Monday, 19 June 2017
The Long and Winding Road
Ah, the spirit of the Swinging Sixties.
Congratulations to Her Majesty’s new Companions of Honour, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Terence Conran, on having so successfully brought down the British Establishment.
For all its alleged left-wingery, and its ability to annoy the forces of conservatism no end, rock’n’roll was made up of common or garden proto-Thatcherites, often tax exiles.
The only exceptions were David Bowie and Eric Clapton, way out on the Far Right.
The Sixties Swingers hated with a burning passion the Labour Government of 1964 to 1970.
The pirate radio stations were their revolt against its and the BBC’s deal with the Musicians’ Union to protect the livelihoods of that union’s members.
Behind this union-busting criminality was Oliver Smedley, who was later to be a key figure behind the proto-Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs.
Viewers of The Boat That Rocked, now a mainstay of late night television, should consider that the Postmaster General so mercilessly ridiculed in it was in fact Tony Benn, and that the Prime Minister who legislated against pirate radio was Harold Wilson.
Those Swingers used the lowering of the voting age to put what they thought were the Selsdon Tories into office in 1970.
They then went on to entrench their own moral, social and cultural decadence and libertinism, first in the economic sphere during the 1980s, and then also in the constitutional sphere under Tony Blair.
David Cameron accepted uncritically the whole package: moral, social, cultural, economic, and constitutional. Indeed, he embodied it.
The coming Boris Johnson accepts uncritically the whole package: moral, social, cultural, economic, and constitutional. Indeed, he embodies it.
When is this country going to wake up to what has really been happening over the last 50 years?
Of the original 17 Companions of Honour, however, five were trade union leaders, Labour politicians, or both.
A sixth was a leader of the women's suffrage movement which had not at that time attained its objective.
A seventh was soon afterwards to expand her social reforming work into Independent Liberal political activity.
Two more were Liberal Unionists, of whom, by the way, there are arguably now 13 in the House of Commons.
If the industrialist Viscount Chetwynd took the Conservative Whip, then he was the only person on the list who was in any sense politically involved with that party, and even then barely so.
The pattern was set for many decades thereafter: relatively right-wing Labour politicians by pre-Blair standards, a few downright left-wing figures, trade union leaders, upper and upper-middle-class Boadiceas of social reform, luminaries of the Australian Labor and New Zealand Labour Parties, an extremely long-serving editor of the Manchester Guardian, a prominent campaigner on behalf of the rural working class.
Peace activists were notably numerous.
The first Prime Minister of independent Papua New Guinea remains, while the first Prime Minister of independent Trinidad and Tobago was also a member.
There was even an Indian nationalist politician.
The one who had been Prime Minister of Northern Ireland had been a founder-member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, and had gone on to chair it.
There was a distinct preponderance of Nonconformist ministers, as well as towards Scotland and, strikingly in view of its relative smallness within the population, towards Wales.
There were brilliantly maverick clergymen, generally influenced by Tractarianism, such as the Church of England used to produce: Wilson Carlile, Dick Shepherd, Tubby Clayton, Chad Varah.
Varah did not die until 2007, yet he is already an unimaginable figure.
There were plenty of other people, too, including lots of Tories. But the old Radical tradition was very much in evidence.
Alas, no more.