Monday 29 April 2013

The Last Summer

It was going to be a very hot summer, that much was obvious by the April of 1976. Spring just didn't arrive that year, as we went from winter to summer without even a pause. My first memory of that time is of how I decided, in about the April, that the worse thing that could happen would be if someone offered me a job: this weather was something special and I was worried that something tedious like work would get in the way of my enjoyment of it.

I had been made redundant the month before, but that was not the problem that it would be today. We had a thing called earnings related benefit that was paid on top of the dole for the first six months of unemployment. The amount of the benefit depended upon the wage earned, hence the name, and since I earned about £25 a week, my ERB was quite high. So there I was, still only 19 years old, with redundancy money jangling in my pocket, and a long hot summer to enjoy. I decided to get a job when either the summer, or my money, ended. Luckily for me they both coincided...

We need to remember that Britain had a social wage in those days. Basically you did your hours at some job or other. As everyone else did the same this meant that council house rents were cheap, buses were frequent and cost coppers to ride, and all manner of services such as gas, electricity and the telephone that today cost an arm and leg, then cost next to nothing.

Of course, for those who wanted to arse-lick their way up the corporate ladder, things were not quite so rosy. The more money you earned the more income tax you paid. Government revenue in those days came mainly from direct taxation, so those creatures ended up paying quite a wack. To make make matters even nicer, inflation was high, but we had strong unions that ensured regular pay rises. The employers' men didn't, but they could console themselves with the fact that they were "staff" and not "workers". As I used to like pointing out, being staff and having 25p in the pocket would get them a pint of bitter. For some reason they never enjoyed my humour as much as my mates did.

Who in his right mind would not have wanted to be a young working man during the summer of 1976? I took my redundancy pay, signed on the dole every two weeks, and spent the summer soaking up the sun and chasing women.

One of the lovely girls I caught was a nurse at a Manchester hospital. She lived in a nice, subsidised nurses' home, and ate in the nice subsidised canteen that was provided to the hospital's staff. Getting to visit her was easy. I didn't have a car so I caught a bus into Piccadilly, Manchester, and then another one going out to the hospital. If I stayed too long, but wasn't invited to spend the night, then I used the all night buses to get home. They only ran every hour and cost twice as much as the ordinary service, but they got people to their destinations. Today Manchester does not have all-night buses that cover the whole city, so getting around is more difficult without a car.

A couple of years later, when the Callaghan government started to cut back on public services and the bus fares went through the roof, I learned to drive and bought a car. However, that was in the future, and in 1976 I travelled everywhere on cheap public transport.

I remember taking that girl over to York for a few days. We travelled on the British Rail train which left and arrived on time and the fare was cheap - it had to be, I was signing on, remember?

However, most of the summer was spent relaxing in Piccadilly Gardens, just soaking up the sun and chatting to anyone who wanted to help me kill another beautiful day. Today you would go and sit in a pub's garden, but they scarcely existed in 1976. Pubs in Manchester were working men's swill shops that opened their doors at 11.00am and closed them at 3.00pm. Come 5.30pm they opened up again until 10.30pm - except Fridays and Saturdays when they stayed open until 11.00pm.

However, this did not mean that you could not keep on drinking all night - far from it. Oxford Road Station Approach had a well known drinking club that I used to go in a lot after work. It opened when the pubs closed and stayed serving until the last customer left, usually at dawn. Just across Oxford Road and behind the Palace Theatre was another drinking dive that catered to the all-afternoon brigade. Both these places got full with shift workers like me, policemen, the local hard men and prostitutes. They were great places to meet interesting people and get sloshed out of your brain.

So the summer went on. That never ending summer. Until one day it started to rain and then somebody offered me another bastard job, and that was me done along with the summer.

There will never be a summer like the summer of 1976 because when it ended something ended in Britain. The notion that you could live well as a working class person, in a society that tried to share its resources fairly, and in which you did not have to bust a ball to earn a buttie, has gone from the popular memory. People may tell their children about how you could change jobs on a whim - they do - but the memory of everything else that we enjoyed has gone. We need to bring that memory back and make it a political demand.

Until that happens, we will never have another summer and the winter that has now lasted for so many long decades will remain.

Monday 22 April 2013

The seventies were great: don't believe the myth of Thatcherism

 Neil Clark is a well known commentator for most of the Fleet Street dailies. This piece of his first saw the light of day in 2009, and he had given me permission to repost it here:

The dominant narrative - accepted even by many who consider themselves to be on the left - is that Britain's economy in the 1970s was in such dire straits that our country urgently needed a change of direction.

