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International Socialism, November/December 1976


Bryan Rees

No Shining Armour


From International Socialism (1st series), No.93, March 1976, pp.30-31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


No Shining Armour
Edward Milne
Platform Books (John Calder Ltd), £1.95

‘Eddie Milne’s No Shining Armour is a shocking book, especially for anyone in the Labour Party who believes in morality in public life. Relentlessly it exposes the way in which elected representatives, especially top Labour politicians, have put personal profit before public responsibility, and how Eddie Milne, 14 years MP for Blyth, was hounded and victimised for exposing the truth, how the exposures were denied and covered up – by the highest in the land. This is the story of the British "Watergate" which every concerned person should read, and it is not only Labour politicians the author attacks!’

So runs the publisher’s description of this fascinating book, the first to come out about the Poulson Affair and related scandals. Unfortunately, unless you got your copy before August 20, the expurgated version will have to suffice as the writs began to fly as soon as the book was published. Certain paragraphs have now been deleted following writs from Mr John

Silkin, Minister of Planning & Local Government, and Mr and Mrs Edward Short, the former Leader of the House of Commons, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and his wife.

Briefly, the book combines autobiographical details of Eddie Milne’s life in the labour movement with his increasing awareness, as an MP, of corruption in the Labour Party in the North East. This was to explode with the Poulson Affair. It is a very personal book and at times bitter. Not without cause, as Milne was literally hounded out of the Labour Party for his stand against corruption; a favourite charge, still mouthed by some who claim to be revolutionaries in the Labour Party, is that he is mad. Not only did the Labour Party turn on him, but his own union, USDAW, also deserted him,

‘The General Secretary, Alfred Allen, had written to tell me that as I had opposed an official Labour candidate at the February General Election, I was no longer on the union’s staff and that my superannuation arrangements covering my pension rights as an USDAW employee would be terminated forthwith.’

It is not surprising that Eddie Milne finds himself in this position.

In attempting to expose the corruption in the North East Labour Party he discovered something much bigger,

‘Almost every facet of public life in Britain was drawn into the net ... Anyone who dared to demand action or investigation was ruthlessly dealt with. People in high places moved in swiftly to protect the wrong-doers and above all to prevent further disclosures.’

From local councillors to Cabinet Ministers, local government officials to the police – no area of ‘public life’ was immune from the influence of Poulson, T. Dan Smith, and Andrew Cunningham. Graft abounded, and it was (and still is) so easy,

‘One could be a Labour councillor voting on public expenditure for these schemes, and at the same time, a private contractor making extremely good profits out of the contract. The safe Labour majorities made the position of both MPs and councillors secure. It was only when Poulson failed to make his business pay that it came to light that not all these profits were open and above board and that bribes, ranging from free holidays to large sums of money, often decided where the contracts went.’

But this is only the tip of the iceberg and it is clear from the book that much remains to be revealed following on from Poulson.

The book’s main defect is that it is too much of a narrative and not enough of it is devoted to analysing why this could, and still does happen in an organisation that claims to be socialist. It is unfortunate that there is no acknowledgement of the work done by Paul Foot in the exposing of Poulson and his cronies. Nevertheless it is well worth reading.

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