Friday, August 24, 2007

Easington Colliery: Yesterday And Today

On 1st September, the Easington Constituency Labour Party is due to select a new candidate for the next General Election for a seat that is solid Labour. I was born in Easington Colliery in 1936, remember its 1945 General Election and (then being the Secretary of the Easington Colliery Branch of the Labour Party) acted as Labour's sub-agent for the Colliey area in the 1959 election. My wife, Ann comes from the neighbouring Shotton Colliery; but when we married in 1963 we moved permanently out of the area as I was then an adult Student at Hull University.

When Easington Was Part of Seaham

Before the 1950 General Election, Easington Colliery was part of the Seaham Parliamentary Constituency. Although that Constituency was dominated by Coal Mining, its Labour MPs were never from the Miner's Union. They were prominent Labour politicians. From 1922 the socialist intellectual, Sidney Webb became the MP and served in Ramsay MacDonald's short lived 1924 Government as President of the Board of Trade.

In 1929, Sidney Webb went to the Lords to make way for Ramsay MacDonald himself. As a result of the 1929 election, MacDonald then served his second spell as Prime Minister. When MacDonald set up his National Government in 1931, he then stood in Seaham as National Labour in the subsequent general election defeating the scratch Labour Candidate in a straight fight.

Manny Shinwell who had first made a name for himself as a Red Clydesider and had served in the 1929 MacDonald Government was then adopted to fight against his former leader. Shinwell won by over 17,000 votes in 1935.

In 1945 when I left for home from the Junior School at Easington Colliery, I first experienced electoral politics. I found that Labour posters were flyposted on lamposts and elsewhere seeking votes for Shinwell and attacking Churchill and other Tory politicians.

Soon Shinwell's election address seemed to be in every front window. It was now as natural for me to be a Labour supporter as a Sunderland supporter. Shinwell with a majority of no less than 32,257 was given the job of nationalising the pits.

Now Easington In Name

From 1950 Shinwell continued in the Commons as MP for what was then the redrawn Constituency of Easington until he was 86 in 1970. The reason I joined the Labour Party in 1957 was that Shinwell ran an essay competition on public ownership, which I could only enter if I joined the Labour Party. My first meeting at the Easington Constituency Labour Party was to collected the £3 for second prize. I was beaten by the man who was teaching around that time at the school where the girl I was later to meet and marry was still a pupil.

In 1970, Jack Dormond who was Director of Education in the Easington area, replaced Shinwell as the local Labour MP. He had been a member of the Peterlee and District Fabian Society when I was Secretary before I went to Ruskin College as a student in 1960. He once got me to address the Haswell Labour Party Branch on "Why I Joined the Labour Party." I had to tell them it was for the essay contest!

When I was MP and Jack (who as MP had Chaired the Parliamentary Labour Party) was in the Lords, we occassionally met at lunch time. I once told him that as a youngster I had walked with my mates to see Easington Colliery play football at neighbouring Horden Colliery. I was then no-plussed when my father turned out in goal for Horden who were our rivals. The Horden goalkeeper had not turned up and they signed up my father on the spot as he played in a lower league. Jack said. "hold on I played in goal for Horden." It looks as if he was the man who did not turn up.

It wasn't until 1987 that a Miner ,John Cummings finally became the Labour MP for the Easington area. I first met John when he was seeking the nomination for Easington and I was seeking the nomination for North East Derbyshire. The strange thing is that in contrast to the Easington area, this corner of Derbyshire had had nothing else but Miners as MPs between 1922 and 1987 (like Seaham, Labour lost the seat in the 1931 crisis).

What Next?

I next give links to the four candidates on the current Easington shortlist.

1. Mike Routledge, Easington District Councillor.
2. David Taylor-Gooby , Easington District Councillor.
3. Farmida Bi,London Solicitor and co-founder the Progressive British Muslim Group.
4. Grahame Morris, former Easington District Councillor, John Cummings Agent and Reseacher.

The only one I know is Grahame. Who I know comes from Easington Colliery and is a keen Sunderland supporter! If it was the old days of delegatory democracy, then he would now be home and dry for he has a list of nominations as long as his arm. But when non-activist votes outweigh those of activists in today's system, you just can't tell.


Louise Baldock said...

Harry, all is well and all is well and all manner of things shall be well.

Grahame was elected with 75% of first preferences.

It was only ever going to be Grahame, the perfect choice for Easington.

Harry Barnes said...

Louise: I am in touch with Grahame who I used to chat to mainly in the Stanger's bar in the Commons - mainly about Sunderland's football team. We both originate from Easington Colliery, so that gives us other shared interests. See -