Category: History

Let’s Talk About: Legitimacy (of the parliamentary kind)

Guy Debord's Cat

The Tories and their allies in the press seem to believe that the party with the most seats in the event of a hung parliament should be able to form a government. They also claim that should Labour get fewer seats than the Tories and if they form a minority government with the support of smaller parties, then this government would be illegitimate. This has been comprehensively debunked time and time again. Yet the Tories and Nick Clegg continue to lie about this, relying on the widespread ignorance of how parliament and governments function.

There is a historical precedent that has never once been mentioned during this election campaign by those commentators whose job it is to ‘explain’ the political system to the voters. The General Election of 6 December 1923, which Stanley Baldwin had called over tariff reform (which meant very little to many working class voters), produced a situation…

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Performing masculinity: teaching the haka to the unemployed

thelearningprofessor

I have just 21 weeks to wait before the start of the Rugby World Cup. To while away the time, I want to remember a rugby-playing Marxist from New Zealand who in 1934 taught the haka at a summer camp for unemployed men.

Bertram in China in 1937 Bertram in China in 1937

James Munro Bertram was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford when he volunteered to spend his summer with the Universities Council for Unemployed Camps (UCUC). Born in Auckland on 11 August 1910 to a Presbyterian family, he came to England with left-wing views and a training in journalism. He graduated in 1934 with a first in English, then took a second class degree in modern languages in the following year.

UCUC, though based in Cambridge, drew support from a number of English and Scottish universities, and is best understood as part of the broader tradition of student social service, sharpened by the…

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The SNP, Scottish Labour, Loyalism and Scotophobia

Guy Debord's Cat

Striking fear in the hearts of Unionists

There are some folk, mainly Labour types, who have a visceral hatred of the Scottish National Party. I have heard all kinds of characterizations of the SNP and all of them are wrong. “Well, the SNP are a nationalist party and nationalism is bad” is one such complaint but is all nationalism bad? Isn’t there such a thing as left-wing nationalism? Then there were the many liberation movements in the former colonies. Weren’t they nationalist and left-wing? I’ve also heard people characterize the SNP as “Nazis” (melodramatic) or  as the “Scottish version of UKIP” (absurd). Hysterical, hyperbolic and delusional. But whoever claimed Unionists were rational? They will do anything to cling onto the leaky boat that is the Union.

The SNP was formed in 1934 through a merger of two parties: the larger centre-left National Party of Scotland and the smaller centre-right Scottish Party…

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Will makers of film Suffragette starring Meryl Streep portray Emily Davison’s death as suicide?

Campaigners have expressed concern about how women’s rights activist Emily Wilding Davison might be portrayed in a forthcoming blockbuster movie.

The film called Suffragette is due to be released in September and boasts an all star cast including Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan.

It also features Natalie Press as Davison, who is buried in Morpeth, Northumberland, following her death after being hit by the King’s horse during the 1913 Derby.

The ‘Emily Inspires’ group, which is based in Northumberland and has the backing of Davison’s descendants, became concerned after a website revealed details of a film about Emily which appeared to suggest she had committed suicide that day.

Emily Wilding Davison who is buried at St. Mary's Church in Morpeth.
Emily Wilding Davison who is buried at St. Mary’s Church in Morpeth.

Its Chair, Andrew Tebbutt, explained:

“We’re concerned because we understand there has been blurb for it talking of her throwing herself in front of the horse.

“A letter has been sent to the makers about this but we’ve heard nothing back yet as far as I’m aware.”

We tried to contact award winning writer Abi Morgan who penned Suffragette to clear up the matter.

However, on her behalf, we received a statement from Pathe, which is co-producing the film with Film4 productions, which said:

“Abi Morgan won’t be doing any interviews about the film until much closer to the release in the Autumn.

“Unfortunately I must ask you to wait to see the film before commenting on how Emily Davison is portrayed. The one thing I can tell you now is that she is a supporting character in the film, so is not the focus of the story.”

For many years it had been said that Davison did, in effect, commit suicide by steeping in the front of the horse, Anmer.

Recently, however, modern historians have ruled out the suicide theory. In 2013 analysis of newsreel has supported the idea that Davison was reaching up to attach a scarf to the bridle of the King’s horse.

Analysis of the newsreel also indicated that her position before she stepped out onto the track would have given her a clear view of the oncoming race, further countering the belief that she ran out in a haphazard way to kill herself.

1913 Suffragette derby
1913 Suffragette derby

Mr Tebbutt said: “If you re going to some sort of historical documentary, do it properly and tell the truth.

“She was quite happy to die for the cause of getting women the vote, but that is not what she intended to do that day.

“She was preparing to go see her nephew and niece in France afterwards – she had a return ticket. So her intention was not to die that day.”

Emily Inspires said another movie called Emily: Deeds Not Words had spoken of her as a “terrorist” and a “martyr”.

They said it was possible this film had been confused with Suffragette.

Davison was born in London the daughter of Northumberland parents. She was a militant activist who fought for women to be given the vote in Britain and was jailed on nine occasions and force-fed 49 times.

