Peter Sedgwick

Lidchester Leads the Way

(12 February 1960)

Peter Sedgwick, Lidchester Leads the Way, Clarion 12, February 1960, pp.11 & 12.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We of the newly-formed Lidchester Left Club were particularly struck by the electoral tactics proposed in the first editorial of New Left Review. To quote: “Where the candidates are good, we should concentrate our forces, swing the enthusiasm of a Left Club behind someone who will vote NO to the Bomb, when the rest of the parliamentary fraternity troop through the door into no-man’s land: where the candidate is weak, bad, compromising, we – should withdraw away from political blackmail as if from the plague.”

The recent tragic collision of Daimlers on M1, which sent all four of Lidchester’s M.P.’s to an untimely end, has given us the opportunity to practise the recommended policy in the forthcoming simultaneous by-elections.

Lidchester North’s industrial landscape is dominated by the great Anglo-Oil refinery (see the trenchant exposé in The Pipeliners, ULR 8). The Labour candidate in this constituency is a full-time official of the National Union of Oil Refinery Workers, Councillor Fred Bynne. Here we have a candidate eminently worthy of the New Left’s support. Not only is he an Aldermaston marcher, VFS Executive member, and vehement spokesman for public ownership, he is also one of the most prominent sponsors of the NUORW’s Programme For Oil. As Councillor Bynne remarked in the course of telling a recent strike meeting to go back to work: “The workers of Anglo-Oil are living in fear of the demand by certain NUM officials for the reconversion to coal of oil-fired power-stations. Programme For Oil safeguards their future by demanding the deconversion to oil of all reconverted coal-fired power-stations, and a Government ban on all coal-burning domestic appliances.” We are offering Councillor Bynne our unstinted aid in the hustings, and are confident that the last Labour majority of seventeen thousand will be at least maintained. It is necessary to add that Councillor Bynne is the victim of a smear campaign alleging that Lidchester North is a “pocket borough” of the NUORW on the grounds that he is the ninth official of the Union (including all the past Members) to stand in the Division for Labour since the war. “That is a slander, reports Councillor Bynne. It is true that 200 NUORW delegates turned up at the selection meeting. It is equally true that the average attendance of NUORW delegates to General Management Committee is 0.4. But that is part of the problem of apathy with which we are all confronted nowadays.”

We feel it especially important that the Left Club should identify itself with Councillor Bynne, in order to combat the myth that the New Left holds itself aloof from Industrial Workers.

The contest in Lidchester South is a little more complicated. There the Tory candidate is the diehard Sir Loder Bullshett, treasurer of the Parliamentary Conservative Party’s Central Africa Committee.

Standing for Labour is none other than Mr. Woodby Hulighan, T.V. commentator, Transport House official and Secretary for Colonial War in the Shadow Cabinet. Fortunately we have another candidate, endorsed unofficially by the Left Club itself. The independent Left candidate, Josephus Tomkins (or Joe as he is affectionately known by his comrades), is a Lecturer in Metaphysics at Lidchester University. His pamphlet, A Socialist Babies Plan, proposing the control of population by a joint committee of Government, TUC, and British Employers’ Confederation, was widely acclaimed wherever it was understood. As Joe puts it: “Babies are one of the growing-points of tomorrow in today.” Joe is a keen supporter of Free Cinema, has a splendid collection of vintage Jelly Roll discs, and practically lives in the Barricade (Lidchester’s Left coffee-house). His 40,000-word election address, headlined, Why be Alienated by the Hidden Insiders? is worth quoting. “The blurred image of the corporate elite, buttressed by the lines of mass communication, is matched by no sustaining focus of humanist commitment ... What is more than ever necessary is an eschatological optimism, documenting the blind thrusts and shifts of the Stalemate State, carrying within itself the shaping ambience of community that can alone fire a concrete vision of the future in the here and now ... The behavioural norms projected by the faceless pressures of Denmark St. and Notting Hill must be confronted by the imaginative resistances of the New Left mood.” This forthright statement is followed by a double-page spread in small print showing all the 2,873 interlocking directorships of the Big Five Banks, and photographs of working-class children in slum streets. (These last, by the way, did not go down particularly well among voters, on the curious ground that they could see real working-class children in real slum streets all round them, without the intervention of visual aids).

We urge all sympathetic readers of NLR to come up into Lidchester South to help make the Independent Left turn-out a respectable size. As always on such occasions, these things cost money. We know NLR’s readers are already heavily committed, but we ask professional comrades particularly to levy a Socialist Surtax on themselves, to pay for Joe’s deposit.

Lidchester East has Miss Lettice Bircham as the Conservative candidate. Readers will remember Miss Bircham’s plea, at the Primrose League dinner last year, for the compulsory castration of consenting adult homesexuals, particularly if they were Labour voters (“which”, as she screamed, “they always are!”). Sir Jerry Mander, Assistant Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of General and Allied Workers, is trying to capture this highly marginal seat for Labour. Sir Jerry is just back from the seventeenth recall conference of AUGAW to be summoned on the H-bomb issue, at which he finally managed to get the union’s unilateralist policy countermanded. (The Labour Party Conference was, of course, postponed four times in anticipation that Sir Jerry would be able to swing his delegates next time.) The Liberal candidate, Jeremy Gladstone (scion of an old Radical family), is an outstanding personality. Ex-President of the Cambridge Union and ITV newscaster, Gladstone is a local sponsor of the Movement for Colonial Freedom, and has spoken on CND platforms. He can always be relied on to protest publicly against violations of civil liberty, both in Britain and in the colonies. Although his domestic programme is not very fetching – co-ownership, Free Trade, Government investigation of trade-unions – we are sure that Jeremy Gladstone is, on the grounds recommended in the NLR editorial, our man. He is a thoroughly good chap, and a true radical to boot.