Britain, in this account, was the 'Sick Man of Europe'. The unions and inflation were out of control. Our inefficient nationalised industries were an expensive disaster. The Labour governments of 1974-79 were complete flops. The post-war mixed economy model had failed. But this narrative is a myth.

It's true that inflation hit 27 per cent in 1975, but this was largely a consequence of the Yom Kippur War oil price shock, which saw oil prices quadruple, and not a sign that the mixed economy model had collapsed.

By 1978, the British economy was rapidly improving. Inflation was down to single figures and unemployment was falling too. Productivity was rising, including in the nationalised industries. North sea oil revenues were starting to transform the balance of payments, which showed a surplus of £109m in 1977.  And in December 1978 Britain recorded a massive trade surplus of £246m.
Britain was a contented society that had a healthy work-life balance
During 1978, Britain's standard of living rose by 6.4 per cent to reach its highest ever level: so much for the 'Sick Man of Europe'.

"The outlook for Britain is better than at any time in the postwar years," was the verdict, not of a Labour party propagandist, but of Chase Manhattan bank's chief European economist, Geoffrey Maynard.

Bernard Nossiter, a Washington Post journalist, argued in his 1978 book Britain- the Future that Works, that Britain, unlike the US, had created a contented society that had managed to get the balance right between work, leisure and remuneration. Far from having had enough of Labour and the post-war consensus, opinion polls show that the party would have won a General Election, had Prime Minister James Callaghan called one, as expected, for October 1978.

The so-called 'Winter of Discontent' of 1979 - which ushered in Thatcherism - is also shrouded in myth. James Callaghan never said 'Crisis, what crisis' - that was an invention of The Sun. The strikes themselves only lasted for a comparatively short period and were largely over by February 1979.
One might ask why all this matters. It does, because if we are going to break with neoliberalism, we need to shatter the myths put forward by Thatcherite ideologues. We need to understand the truth which was that the British economy performed far better 30 years ago than is commonly believed. The mixed economy model didn't fail. We were no more in need of Mrs Thatcher's 'painful medicine', than someone suffering from a common cold needs a course of chemotherapy.

Acknowledging the truth about the 1970s is important, because it means that we can then return to an economic model that served the great majority of Britons extraordinarily well for over 30 years after World War Two. It was a model under which large sections of the economy - including transport, energy and most major industries - were in public ownership; capitalism was strictly regulated and made to work for the common good and manufacturing was regarded as more important than finance.

In no other period in British history was there such a rapid rise in living standards. The gap between rich and poor was significantly reduced. As the One Nation Tory Harold Macmillan, one of the architects of the post-war consensus, famously declared, we never had it so good.

Since 1979 we have followed a very different economic path: one of deregulation, privatisation and allowing 'market forces' to rule the roost. And we all know where that has led us.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Thoughts as Thatcher is planted

As Thatcher's state funded funeral procession gets rolling it is worth recalling that Clement Attlee, widely seen by British historians as the greatest prime minister of the last century, certainly in peace time, had a rather modest send-off. Then again, the political elite of the day were not trying to persuade the rest of us that he was something other than a fine man who did his best for his country, as just about everyone accepted that.

That is not the case with Margaret Thatcher who was loathed by great swathes of the country. Scotland and Wales are now virtually Tory free, as are the great cities of Northern England. The notion that this creature can go from being capitalism's whore to mother of the nation just because the gates of hell have now opened to receive her is risible in the extreme, but that is what the metropolitan elite wants us to start believing. Hence the taxpayer funded junket that is taking place as I write prior to the planting of her carcase.

Obviously the three main parties are in league in this attempt to rewrite history and try to convince us that we are all Thatcherites now. That was probably the reason why Labour declined to object when the Tory-Liberal government airily decided to waste £10 million of our money on this propaganda exercise.

We were on a better road in the post-war years and what I want to do with this blog is look back on those years to try and help kill the notion that everything prior to 1979 was gloomy. Actually, being a young working man in the 1970s was pretty bloody good and we need to state that loud and clear.

So, this new toy of mine has one use at least.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Looking ahead

UKIP should be the perfect party of protest for the people of this country, but unfortunately this seemingly trivial incident involving me suggests that instead the party really is the Thatcherite wing of the Tory Party in exile. If that is the case, then why would any working class person cast a vote for such an organisation?

It is quite possible that the party has decided that a retreat into a kind of  suburban heartland makes sense, but I think that such a strategy makes for very bad tactics. At the end of the day, such people are like cousin Reg, in that they are all tongue and trousers.

