Thursday, June 18, 2020

75 Years Ago Today - My Introduction to Party Politics

 People Past and Present
The area from which I first saw Shinwell's election poster in 1945. The posters I refer to were, however, then behind the photographer's position.

   After the end of the war against Germany, Parliament was dissolved on 15th June 1945 in preparation for the 1945 General Election which took place on 5th July. The count and the declaration of the result did not, however, occur until 26th July as the armed forces vote had to be collected in and distributed to their appropriate constituencies. At the time we were still at war with Japan.
   On what I judge to be Monday 18th June of that year (exactly 75 years ago today) I gained my first understanding that something rather special was taking place. For as an 8 year old leaving for home from my Junior School, I ran up a side street when I suddenly stopped on seeing a poster stuck on a wooden lamp post ahead of me on the other side of Easington's main road called Seaside Lane. It was unusual to see posters in those days apart from those outside the local cinemas.
   The poster which gained my attention said "Vote for Shinwell" who was the local Labour parliamentary candidate. It was printed in green, which were Labours colours at that time in the North East. As I next walked home along Seaside Lane most of the lamposts had the same poster stuck on them. Then there was a single larger poster on a board attached to railings. It did not merely say "Vote for Shinwell" but it warned us of the dangers of Winston Churchill, Brenden Bracken (the First Lord of the Admiralty) and other Tories being returned to office.
    I had come across something that was unthinkable and exciting. Our war-time hero who had seemingly led us to Victory in Europe and a wonderful street party to celebrate the achievement, was now under attack.
    More drama followed. Shinwell's election address was delivered - again when I was then at school. When I got home every house on our Council Estate seemed to have a copy placed in its front window. Including our house and where my Grandmother and Uncle Bill lived four doors away.  
    It was time for me to start reading our Daily Herald and Reynolds News to see what was going on. Then on a radio political broadcast Churchill claimed that our mild Labour Leader Clem Attlee would preside over a new form of Gestapo. I was offended, Churchill seemed to be saying that places such as Easington were full of Nazis; rather than pigeon fanciers, methodists and fathers in flat caps making their way to Workingmens ' Clubs. Did he not know that Dennis Donnini whose father ran the ice-cream shop on Seaside Lane had just been given a posthumous Victoria Cross ?
   In the General Election, Shinwell obtained a massive 32,257 majority and everyone I came across seemed to be Labour. So was I. Initially it was mainly tribal loyalty.  But this came to be deepened by some of the initial achievements of the 1945 Labour Government, then by developing socialist concerns about the needs to transcend Gaitskellism.
   But the siting of that 1945 poster was the start of my commitment to socialism.

The above is an adjusted version of the start of an article I wrote for the Journal of the North East Labour History Society in its Volume 48 2017. I have, however, corrected what I then said about Churchill claiming that Labour would have Gestapo-type tendancies. He made the claim in a radio and not a cinema presentation.     

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