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!