You want to know about Reginald I suppose. Back in 1977 I found myself in Rhodesia as it was then called. More importantly I found myself the guest of the country's special branch who had it in their minds that I was a type to question. One of the plods told me that Rhodesia was going to survive because it had support in the UK. He went on to explain that his cousin Reginald had just written to say that he had moved a motion in support of the place at his local Conservative branch.

I replied that Rhodesia's only chance of survival was if Cousin Reg and his mates got off their lardy arses and came and picked up rifles. Since I did not see any signs of that happening, I suspected that Rhodesia was heading for the toilet. Needless to say, I was right, wasn't I?

Now then, Britain is full of this type of person who may sound off about leaving the EU, but when referendum day dawns are more than likely to chicken out for fear of the economic consequences that withdrawal may entail.

In the case of the unskilled and semi-skilled working class, the people who flit between a McJob and a benefit claim, that is less likely to happen as their conditions are already so bad that a punt on independence may very well appeal to them. These are the people that I was helping before I even joined UKIP and they would have been the bedrock of my support, had Fred McGlade not suffered from his funny turn.

I am not suggesting that UKIP moves lock, stock and barrel to the left. What I am saying is that candidates should fight individual campaigns based upon what they feel is right for the people in that particular area. What will play in a depressed mill town in Northern England is not the same as what the people of Surrey want to hear. So long as we all stay under the same umbrella, it should allow the party to grow in all the regions. Obviously in the long term the compromise would not hold, but then again in the long term we are all dead. If it holds long enough to force a referendum on the future of our country then we will have succeeded in our aim.

That would be the sensible strategy to follow, but as I have seen over the past week, UKIP is far from being a sensible party, which means that the people that I most wanted to represent will remain voiceless.

Nice work, Fred.

Monday 15 April 2013


The following morning I went along to the council offices and withdrew my nomination. I did not tell McGlade that I had done this as I wanted him to give me a full explanation is writing for his actions. He refused to explain himself, but in the late afternoon of the 9th April he did send me this final e-mail upping his cash offer:

I kept trying to get the explanation, but had no joy. At noon on the 10th I told him that the nomination had been withdrawn and the following day I received an official UKIP cheque for £230, signed by Fred McGlade, and a letter which still gave no information.

By the weekend several UKIP members had got in touch to express outrage at what had happened, with the general conclusion being that I should have stayed and continued the campaign.

It was pointed out that a regional organiser does not have the authority to suspend anyone, and on those grounds alone I should have just ignored the man.

I didn't, with the result that the people of Pendle Central do not have a UKIP candidate to vote for on the 2nd May 2013.

Clearly I made a terrible mistake in listening to Fred McGlade in the first place, but I honestly believed that if I did not do as he wished then he would turn the party machine against me. It was only later that it was patiently explained to me by more than one long-term member that the party does not have a machine and that the regional office consists of one F. McGlade and a press spokeswoman. By one of those little ironies that so abound in this life, the wages and the office are kept going because UKIP has a Northwest Euro MP: that's right, it's European Union money.

However, the real losers in all this are the people of Pendle central who no longer have a UKIP candidate to vote for. Since the party has never run in this division before the chances of winning were remote, but it was a marker for the future and had my campaign run to its conclusion then it could have been the starting point for other fights on other days. That will not not happen all because one man decided to lose the plot completely.

We still do not know what was going through Fred McGlade's mind because he will not answer repeated requests for a full accounting. His telephone conversation with me on the 8th April was disjointed and incoherent to say the least, so the only explanation currently available is the one that he ordered the press spokeswoman to write to the Socialist Workers Party member later that afternoon. In it he said that my withdrawal was as a direct result of the internet spat that had occurred some days earlier. If that version is truthful, then it is fair to say that McGlade was acting in the interests of the Socialist Workers Party rather than UKIP. If the mail is not truthful, then why was the press office told to write it?

The most logical explanation is that McGlade was angry with me because of my Thatcher Tweet and then ordered a cock and bull tale to be told to the Trotette just to shut her up. However, what kind of organisation is UKIP where party functionaries tell one tale to outsiders and refuse to say anything to party members?

I have put in official complaints about these actions and I demand a full and open investigation of the matter. As things stand UKIP is in danger of becoming a laughing stock, and the party really only has itself to blame for that situation.

Fred has one of those moments

In the late afternoon of the 8th April, Fred McGlade called me at home and told me that he was suspending my membership of UKIP, and he went on to demand that I withdrew my candidacy for the election, all because I refused to join in the wailing at Thatcher's death. To be fair, at one point he began to rant about the iniquities of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, so it looks like he was having a funny turn, but my attitude to the old slag was clearly at the root of it.

In an attempt to buy time I pointed out that I had already spent over £200 on the campaign and he immediately interrupted to say that he would send me a cheque for that amount. I told him that I would have to find the receipts and that I did not know here they were, and McGlade came up with a cunning plan  which was to tell me that he did not want receipts.

To be honest, that looked less like a payment of expenses and more like a bung. However, since I am unable to walk more than a few yards without considerable pain and since McGlade led me to believe that he would withdraw all the party workers from my campaign and leave me to carry the expenses can myself, I decided to cut my losses and agree to his demands.

McGlade then seems to have lost the plot completely because he ordered the press office to send the following e-mail to the Trot girl:

Now, this nonsense not only contradicts everything that McGlade had said in his earlier mail to me, to say nothing of his incoherent telephone rant about the Blessed Margaret, but the whole thing just falls apart even with a cursory reading. For instance, McGlade wanted the woman to believe that Nigel Farage was involved in all this and agreed with the actions taken. The only action that Farage took in relation to me was agreeing to be photographed with me a couple of days before Fred McGlade decided to go off the wall:

What McGlade had not realised is that these loose-lipped Trots chatter amongst themselves like so many parrots without realising that anyone can download their prattles. Thus his wheeze fell apart very quickly.

The question is what was the strategy behind the wheeze?

Enter the infantile left and Fred McGlade

Say what you like about Joe Stalin, but he knew how to deal with the infantile idiot that was Leon Trotsky as this ice pick testifies. Like many people on the left I tend to view the largely overpaid public sector "workers" who make up the bulk of St Leon the Loser's followers as being either members of a middle class wankfest or suffering from a mental disorder.

It was therefore with great pleasure that I saw the way in which a coven of  female trots was put very nicely in their place by an ad-hoc group of UKIP supporters over the Easter weekend. The full story need not concern us now, and if you must know all the details you can read the story at the website that broke the news to a wider audience, including me. What is important is that the leader of the feral pack decided that I was the man in charge of her tormentors, when in fact I had only wandered along at the end of the dispute just to add a taunt or two to the mix. Why she came to that conclusion is anyone's guess. We are talking about a Trotette here, and they all seem to have a bra size larger than the IQ. Anyway, she began to write semi-literate diatribes to me, all of which gave me an entertaining day or so until I got bored with her on Easter Monday.

By Thursday 4th April I had pretty much forgotten about the girl, but she obviously still had a thing about me because on that day I received a phone call from Fred McGlade, the UKIP Northwest organiser, who told me that he was frankly sick of the e-mails that she was sending him. He went on to say that as far as he was concerned the whole thing was a distraction from the election, and could we please ignore Trot females until after it was over?

I replied that I had already forgotten about her and on that happy note the brief conversation ended. McGlade then sent the girl a note just to get rid of her and it looked at if all was now quiet on the silly little girl front.

The problem was the by the weekend the little darling was writing to me again, and decent cove that I am, I was happily replying. Although I was technically keeping to the agreement that I had with McGlade and was not making any public comments about the girl, it occurred to me that that maybe McGlade would be happier if I did not answer her drivel. I dropped him a line and at 1.07pm on Monday the 8th April he replied to say:

So everything was fine at lunchtime, then a little later I learned that Thatcher had cashed in her chips and I felt a great sympathy wash over me:

By five o'clock, Fred McGlade had exceeded his authority and I had fallen for his bluff and became an ex-candidate.

Sunday 14 April 2013


It had always struck me that the idea of staying in the European Union from a leftist position was cracked. The Tories under McMillan had been the party that first mooted the idea of Britain signing up to what became the EU in the 1960s, then it was Edward Heath's regime which took Britain in a decade later. Thatcher signed up to the single market, and today the most vociferous supporters are the Confederation of British Industry, the economic wing of Toryism.

Labour had opposed the whole idea under Hugh Gaitskell with his 1962 thousand years of history speech and it was the Communist party and Labour left that had united to campaign against Britain remaining in the organisation in the 1975 referendum. Labour is still the only major party that has ever had a full withdrawal form the EU in its election manifesto and the Communist supporting Morning Star is the only daily newspaper that has consistently opposed the whole capitalist adventure. There is nothing right-wing about opposing the European Union - quite the reverse.

The problem was that UKIP had a reputation as the voice of saloon bar fascism, but a quick trawl around my old North Manchester stamping grounds showed me that more than a few of my old political cronies and drinking partners from the 1980s had made their homes in UKIP. One bloke told me that when he had signed up he was the only member for miles around so if he wanted to turn his branch into the Petrograd Soviet, circa 1917, then that was up to him.

Very well, so UKIP was an independent political party that was united around the idea that Britain would be a better place if it left the European Union, but flexible in other areas.  That struck me as fair enough and on that basis I joined last year and that was why I agreed to run as an official party candidate in the May 2013 county council elections.

UKIP's policy structure is very idiosyncratic, with the party manifesto being little more than an uncosted collection of policies, which candidates can dip into to create a personal list of priorities for their campaigns. If elected, there is no whipping system to keep anyone in line, with each councillor being answerable only to his constituents.

In other words UKIP can be seen as a vast umbrella beneath which refugee socialists from other parties can gather, to run candidates in working class districts such as Nelson, Lancashire. For their part the men of the shires can run their people in the leafy villages and so long as everyone sticks to their own areas and chooses their own goodies from the same sweetshop, then the party should hang together.

My campaign began well and by the end of the first couple of days I had already given out a dozen or so posters, with mine being the only ones seen in any Nelson house. I was already reasonably well known as the bloke who helped people fill in their benefit claim forms, so I had a mental list of contacts that I could go to and remind them of just what the Tories had in mind for them and their families. When asked what UKIP would do I could reply quite honestly that I had no idea, but that my policy was to defend them against the council pen pushers who collaborate with central government in making ordinary people's lives a misery. "If they can pay for an army of fat social work rabble then they can pay you your council tax benefit in full," was a good line that always went down well with my target audience.

Apart from that my campaign was pretty bog-standard, with the proviso that as a semi-cripple who walks with a stick and is in near constant pain, I obviously could not walk around my district and had to rely on party friends to lend a hand with the leafleting campaign. Other than that I behaved as any other candidate, and then like thousands of others I joined in the celebrations on the day that the gates of hell opened to receive Thatcher.

Which was when someone in UKIP had a brain fart of quite entertaining proportions.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Getting Involved Again

I am an old Labour man so for that reason I find New Labour revolting in the extreme. Thatcher and Blair had one thing in common: they both believed that people who always vote Labour could be safely ignored. In the old days a man like me could vote for the Communist Party as a protest if Labour were going too far off the rails, but that party's collapse meant that the working class was left unrepresented, so along with millions of other people I just lost interest in party politics.

Last year a neighbour asked me to help him with his claim form for Disability Living Allowance. A week or so later a friend of his then knocked on my door and asked for help with a housing benefit problem. Over the next few months a steady stream of people began to ask for help, with the result that I became a sort of one man advice office. The numbers were not great, probably no more than one or two a month, and I was happy to help people out; they are my neighbours after all.

One of these people jokingly suggested that I should be on the council, and I laughed along with the remark, but later I began to think seriously about it. I already had a small base of people that I had helped and who would, perhaps, give me a punt if I asked them nicely. I did the sums and reasoned that if their families turned out for me as well then I had the makings of a couple of hundred votes in the bag even before I did very much.

I knew very well that this was not enough to get elected so I needed a party behind me, but which one? To be honest, these days all the parties are desperate for activists as more and more people disengage from a system that only seems to represent the socially liberal, economically conservative metropolitan elite, so I reckoned that I could take my pick.

The thought of having anything to do with the Conservatives leaves me feeling in need of a bath, and their Liberal-Democrat satraps are no better, so both were out of the question. New Labour did not want my vote so it wasn't going to get it, and the British National Party probably wouldn't have me on account of my mixed race offspring. Besides, they were heading towards extinction,anyway, so only a fool would hitch his wagon to that wheezy old nag.

That left UKIP, a party dismissed as the BNP in suits, the party of fruitcakes and weirdos, but which was coming up inexorably on the rails. I decided to dig a little deeper to try and find out if they would provide an agreeable home for an old leftist, and was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

A Warm Welcome

I don't know what the rest of April 2013 is going to be like, but it has been a roller-coaster up to now and the damned month isn't yet half over. It started with me as the UKIP candidate for the Pendle Central Division of Lancashire County Council and then on the 8th I was offered money to withdraw my nomination, with the implied threat that if I didn't take the bung then the party machinery would be turned against me. The fact that the party does not have a machine was something that I only discovered when it was too late to do anything about it. Never mind, we live and learn.

So sit back and let me show you around the world of minor party politics where the egos are massive and the issues trivial. I promise to make it as entertaining as I can.

The basic rule for this blog is that there are no rules: you can say what you like and I will not censor you. The exception to this is if you want to use my toy to advertise your products - sorry, but that is not allowed. Other than that feel free to add whatever you wish to the debate.

The blog was set up to explain the events of the past few days, but when that is done I will keep it going to provide myself, and you I hope, with some entertainment from time to time.
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