Finally, Lidchester West. Here, we regret to say, there is no candidate with the requisite personal and political characteristics. All are, to quote NLR’s words again, “Weak, bad, compromising.” A Tory Minister of Defence; a Labour renegade from Bevanism, now the most vicious witch-hunter boasted by Transport House; an inveterate Stalinist, Budapest correspondent for the Daily Worker at the time of Nagy’s murder: such are the alternatives presented to the electorate. At one stage there seemed be a way out: a candidate was put up by the Socialist Labour League. Before nomination day, however, the SLL had expelled him for distributing vital documents outside the League (actually it was his election literature) and decided to nominate no one to replace him, in case the misleading impression was fostered that the League was some kind of Party. (The SLL’s withdrawal, incidentally, averted an open split within the Left Club, which had hitherto been torn between those who would vote SLL, and those who would not.)

In the event, the only policy that we can adopt is that of a fighting abstention. We are advising the voters of Lidchester West to spoil their ballot papers, preferably by writing across them some such New Left slogan as: “Community and Culture!”, or “Commitment in Voting!”

In advocating a Labour vote in one constituency, a Liberal vote in its neighbour, an Independent Left vote in another, and positive abstention in a fourth, we shall without doubt be subject to fierce criticism from the Old Left. It is entirely possible that those of us who are Labour Party members may be faced with a united front of Transport House bureaucrats and local party stalwarts, hell-bent on our expulsion. We are not daunted. Once again to quote the editorial: “Socialists should cease to squander their energies upon scoundrels, and should cease to allow them to betray the enthusiasm of the young. They should give or withhold their support by their own choice and according to socialist priorities.”

The mechanical difficulties of implementing the NLR policy, and the strains imposed upon our slender resources, are tremendous. Three separate colours of rosette, Labour, Liberal, and Independent Left, have had to be bought for our active members, who of course must be briefed intensively so that they will not sport the wrong colours in any particular Division. Our only loudspeaker van has been ingeniously equipped with a sliding panel on each flank, so that in any given locality the name of the appropriate candidate may be displayed after the words “VOTE FOR ...” and before the words “... FOR PEACE AND PROSPERITY.” All our helpers must be minutely conscious of the particular boundaries separating one Division from another: a vote won for Labour on the wrong side of a street would mean the squandering of Socialist energies upon a scoundrel.

NLR’s official electoral tactics are thus highly practical. They can be carried out, “in the here and now.” And to us of the Lidchester New Left, this is not merely a matter of tactics, but rather a particular embodiment of a central pre-occupation of many New Left thinkers: the re-creation, in the real Britain of today, of authentic “primary societies.” Charles Taylor has stated (in ULR 5) that “the most urgent job is ... to rescue the old communities, to prevent them sinking into the amorphous mass of the surrounding conurbations.” It is true that the examples which he gives as representing the Socialist’s “most urgent job” are such activities as “rescuing the local theatres, art galleries and museums from financial asphyxiation.” And yet, are not we in Lidchester in our own way “rescuing the old communities” of Lidchester North, Lidchester South, Lidchester East and Lidchester West, each with its own tradition and community-character, yet each increasingly merged in one anonymous neon-lit Subtopian limbo, whose obvious expression is in the dead uniformity of party machines and party loyalties?

For the Old Left, a vote for Labour was a vote for a national movement independently representing the working class as a social and political force. The personalities and principles of the candidates (including the leadership) might be equally repulsive, and those of his Tory or Liberal opponents enlightened and decent as far as they went (which might, in some individual cases, go quite far). Nonetheless, one voted Labour, and, given the courage of one’s convictions, got other people to vote Labour too. The Old Left primitives, unschooled as they were in contemporary thinking, would say that a mass Labour vote is an outstanding index of at least some form of class-consciousness. Reformism (or Labourism as it is now sometimes called), despite its inadequacies and betrayals, is at least a working-class ideology, involving as it does the separate organisation of the workers even for limited ends, and the participation of the trade union movement in national politics. Consequently the Labour Party represents a given stage in working-class consciousness, a stage more advanced than the “Lib-Lab” coalition tactics prevalent in the last century (and now reviving in the present), or than the “business unionism” of the United States. A genuine mass revolutionary movement would be desirable; but in the (partly unavoidable) absence of such a movement the workers need one of the reformist variety. In an electoral battle with the employing class, one would always vote for the “guards’ van of the proletariat,” if it really is of the proletariat, rather than for a politically isolated vanguard without a mass following. And a vanguard is a vanguard whether it calls itself a Party, a League or a Club.

An interesting attitude from a historical point of view, no doubt: but all that kind of stuff seems very far away when one reads the NLR editorial.

Peter Sedgwick


Last updated on 9.11.2004