Monday, May 5, 2008

A little local difficulty

As the previous postings imply, Malcolm's Sunday mood was irritated and irritating. Blame it on a torn ligament and some genuine pain.

Even scrutinising X-rays (nowadays called up on a computer screen) of the foot and ankle did not lighten the tone. It left Malcolm entranced by the intricacy of countless bones, if chastened by the shadowy revelation of only old injuries, either rugby and motorcycle, but surely self-inflicted.

Later, the memory came to Malcolm of visiting Dinosaur Valley, dragged across the endless, arid monotony of the State of Utah by an enthusiastic daughter, to spend an hour or so with fossils from prehistory. The grey-scale of the screen images seemed curiously of a kind with those skeletal vestiges. Darwin vindicated, again.

It didn't make the foot more comfortable, though.

By late evening Malcolm lost it.

Now Iain Dale has many faults -- many, many faults -- but Malcolm did go a trifle over the top, and on libdemvoice, too. The combination of what and where and how makes him a trifle shame-faced today; but the final uh-oh was to realise he was in harmony with the suphurous Tim Ireland.

The issue in question was the posturing over the candidates for the Crewe and Nantwich by-election: specifically how "local" was the Tory, and whether Tamsin Dunwoody was an in-comer. In short, all the usual gesture-politics. Malcolm suggests that, with two parents in the House (together some four decades), grand-daughter of the formidable Morgan Phillips and the hardly-less-determined Baroness Norah, as well as her own time in the Welsh Assembly, Tamsin might know the score.

The irony is that Iain Dale (born in Essex, resident in Kent) continues to claim he "lived" in North Norfolk when he was the highly-unsuccessful Tory candidate there in 2005 (he increased Norman Lamb's 483 margin in 2001 to a thumping 10,606).

This all prompted Malcolm to make a further claim: that at least he had birth-ties to the North Norfolk constituency.

Norfolk-born, Norfolk-bred ..

Malcolm's alter ego originated in Wells-next-the-Sea, which in those distant days enjoyed the privilege of a Labour MP.
In 1945 Eddie Gooch, of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, displaced the squirarchical Tommy Cook, though the radical tradition had been there even before Noel Buxton took the seat for Labour back in 1929.

The North Norfolk seat later, in 1964, was inherited by Bert Hazell, then President of the NUAW. To Malcolm's delighted surprise, Bertie survives into his 102nd year, and is now the oldest surviving Parliamentarian.

It was always, sneeringly, implied that Eddie Gooch's and Bert Hazell's tenures of the constituency were helped by the local farmers who voted to keep them at Westminster, rather than causing them problems through the NUAW. That canard ignores the local tradition of radicalism, which will now become Malcolm's main theme for Labour Day.

The years the locust ate

Après Bertie, le déluge.

The complexion of the constituency changed. Employment on the land fell rapidly. That also drained much of the bitterness that had persisted since the agricultural depression of inter-war years, and the farm-workers' strikes of 1923 and 1926. Moreover, the second-homers started to arrive.

All conspired so that for the next two decades the North Norfolk constituency was the fiefdom of Ralph Howell.

Howell, like Mandelson, was one to whom taking an instant dislike saved a deal of time.

He was xenophobic, rabid, a Thatcherite before the Lady, an apologist for white racist régimes in Africa, and a supporter of the Turks in Cyprus.

He was instigator of the "Right to Work", which sounds well but (in his terms) amounted to a curious, even Stalinist notion that the unemployed should be conscripted, either into national service or be otherwise deployed by the state. Howell had come close to defining "Workfare".

Yet, he had saving graces: a good war-record, served his constituents conscientiously, was afraid of nobody (even his own Whips): a self-made (and proudly so) agri-businessman.

Then, latterly, North Norfolk got Norman Lamb. And, so far, seems quite taken with him.

George Edwards

Malcolm would like to revert to the peculiar radicalism of the area, if only because it gives him the chance to acknowledge the greatness of the Norfolk working man.

George Edwards was born in Marsham in 1850, into the grinding poverty of farm workers. At the age of six, a child of the Workhouse, he was already in employment, as a human scarecrow. Later, he fell out with his employer, and went to work in the brickfields.

He married, and became a strict Primitive Methodist: two events that together liberated him. His wife, Charlotte Corke, gave him literacy. His faith gave him political and social belief: he was yet another proof of Harold Wilson's maxim that British socialism owes more to Methodism than Marxism.

He was one of a remarkable group of men: "Comrade Joe" Sage of Kenninghall, Will Codling of Briston, George Hewitt at St Faiths, Jimmy Coe at Castle Acre, Bert Harvey at Trunch: each and every one of them black-listed and unemployable among the Norfolk farmers.

Individually and collectively these were the strong shoulders on which the farm-workers' union would be rebuilt, after the 1896 collapse of Joseph Arch's National Agricultural Workers' Union. But Edwards was the main man, on his bicycle across North Norfolk, in fair weather and foul. At first hope was vested in the Liberal Party: the Liberals took every seat in Norfolk in 1906, and Edwards was a County Councillor. Other members of the Union began to be elected to local councils, first as Liberals, then as Labour men.

During the War, the Union won the Wages Board.

In 1920, at the age of 70, George Edwards was in Parliament, as MP for South Norfolk. Conservative pressure had the Wages Board abolished; but George was back in Westminster with the 1923 minority Labour Government to have it restored.

Sam Peel

Wells had its own local champion: Sam Peel, an Methodist evangelist turned Quaker.

The Quakers have been in Wells for over three hundred years: they have a neat little brick-and-flint meeting house on Church Street (see left), doubtless regarded as eminently-convertible among all the nouveau-richery and 4x4s down for the weekend.

Peel, for most Wells folk of Malcolm's childhood, was the personification of Quakery.

What is about printers that they turn radical?

Peel started with a Men's Adult School for the Workers' Educational Association, teaching grown men to read and write. Then Sam was:
  • onto the town Council, attacking slum housing, which meant taking on a whole range of vested interests, including the Holkham Estate of Lord Leicester;
  • on the Executive of the NUAW, and then onto the Wages Council;
  • onto the Board of Guardians, arguing for improved support for widows;
  • onto the local Bench of Magistrates;
  • running the local War Pensions committee.
In 1920 he was elected to the County Council, effectively on a platform of housing and health, but soon switched to education: he was Chairman of Education for the County for 23 years.

Sam was universally and properly admired and honoured, a rumpled and cherubic rustic Clem Attlee. He was not necessarily equally liked.

He remained a staunch supporter of temperance, but presided at the Magistrates' bench at Walsingham for the brewster sessions. He regularly set up his soapbox on the Quay at Wells, to denounce the demon drink. Wells, which still boasted over a dozen pubs in the post-WW2 period, was -- as the old street maps of lanes and ginnels show -- a Viking town. Local tendencies ran more to rapine and pillage, washed down with quantities of Bullards, Steward and Patteson, or (in cases of desperation, Morgans from Ted Stenning at the Vine in High Street): and that was only the distaff side.

Still, he was one of an Olympian kind that long since went out of production: decently, they named the local secondary school for him.

All in all, Bank Holiday Monday has been
a less painful, more reflective day
for our resident philospher ...

... though any posting that involves
both dinosaurs and Tories
severely tempts fate.

Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

yourcousin said...

Sorry to hear of your injury. Hope you'll be feeling better soon.

Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites