Friday, November 09, 2007

50 Years Of Sensible Extremism.

Into The Labour Party

I attended my first Constituency Labour Party Meeting exactly 50 years ago today. It was a meeting of the Easington Divisional Labour Party, held in the Workmen's Club, Blackhall, County Durham.

I attended in order to collect the second prize in an essay competition run by the local Labour M.P., Mannie Shinwell. In fact I joined the Labour Party in order to qualify to enter this competition. The topic was "Nationalisation".

I had been wondering whether to join the Labour Party for almost a year, after ending my National Service in Iraq. And as I was starting to write letters about socialism to the Sunderland Echo, this was a further chance to express my stance on paper and finally make a move into the Labour Party. But I was still worried about what I saw as the limited and reformist nature of Labourism

The first prize went to the late John Alderson from Peterlee. He was a teacher in the Constituency at Shotton Colliery, who later became Chair of the Peterlee and District Fabian Society and I became its Secretary. He also taught at the school my future wife attended as a pupil, but it was to be almost 4 years later before I met her.

The third prize went to Derek Rutherford who was then a 6th form student. Mannie preferred his essay to the rest, but had handed the decision-making over to a Committee. I don't know if many entered the contest, but I had to use No.16 on my entry. But that could have been a ploy to make the numbers look reasonable. I believe that Derek went on to become General Secretary of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

Socialist Sustenance

I submitted my essay on September 19th, just before leaving for a Conference in London run by the International Society for Socialist Studies (ISSS) at which it adopted its Constitution. GDH Cole was elected President and Stuart Hall was one of those elected to its Executive Committee.

The week-end's activities started with a public meeting which included Barbara Castle, Kingsley Martin (editor of the New Statesman), Kenneth Kaunda and Lelio Basso of the Italian Socialist Party.

Claude Bourdet, the editor of France Observateur (a leading weekly on the French Left) sent his apologies. I heard him, however, later at a further ISSS Conference. Whilst Vladimir Dedijer was refused a visa to attend by the Yugoslav Government.

A Two Footed Stance

I feel that moving into the short lived ISSS and the now much changed Labour Party at one and the same time, typifies my general approach to politics since then. I have always had a foot in two camps. One foot has been with comrades who help keep socialist ideas alive and the other has been placed within the institution of the Labour Movement; especially within the Labour Party and the Trade Union Movement. With the later I have attempted to be what GDH Cole himself called a "loyal grouser" and a "sensible extremist".

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