Davison died four days after the Derby incident from the injuries she suffered.

Her funeral was organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union and thousands of suffragettes accompanied the coffin while tens of thousands of people lined the streets of London.

After a service in Bloomsbury her coffin was taken by train to the family grave in the church yard of St. Mary the Virgin, Morpeth.

Source –  Sunday Sun, 29 Mar 2015

> The events were captured by newsreel –

Memories from the picket line of ex-pitman arrested four times during the miners’ strike

Thirty years on from the end of the miners’ strike Norman Strike – his real name – still cuts a discordant figure.

He was one of the few whose life changed for the better following the miners’ strike, but he admits he still feels a great deal of bitterness about the events that occurred and indeed is more angry now than he was then.

Referring to the current Government, he says:

“[Margaret] Thatcher was terrible, she was evil. But these buggers are worse than what she ever was. They have done much worse to the working class than what she ever got away with. It is all as a direct result of us getting beat.”

Mr Strike, a retired teacher, had three spells at Westoe Colliery, in South Shields, and was arrested four times for picketing during the year long dispute between the miners and the Government which began as a protest over pit closures.

“My problem is that I have always had a big mouth and when people were just standing around passively and not doing anything, I was trying to organise them,” he says.

 “The police aren’t stupid and would see that and I would be lifted out. In September at Wearmouth [Colliery] I led a charge to try and stop the ‘scab’ buses going back in and I was arrested.

“Much to my shock the magistrate remanded me for 14 days in Durham Prison because he said I could not be trusted due to my previous arrests.”

The 64-year-old, who now lives in Essex, was present at the infamous Battle of Orgreave when on June 18, 1984 picketing miners attempted to blockade the British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire.

In all 93 arrests were made, with 51 picketers and 72 policemen injured. All charges against those arrested were eventually dropped and police were later forced to pay half-a-million pounds in compensation after a number of lawsuits were brought by miners’ for assault, unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution.

 Recalling that day, he says:
“It was warm and many of us had stripped to the waist. We were also completely outnumbered. At Orgreave the police were armed to the teeth, they had huge shields and crash helmets.”

When I suggest some of what occurred was a case of “six and two threes”, he replies:

“It was more like twelve on one. When you get hit with a truncheon it bloody hurts, I can tell you.

“The worst I ever saw from our side involved the cowards who would stand at the back and lob bricks at the police. We would shout at the buggers to stop.”

At the time Mr Strike was friends with The Redskins, a punk rock band whose songs were inspired by their left-wing politics. Famously he was invited on stage when they appeared on Channel 4’s The Tube, which was filmed in Newcastle.

But his plan to make a short speech about the strike was thwarted when his microphone was switched off.

The Redskins had two numbers and on the first number I stood in the background with a tambourine,” he explains.

“ When they introduced the second song they said I was a Durham miner who had been on strike for 35 weeks. I had prepared a speech for 20 seconds which we reckoned was enough time before the producer latched onto what I was doing, but they were a bit quicker than what we anticipated.”

After the strike ended the ex-salvage worker, whose job it was to recover machinery from the coal face, never went back to Westoe and instead headed for the bright lights of London, where he began rebuilding his life following the break-up of his marriage.

He returned to the North-East last year to help promote a film about the strike ‘Still The Enemy Within’ and says his involvement back then represented the most momentous year of his life.

“What resonates most was the community spirit,” he says.

“If someone was going to get their gas cut off we would all go and stand outside the house so they couldn’t do it. It’s that thing that parents talk about, the ‘good old days’ when everybody stuck up for each other.

“Now everybody is out for themselves and it’s a case of ‘I’m very sorry you are having a hard time, but I can’t do anything about it’. Back then we were all broke, but people were wonderful.

“It was also the catalyst that led to other things for me. I went to London and eventually went onto university and became a school teacher, directly because I met teachers and other people during the strike who told me I was clever and planted a seed in my head.

“ It also made me more determined to fight against injustice whenever I see it. If the miners strike wouldn’t have happened, I would probably still be a miner.”

I can’t resist ending the interview by asking Mr Strike about that surname. “It’s real,” he says.

During the strike I would get stopped by the police and asked ‘What’s your name’? ‘Norman Strike’ The response was ‘Oh yeah, I’m Arthur f****** Scargill.’ I began carrying my birth certificate to prove who I was.

“It is just so unusual to have someone called Strike involved in the greatest strike the country has seen.”

Source – Northern Echo, 05 Mar 2015

Cyril Norwood and a national labour service

thelearningprofessor

Workfare schemes are constantly in the news at the moment. Many of Britain’s historic work camps schemes were very much forms of welfare, aimed at giving unemployed men and other vulnerable groups – including sex workers, people with learning disabilities, epileptics and the tubercular – exposure to a period of therapeutic manual labour.

The idea of some kind of universal voluntary work service for the young, popular among Conservative thinkers when the current British coalition government was formed, seems to have slipped under the radar. But there were persistent campaigns, particularly during the 1930s, for public work – mainly in camps – as a form of universal national service.

