Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

What Butler is after

(September 1958)

From The Newsletter, 20 September 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

The Tory Government appears to be considering how it can use the race riots to justify bringing in legislation to restrict further the working-class movement.

This would repeat the pattern of 1936, when a period of brawling between fascists and anti-fascists was followed by the passing of the Public Order Act.

Police partiality became notorious in that period. For instance, Mosley held a rally in London’s Albert Hall and members of the audience who heckled were beaten up by blackshirt stewards under the eyes of the police.

The same night, however, a peaceful counter-demonstration held in Thurloe Square was attacked by the police without provocation or warning.

I well remember how, while we were listening to an address from the back of a truck by a pacifist clergyman with a beard, a body of mounted police suddenly charged into us, hitting out in all directions, and I had to clamber over some railings to escape a kicking and plunging police horse.

Gave power to police

The ‘Public Order Act,’ passed allegedly ‘to deal’ with the disorders caused by the fascists, gave power to the police to ban any political processions in a given district and allowed the chairman of a public meeting to ask any constable to demand the name and address of anyone present.

This Act extended that convenient offence of ‘using insulting words and behaviour’ from the metropolis to the rest of England.

It was used in April 1937 to arrest the leaders of the miners’ strike at Harworth (Notts.), who were put away for terms up to two years.

‘Honest Stan’?

Jennie Lee rightly draws attention, in Tribune, to the recent whitewashing treatment given to Stanley Baldwin by the BBC.

This links up with the Press boosting of Bassett’s book about Ramsay MacDonald, and with a number of other phenomena.

A systematic effort is being made, it would seem, to change the picture of British political life in the twenties and thirties which is fixed in the public mind and which presents a certain obstacle to Tory plans for the near future.

People remember that the Tories used the alleged kindly country gentleman Baldwin to put over a confidence trick that resulted in an epoch of frightful poverty for the workers.

They also recall that he was helped by the ‘statesmanlike’ Labour leader MacDonald who, after playing the Tory game inside the party for years, lined up with the Tories openly at the crucial moment.

From the Tory standpoint it is highly desirable that this ‘legend’, as they talk of it, should be obliterated – in order to make it easier for them to get away with the same sort of manoeuvres again.

Gallacher’s tribute

Talking of Baldwin, there should not be forgotten the obituary of that enemy of the working class spoken by the communist MP, William Gallacher, in the House of Commons on December 15, 1947.

Tributes had been paid by the leaders of the Labour, Tory and Liberal parties. Did Gallacher take the opportunity to call, for the uprooting in post-war Britain of everything Baldwin had stood for in the inter-war years?

Did he even perceive an excellent occasion for keeping his mouth shut? No. He took neither course, but delivered himself of the following revealing passage:

‘Let him sleep in peace’

‘Stanley Baldwin was the leader of the Conservative Party: I am a leader of the Communist Party. There was not what might be called much of a political bond between us, but I remember meeting him one night by the tape machine.

‘He appeared to be in a sentimental mood. He commented on some of my Scottish characteristics.

‘Then he told me that he had a Scottish mother and a Welsh father. I told him that I had Scottish mother and an Irish father. That seemed to create, at least, a human bond between us.

‘History will judge him and his life work. Some may praise, some may blame, but here today nothing should be said that could disturb his rest or the minds of those near and dear to him who are mourning his passing.

‘In the quiet countryside beside his Scottish mother and his Welsh father, let him sleep in everlasting peace.’

Last updated on 11.10.2011