - as John McDonnell could have! Mind people change their minds when they get there.

But I think that you are correct about John.

Bob Harper,

Welcome. I hope this means you will be setting up your own blog.

For my mass readership (well Mikael anyway), Bob was my Agent for the 1992, 1997 and 2001 General Elections and up to the end of my parliamentary games in 2005.

Bob on John Dunn - it might all have depended on whether he stuck with the other Militant MPs in the early days or became a reformed character as he seems to have when he became a County Councillor. He might have been in the Cabinet by now.

Did I inform you about the following? John asked me to do it for the Constituency Party. But they have done nothing with it!

If anyone wants me to talk to the Killamarsh Branch on "Labour in killamarsh" over the period, then let me know. I would not mind picking up some local knowledge from any discussions. And I would be realistoic enough not to expect a mass turnout.

Keep in touch.

susan press said...

Harry, I knew Reg Race via a friend in Beckenham CLP and he was not the most pleasant of individuals.Rank careerist,I'd say.
I think you did John a favour. He seems to have no problem winning votes where he is.Some of the toads now singing Gordon's praises will find themselves out at the next election. Not so John McDonnell.

Harry Barnes said...


Whoops! I wasn't having a go at Reg, whom I have worked with well locally. I have no means of knowing the ins and outs of what John said about the picket line incident. And I manage to get on well with him as well!