Sir Cyril Norwood Sir Cyril Norwood

Cyril Norwood is best known in Britain for his influence on the 1944 Education Act. R. A. Butler, then minister for education, chose Norwood to chair a committee on secondary education, which  produced a report on Curriculum…

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Redacted: some critical notes on the ideas of Red Action

Cautiously pessimistic

Last year, Manchester University Press published a book called “Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956”, which looks as though it might be of interest for anyone who wants to learn from the successes and failures of previous attempts at revolutionary organisation in this country. Sadly, the price tag is £75, which puts it well out of the price range of most casual readers. However, the chapter on Red Action, which looked to be one of the more interesting sections anyway, has now been made available for free on the Red Action archive website, so I was keen to read it, and having read it I thought it was worth typing up a few notes on the subject.

What follows are is not a full review of Red Action as an organisation, based on either personal experience or an in-depth reading of their publications: I wasn’t…

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Attlee, labour colonies and the welfare state

thelearningprofessor

Clement Attlee Clement Attlee

In 1920, a thirty-seven year old university lecturer published a book on social work. Clement Attlee, later to become famous as Prime Minister of the 1945 Labour Government, had spent several years after graduating at Oxford serving charities in London’s East End, most notably as secretary of Toynbee Hall. Like most men of his background and generation, he was commissioned in the Great War, and was one of the last to be evacuated from Gallipoli.

I was reminded of Attlee’s book when reading Georgina Brewis’ terrific study of student volunteering in Britain. Brewis shows that the university settlement movement of the late nineteenth century was part of an emerging student associational culture in which voluntary social service started to develop some of the forms of professional social work. She also, incidentally, demonstrates the disproportionate significance of women in the movement.social worker

Attlee’s book can be understood as part of the transition from…

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Government accused of sidestepping questions on possible Orgreave inquiry

The Government has been accused of sidestepping questions about delays into a possible inquiry into the actions of police during the infamous ‘Battle of Orgreave’.

For two years the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been investigating whether officers accused of fitting up striking miners on riot charges, including two from the North East, had a case to answer.

Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, a miner at the time who was at the South Yorkshire coking plant that day in June, 1984, submitted two questions to Home Secretary Theresa May about the matter.

He asked if she would find out when the IPCC would make its decision and what her department knew about the reasons for the delay.

 

 In the Government’s reply, the Home Office said the IPCC had completed its assessment of the events at Orgreave and was taking legal advice before publishing its findings.

In the written reply, signed by Minister Mike Penning, he wrote:

“This has been a very complex exercise which has required the in-depth analysis of a vast amount of documentation from over 30 years ago. As the IPCC is an independent organisation the Government has no control or influence over the date of publication of its findings.”

Mr Anderson commented:

“The government should put “the vast amount of paperwork” in the public domain so that people and Parliament can see if they were misled.

“She sidesteps the second question about exactly what information she has and puts the onus onto an Independent body. Has the IPCC seen all of the paperwork that has not been released and if not why not?”

Orgreave was the scene of some of the bitterest clashes during the year long miners strike of 1984 to 1985.

In all 95 miners were arrested and charged with riot following it, an offence which carries a maximum life sentence.

All the charges were eventually dropped and 39 miners were later awarded £425,000 in compensation amid claims police witnesses gave evidence that had been dictated to them by senior officers as well as perjuring themselves.

It was in 2012 after a TV documentary repeated these allegations in light of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report that the head of South Yorkshire Police referred his own force to the IPCC.

It was South Yorkshire Police which was in control of the crowds at the 1989 FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest where 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death.

It was revealed officers had fabricated evidence – including having statements dictated to them by senior officers – in an attempt to blame the tragedy on the Liverpool fans, the same tactics used against miners at Orgreave five years earlier.

Mr Anderson added:

“(David) Cameron said Sunshine is the best policy. Well come on then, shine a light on this disgraceful chapter in our nation’s history.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 24 Jan 2015

A metalwork instructor in a 1930s British work camp

thelearningprofessor

The last remaining hut from Glenfinart Instructional Centre, sadly demolished in 2011 The last remaining hut from Glenfinart Instructional Centre, sadly demolished in 2011 Back in November, the Dunoon Observer reported on my research into British work camps, focusing mainly on the Glenfinart Instructional Centre in Ardentinny. The Ministry of Labour opened the Centre in 1934 as a summer camp where young unemployed men were ‘hardened’ through a programme of heavy manual labour, supported by health care and a solid diet. Most of the work involved preparing rough scrubland and pasture for planting, and the area is now largely covered by a very attractive forest.

Subsequently, a local reader contacted the paper. Mr Ian MacArthur’s grandfather was manager of the Ardentinny Temperance Hotel during the period when the Centre was open; and his father, John MacArthur, found work in the Centre as an instructor.

In the Dunoon Observer for 12 December 2014, Mr MacArthur described the background to his father’s appointment…

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