A personal ideological history

In my perfect world:

  • all London taxis would be black, and not advertising hoardings,
  • all London buses would be red (and hydrogen powered),
  • and we would have a properly-integrated transport system (where Virgin Trains and Arriva were nowhere to be seen).

As a non-optional extra:

  • the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press would be classed as pornography, confined to newsagent’s top shelves (or, better still, under the counter with a perverts’ permit required).

However, to be positive …

I came into politics via the National Progressive Democrats.

Who? I hear you ask. That needs a bit of explanation.

Once upon a time — actually 1946, Seán MacBride (son of Maud Gonne, Yeats’s inanoramata,  and John MacBride, executed 1916) formed Clann na Poblachta, an awkward and disputatious  conflation of old IRA men and urban social democrats, with — this being Ireland — a heavy dusting of catholicism. Even so, it was a popular — not to say populist — mix. For a while it looked as if it could sweep the country, so De Valera beat MacBride & Co. to the punch and called a General Election. The combined opposition parties then found themselves a majority of Dáil Éireann: a mish-mash of no fewer than five “recognised” parties and the usual slew of independents.

MacBride found himself able to nominate two Cabinet posts. He snaffled Foreign Affairs for himself, and appointed 32-year-old new TD Noël Browne as Minister of Health.

Browne set about building on the Fianna Fáil government’s 1947 Health Act. One radical proposal (this, let me remind you, was Ireland) was a scheme to provide free health care for mothers and children up to the age of sixteen.The medics went ape: their guaranteed fees income was threatened. Most hospitals had a religious foundation. Browne was a Catholic who had attended Trinity College. He had attended the funeral of Douglas Hyde, a protestant and first President of Ireland — he was unique among government ministers for infringing the denominational demarkation. He was a marked man.

The Catholic hierarchy, led by that most political of prelates, John Charles McQuaid, took the hump. Looking after the health and welfare of the young and their mothers went against the Church’s teaching on “faith and morals”. Better believe it.

In short order, Browne was out of the cabinet, and MacBride made sure he was out of the Clann. The coalition were out of government. For a while Browne sat as an independent, and (when he was back in the Dáil at the end of the 1950s), he came to a working relationship with another ex-Clann (social conscience wing) T.D., Jack McQuillan, as the “National Progressive Democrats”. In any other country they could have settled for “Social Democrats”. That gave the two of them a dusty committee-room/office in Leinster House, to which — on occasion — I was welcome.

That was “as Left as you could get” in “proper” Irish politicking in the early ’60s. Further into the howling wilderness were what would later be the “stickies” of Sinn Féin, and their “Wolfe Tone Bureau”. They had their offices at the back of Mountjoy Square — a singularly joyless place at the best of times. From the “stickies” (as opposed to the “provos”, now in Kevin Street) would emerge the Workers Party of Ireland, which I reckon were not —are not — entirely a bad thing.

The point of all this (and I suppose there ought to be one) is to highlight my downfall at the hands of Jeremy Corbyn’s groupule in Hornsey Labour Party, 1982.

When I sought re-selection as a councillor I had to “go before the panel”. I knew it was a pretty hopeless business — I had already been told, fist in my face, that “We’ll fucking get you!”, but I felt obliged to go through the ritual of being got.

It’s worth inserting here that we are going into 1982. The IRA hunger-strike campaign had folded late in the previous October. The Kincora enquiry was being subverted by “official” organised neglect. In February, De Lorean folded. Three days later Harland and Woolff was laying off one-in seven of its workforce. All immaterial: ideological purity must be maintained!

Knowing that I arrived in the (British) Labour Party from Páirtí an Lucht Oibre, with Northern Irish connections, the test question, the shibboleth, was: “Which party would you vote for in Northern Ireland?” The proper, decent, mainstream answer, in a proper, decent, mainstream Labour Party context, of course, is the Labour Party’s fellow in the Socialist International — the SDLP.

That — as I knew, in this heavily-entryist gathering — was the wrong’un.

So, afterwards I checked. I cornered the interrogator: “What was the approved answer there?”. Interestingly enough, there was no hesitation. This was the indicator the charade had been fore-planned. “Oh, Sinn Féin—the Workers’ Party”. A few weeks later, the first two words of the appellation there had been conveniently dropped.

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Filed under History, Labour Party, Northern Ireland, Trinity College Dublin

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