Sunday, April 12, 2015

10 Years Ago - almost exactly

Harry Barnes
This introduction has been corrected. I was initially a day out -
At 5pm on 11th April 2005 after a period of some 18 years, I ceased to be an MP.  That is ten years and a day prior to my posting this short item. Later and below,  I will add a summary of mainly politically related matters which I have been involved with over the past decade.

Added 15th April. Today is the 10th birthday of our first grandchild, Joseph. He was, therefore, born only three days after I ceased to be an MP.  As he was born in London, it meant that my wife and I remained in town when I ceased to be an MP and regularly visited our son and daughter-in-law whilst awaiting the birth and then for a time afterwards. It was a perfect way to switch off from 18 years of parliamentary activity.  My rediscovery of my family life was added to by the birth of Joseph's sister Amy just two years afterwards. I had firmly rediscovered that I had a solid family life.  This was added to by a number of visits we made to stay with our daughter who was then working in Majorca. Then she finally moved to Bournemouth and is now settled there with her partner, Andy. So family interchanges have become much more of a relaxing norm than they were during my 18 years as an MP.  That certainly can't be a bad thing.

My political activities in the past decade have mainly been centered in the area of "political education".  For it is an activity which has dominated much of my life. I have been attending and then organising political discussion meetings ever since I returned from undertaking my National Service in Iraq in 1956, where I had purchased the "New Statesman" on rice paper and borrowed books by GDH Cole from the camp Library. It was the place where I had most clearly started to be politicised. Afterwards I started out by running discussion sessions for the local Labour Party at Easington Colliery in County Durham, then as secretary of the newly founded Peterlee and District Fabian Society. I went on to pursue such interests full time, first studying politics and economics as an adult at Ruskin College and then pursuing  politics and philosophy at Hull University. To cap all this I then taught industrial relations and politics (with diversions into philosophy) for 21 years mainly on trade union day release classes organised through Sheffield University. Wearing my party political hat, I ran discussion meetings for the  Dronfield Labour Party, a local Fabian Society and our branch of Independent Labour Publications (ILP) - a body I had joined in the mid 1970s. I was also involved with the ILP nationally.

Then after an 18 year stint in parliament (pursuing their own peculiar brand of political discourse) it was natural for me to return to my past ways. Shortly after retiring from parliament and with a group called Labour Friends of Iraq, I visited Iraqi Kurdistan to meet with trade unionists from across the whole of the country. So I later gave talks about Iraq to ex-students at Coleg Harlech and Ruskin College and at other venues. But although I have given occasional talks on a variety of topics to bodies such as the Durham WEA, the ILP at Leeds and our local Labour History Society; I have mainly settled down to arranging for others to do the speaking. Then I can join in the discussions.

For the past nine years in the role of Political Education Officer of the Dronfield Branch of the Labour Party I have organised some 100 discussion meetings. These have been held at the supportive Contact Club in Dronfield, normally running from 8pm to 9.15pm on Sundays on a monthly basis. Numbers of Labour MPs have been amongst our speakers. The last one being John Healey who gave us his reason's for pushing TTIP and nobly faced criticisms from everyone else who then joined in the discussion. I seldom address such meetings myself - the last time being when I had to fill in because the speaker did not turn up.

I then look out for other discussion opportunities. In nearby Sheffield to the north, these come in a variety of forms - including its School For Democratic Socialism, the local Fabian Society, an annual festival of town events and meetings hosted at the University. Recently, there have even been two visits from Parliamentary Select Committees. Chesterfield to the south has a vibrant May Day Rally for which I have organised discussion meetings in the past. Their Labour Club also hosts political discussion meetings. Then my own Constituency Labour Party of North East Derbyshire runs its own all member discussion meetings either in Chesterfield or nearby North Wingfield.

Aligned to looking for opportunities to discuss political issues, run openings to write about such matters. Here again, I am a bits and pieces person. I don't write books, but turn my hand to making passing comments. An ideal form for this has been this blog which is called "Three Score Years and Ten". The title arises from the fact that it was given to me by my son on my 70th birthday over eight years  ago - before I got down to sitting in front of a computer all that much. Although young Amy will still say - "No Grandad, not like that - like this". My blog currently contains over 750 entries, most of which are on political issues. I am also the main contributor to a blog entitled "Dronfield Blather", which is run in conjunction with our Sunday evening Labour Party Discussion Group. Then I comment on other people's blogs and their web-sites. Recently turning to "Labour List" where  I have made some 250 comments in the past year. I also contribute articles and comments for the ILP's web-site. And there is a history of the Labour Party in the North East Derbyshire area, which appears on its Constituency Labour Party web-site. 

There are numbers of more fully researched and published pieces. In the 2011 to 2013 issues of the annual publication "North East History" (published by the North East Labour History Society) I  provided articles about the development of the then mining community at Easington Colliery, from the sinking of its pit in 1899 to just before I was born there in 1936. This work required regular visits up to the Durham County Record Office to undertake the research.  In the Autumn 2012 issue of "Labour Heritage" I wrote an article entitled "The Twin Pillars Of The Derbyshire Miners" about James Haslam and William Harvey who were the main figures in initially founding and running the Derbyshire Miners Assocation (DMA), which started out back in 1880. A shorter item on these has just appeared in Chesterfield Trade Council's May Day Brochure. This is because we will soon be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of two statues in remembrance of Haslam and Harvey, which took place in front of the then DMA offices. So I am back to speech-making on this, during celebrations that are due to be held in the Chesterfield Library and also next to the statues themselves.

Another piece appeared in the local "Dronfield Miscellany" a Local History Journal in Autumn/Winter 2007 on one of the miners' leader mentioned above - William Harvey. For he was also the local NE Derbyshire MP from 1907 to 1914, as James Haslam had been in Chesterfield from 1906 to 1913. The Miscellany is published by the Old Dronfield Society to whom I then gave a talk entitled "From the Cavendishes to Coal Miners, Dronfield MPs 1832-1950" - the Cavendishes being aristocratic land owners. Amongst other bits I have come up with have been a couple of items for "Post-16 Educator".  In May-June it was "What now for adult education?  Lessons from Derbyshire's miners" and in January-March 2012 it was "The politics of education". My efforts do at times deviate from political concerns. Football items have appeared. One in the Sunderland AFC Fanzine "A Love Supreme" in the 2006-7 season. Part 1 being entitled "The Beano Years" and Part 2 "The Keano Years". Then in the first issue of a magazine called "First Eleven" in 2010, I wrote about the match that is recognised by FIFA as being the first soccer contest ever between two different clubs - Hallam FC v Sheffield FC. Non-League Sheffield FC's current ground is just a quarter of a mile from my home. And it is in Derbyshire, not Yorkshire. I would not normally admit to having anything to do with the Daily Mail, but they also ran a response from me in 2007 around the same issue under the title "How football kicked off".

There are other items, but you get the idea. I did start to write an autobiography and got up to 30,000 words in just covering the first 18 years of my life - before my fresh political interests had then fully kicked in. Currently, I can think of three projects that are in the way before returning to the work I packed in several years ago. I wonder how many other bits and pieces will also get in the way? After some 58 years of political bits and pieces (with my 18 years in parliament being ideal for a person who hops from item to item) I don't think I am now likely to change. Nor have I had any regrets about retiring at the age of 68 - for there have always been plenty political bits and pieces to pursue outside of Westminster.

No comments: