Saturday, 30 April 2016
Shameful History of Political Discrimination by Building Companies in UKAT 4pm today, press releases have been issued by construction firms and unions involved in the blacklisting High Court trial indicating that blacklisted workers represented by the GMB, UCATT and Gurney, Clark & Ryan solicitors have settled their claims (full text of press releases below). Despite the settlements, the High Court trial is still continuing with UNITE the Union still going to court. Computer experts from UNITE were at Balfour Beatty today investigating an internal database of workers held at the company's head offices in Glasgow. The estimated level of compensation for all the claims settled to date is in the region of £50m.
Steve Acheson - chair of Blacklist Support Group & blacklisted electrician from Manchester commented:
'For more than 40 years, they were blacklisting us with impunity.
7 years ago when the files were discovered these firms denied everything and offered us nothing.
2 years ago, their misnamed compensation scheme offered most people £1,000
These wretches have now been forced them to pay out millions in compensation, combined with legal bills for 4 sets of lawyers this will cost them close to a quarter of a billion pounds. That's a big kick in the profit margin.
'It was the hard work and tenacity of rank & file activists that has brought this human rights conspiracy into the political discourse. What has already been achieved is a massive victory for the trade union movement but the fight is not over yet. Blacklisted workers may have won compensation but this is a long way from justice.
'The construction firms may "wish to draw a line under this matter" but for blacklisted workers this is still unfinished business. Until such time that the full conspiracy is exposed and those responsible for the human rights abuse are called to account in a court of law, we will never stop fighting.'
Claimants’ press statement - Issued by GCR, GMB, UCATT
Leigh Day (instructed by the GMB), OH Parsons (Instructed by UCATT) and GCR today announce that they have settled their outstanding claims in the Construction Industry Vetting Information Group Litigation.
The claims were brought against Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI and concerned the activities of the Services Group of the Economic League and the Consulting Association.
The litigation arose after the activities of the Consulting Association were revealed following a raid by the Information Commissioner in February 2009.
GMB, UCATT and GCR commenced the litigation to protect the interests of their members and clients.
In October 2015, these construction companies openly acknowledged that the system was unlawful and made a full public apology, which was widely reported at the time.
UCATT, GMB and GCR have accepted this apology on behalf of their clients.
The construction companies have offered financial settlements which all Claimants represented by UCATT, GMB and GCR have now accepted as fair and reasonable. The parties have also agreed a joint statement to be read in Court as part of this settlement. The construction companies have also agreed to pay the Claimants’ legal costs.
Given that there remains outstanding litigation between the construction companies and other litigants, with a trial due to start on 9 May 2016, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this stage.
Defendants’ press statement
Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI today announce that they have settled the litigation between them and individuals represented by UCATT, GMB and GCR regarding the activities of the Economic League and the Consulting Association.
In October 2015, these construction companies, unlike any other companies involved in the vetting system, openly acknowledged that the system was unlawful in various respects and made a full public apology, which was widely reported at the time.
UCATT, GMB and GCR have accepted this public apology.
The construction companies have offered financial settlements which all Claimants represented by UCATT, GMB and GCR have now accepted as fair and reasonable. The parties have also agreed a joint statement to be read in Court as part of this settlement.
These construction companies now wish to draw a line under this matter and continue to work together with the trade unions at national, regional and site level to ensure that the modern UK construction industry provides the highest standards of employment and HR practice for its workforce.
Blacklist Support Group
Monday, 25 April 2016
Vote Leave silly Ass - Dominic Cummings
IT's been a pretty bad couple of weeks for the pro-leave 'Brexit' campaigners, with U.S. President, Barack Obama, telling the British public that Britain would be in the back of the queue in trade negotiations with the U.S. if it votes to leave the E.U. In addition, pro-leave Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, recently announced that if Britain leaves the EU, Brits may have to apply for visas when travelling or holidaying in other EU countries. If this wasn't bad enough, 'Vote Leave's' campaign director, Dominic Cummings, made an ass of himself when he appeared before a Treasury select committee last week. When asked about the accuracy of 'Vote Leave's' figures on it website, he told the committee - "Accuracy is for snake-oil pussies... And besides, I've got a really bad memory." To top it all, some of the pro-leave camp, such as the the Labour MP, Gisela Stuart - born and raised in Bavaria Germany - are now calling on the Home Secretary to ban Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, from entering Britain to support the Brexit campaign.
Some pundits take the view that the EU referendum is a bit of a sideshow offered to get the Tories re-elected at the last election and that Obama's recent trip to Europe, was basically to finalise negotiations on the neo-liberal'Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership'(TTIP) the U.S. / E.U. trade deal, that is being pushed by Britain's Conservative government. The trade deal which was dreamt up by corporate lobbyists, involves a radical agenda for further deregulation and privatization across Europe. If TTIP is adopted, businesses would be able to sue national government's under the 'Investor-State Dispute Settlement' (ISDS), if they felt laws, such as social and environmental protections, were 'unfair'. Although other European countries have expressed concern about TTIP's corporate court system, David Cameron's Tory government, have secretly written to the European Commission, demanding that it be retained.
The following analysis is taken from the 'Monday Briefing', a personal view by Deloitte chief economist, Ian Stewart:-
* Last week was a good one for the 'remain' camp in the UK's EU referendum campaign. The Treasury published an analysis of the economics of leaving the UK which concluded that a Brexit would involve significant net costs for the UK. Later in the week US President Barack Obama warned that outside the EU the UK would be "at the back of the queue" for a trade deal with the US.
* But where does public opinion stand?
* No opinion polls had, as of Sunday evening, been released which covered the period following President Obama's comments on the risks of Brexit. But even before the President's comments the lead for the remain camp had widened.
* Taking an average of the six major polls published up to 19th April, adjusted for the removal of the 'don't knows', the remain vote stood at 54% and the 'leaves' at 46%. This is the widest lead for remain since 23rd February.
* This is a snapshot of public opinion. But taking a longer perspective on the opinion polls what lessons emerge?
* First, polls carried out by different pollsters frequently give different results. Thus ComRes and ICM both conducted polls between the 8th and 10th April. ComRes gave remain a seven percentage point lead; ICM put leave three percentage points ahead. This difference reflects a wider conundrum. On-line polls tend to show a stronger showing for the leaves than telephone polls. Unfortunately we don't know which approach is right, something that introduces a further uncertainty into gauging public opinion.
* Second, public opinion is changeable. Last summer, a poll by IPSOS Mori, one of the most longstanding pollsters on the EU issue, showed that 66% of UK voters support EU membership, the highest reading in more than 35 years. Since then there has been a reduction in the lead for remain, probably partly in response to the migration crisis. Our calculations show that, on average, remain had a three percentage point lead over leave in April's polls so far, down from 14 percentage points in June of last year. More recently, in the space of just over four weeks, between 10th January and 14th February, the lead for the remain camp using a smoothed, six-poll average, went from 10 percentage points to zero.
* Third, UK public opinion often shifts in tandem with the relative economic fortunes of the UK and of its major EU partners. In 1975, at the time of the last UK referendum on membership of what was then the European Economic Community, the UK was the "sick man of Europe", wracked by high inflation and low growth. To a troubled UK Germany offered a model of prosperity and stability. In 1975 the electorate voted by 67% to 33% to stay in, a level of support which, as far as we can tell, has never been repeated. UK public support for the EU also surged in the early 1990s as the UK fell into recession and Germany boomed in the wake of reunification. Conversely the euro crisis of 2011-13 saw UK public opinion turn cooler on membership of the EU.
* Fourth, support for the EU is lowest among less affluent voters. Currently support for remaining in the EU is running at just 32% among skilled and unskilled manual labourers and the unemployed. More educated, affluent voters tend to be strongly pro-EU.
* Fifth, young voters, those aged 18 to 24, tend to support EU membership, with April's polls showing support running at around 60%. Older voters, those aged 60 and above, are more sceptical, with support for remaining currently at 32%.
* Sixth, unsurprisingly, views on Europe vary by political affiliation. A majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters favour remaining in the EU. Only 37% of Conservative supporters polled in April would vote to remain in the EU. Puzzlingly, an average of 6% of UKIP supporters polled so far this month say they would vote to remain in the EU. Voters in Scotland and London tend to show higher levels of support for the EU than other regions. The former is in marked contrast to the referendum in 1975 when Scotland was resolutely Eurosceptic and the Scottish National Party campaigned to leave the EEC.
* What is clear, and last year's General Election result demonstrated this, is that political polling is not a precise science. BBC's analysis of data from 92 opinion polls carried out in the run up to the election showed 56% had predicted a Labour lead rather than a Conservative majority.
* There are, of course, other measures that can be used to assess the likely outcome of the referendum.
* As of Friday, the odds offered by bookmaker Paddy Power implied a 33% chance of Brexit. It seems probable that betting markets are focussed on the significant number of don't know voters, averaging at 15% in April's polls so far, and expect a repeat of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, where the don't knows tended to go with the status quo.
* In its April issue of economic forecasts, Consensus Economics polled economists on the likely outcome of the EU referendum. Both UK and euro area economists assign the same probability to Brexit at 41%, a rather higher figure than betting markets.
* Turnout will be key. Older people are more likely to vote than the young. In both the Scottish referendum and the General Election, older voters strongly favoured the 'no' campaign and the Conservatives respectively. Given younger voters are more likely to vote for remaining in the EU, a low turnout will favour the leave camp while a high turnout should favour the remain camp. But, as post-summer and recent moves in polls suggest, public opinion is volatile and susceptible to outside events.
* To keep abreast of the latest polling trends we have the found the following websites useful: The National Centre for Social Research - http://whatukthinks.org/eu/ and its poll of polls - http://whatukthinks.org/eu/opinion-polls/poll-of-polls/ The IPSOS Mori polling data - https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2435/European-Union-membership-trends.aspx The Economist's poll tracker - http://www.economist.com/Brexit
Sunday, 24 April 2016
by Brian Bamford
Reviews: 'The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the
Reviews: 'The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the
British Anarchists' by John Quail, published by Freedom Press  price £15.,
and 'Aspects of Anarchism' published by the
and 'Aspects of Anarchism' published by the
Anarchist Federation price £1. Both available from
Freedom Press: 84b, Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX.
IN concluding his book 'The Slow Burning Fuse; The Lost History of the British Anarchists', John Quail writes:
'...the anarchists of England have paid for the gap between their day-to-day activities and their utopian aspirations. This gap consists basically of a lack of strategy, a lack of sense of how various activities fit together to form a whole, a lack of ability to assess a general situation and initiate a general project which is consistent with the anarchist utopia, and which is not only consistent with anarchist tactics but inspires them.'
Mr. Quail admits that 'Such general Anarchist projects have existed, perhaps the best examples being the anarcho-syndicalist trades unions of Spain and France.'
In his Forword to the Freedom Press 2014 edition of Quail's book Nick Heath* writes 'I would take issue, as very much an organisational anarchist, with some of (Quail's) comments on organisation in his conclusion.'
John Quail's book fundamentally emphasises the reactionary nature of English anarchism: only capable of responding in a series of fits-and-starts to specifically social and political conditions. In contrast to Quail, Mr. Heath no doubt believes what is documented in his Anarchist Federation's pamphlet 'Aspects of Anarchism' (2003) that 'The structure (of an anarchist communist organisation) must increase the ability of the organisation to perpetuate itself while its ends remain un-realised'.
The historical characteristic of the British left in general has been to react to the agenda set by the establishment and initiatives developed by governments. The Anarchist Federation in Britain is well within this defensive tradition of reactionary responses as is shown in their pamphlet under review 'Aspects of Anarchism' in the closing paragraphs of this booklet under the subheading 'Our Role' the author writes: 'Large demonstrations and strikes can often turn to violence and we should accept the need for self-defence.'
Or the author writes: 'In non-revolutionary periods anarchist communists will be a conscious minority with “the leadership of ideas”.'
There is much talk of 'revolution' here, but the writer mentions 'self-defence' because the nature of British politics is so much about reacting to the authorities in a tactical way rather than developing a serious strategy for social change. And in the very next sentence the writer continues: 'Groups like the hit squads arising from the miners strike (1984-5) are genuine expressions of working class resistance.' And then the writer goes on to argue 'we will need to defend ourselves against the violence of our enemies.' This is all about 'defence' and 'resistance' not about a pro-active program for social transformation, what's so revolutionary about that?
The fact is that this is typical of the British left over the ages, and of the most memorable struggles in this country from the General Strike of 1926, to the Peace Movement of the 1960s, to the Miner's Strike of 1984-5, have been reactionary in that they have been responses to the actions of governments.
Much of the rest of the AF's pamphlet in an act of belief in commitment or act of faith and of solving the problem of 'other minds', or as the writer puts it:
'Determination and Solidarity: To create effective organisations we must know our own and other's [sic] minds, therefore there must be a high degree of communication, of sharing. We must set about creating aspiration, setting achievable targets, celebrating success, rededicating ourselves again and again to the reasons why we have formed or participate in organisation.'
When at random I compare this kind of feeble analyse to an interview in 1977, between the Spanish anarchist, Juan Garcia Oliver entitled 'My revolutionary life' the nature of the abstraction of 'Aspects of Anarchism' becomes clear. When the questioner, Freddy Gomez asks 'What were the circumstances in which you became active in the libertarian movement and the CNT?'
Garcia Oliver answers: 'We need to be precise about this. The idea of the “libertarian movement” surfaced well after the period we are talking about. The CNT, on the other hand, was a long-established battle organisation which in those days marshalled revolutionary syndicalists, especially in Catalonia and therefore throughout Spain. I join as a 17 year old. I was working in the hospitality trade, as cafe waiter. We had just seen the “La Canadiense” strike which is still famous because it was handled to perfection and won by the CNT's Light and Power Union.'
For people like Nick Heath they want to create an organisation or anarchist movement before there are anarchists, were as Garcia Oliver realises that it is in the practical life of the social body of the working class that anarchists are formed and from which the political organisation may then arise. I became an anarchist out of my experiences in the national strikes of engineering apprentices in the early 1960s; those experiences showed me first-hand how the bosses operated, and how the trade union officials and the local politicians operated, just as Garcia Oliver learnt through his experiences in the strikes of waiters for the abolition of tipping.
The point is the theory and the ideas evolve out of the shopfloor struggle. It is this half-baked idea of the struggle developing out of the theory that is wrong with the approach of the Anarchist Federation: theirs is a form of cookbook anarchism in which the chef knows best.
The dispute over what Peter Kropotkin stood for 'anarcho-communism', and what Bakunin believed 'collectivism', according to the anthropologist Gerald Brenan in his 'The Spanish Labyrinth' (1962), divided the Regional Federation of Spanish anarchists in 1888: the argument was about whether anarchist organisations should consist just of convinced Anarchists or if all workers should be included if they were willing to join. Brenan writes:
'...with the introduction of Anarcho-Syndicalism in 1909, it was finally decided in accordance with Bakunin's ideas, the question of the nature of the future form of society became less importance.'
It is necessary to mention that this Spanish experience because the history of anarchism there is significant as a consequence of its success in that country. Garcia Oliver responding to a question about the time when in about 1920 he joined the anarchist 'Bandera Negra' about 'some sort of understanding between syndicalists and anarchists' said: 'We were still a long way from what came later – anarcho-syndicalism – which overcame this dichotomy. Anarcho-syndicalism allowed anarchism to become part and parcel of trade unionist groups which were imbued with anarchist thinking'. Garcia Oliver said that he had joined 'Bandera Negra' by mistake and implies that at that time he ought to have been more syndicalist or 'revolutionary syndicalist', because 'Bandera Negra' (Black Flag) 'spent its time liaising – nationally and internationally – with other groups and its main activity was reading incoming correspondence and replying to it.' The Spanish 'Bandera Negra', according to Garcia Oliver, like the Anarchist Federation was firmly against trade unionism and the CNT.
John Quail recalls the International Anarchist Congress of 1881 in London thus:
'The International Congress was basically an affair of and for Continental and Russian revolutionaries. The minutes ... reveal that the English delegates played little part; yet many of the people involved were ... exiles in London and the British socialists that a more sophisticated libertarian philosophy was to develop relevant to British conditions.'
Brenan has written of the same 1881 Congress;
'The Spanish delegate, when he went back to Madrid, took several new ideas with him. (But) Spaniards lived then at a great distance from the rest of Europe. Besides, anarchism had still a large proletarian following. Under such conditions terrorist action was madness and would not find any encouragement among workers. The new Regional Federation had in any case no need to appeal for violent methods. Its progress during the first year or two of its existence was rapid. A Congresss held in Seville in 1882 represented some 50,000 workers, of whom 30,000 came from Andalusia and most of the rest from Catalonia.'
In England, John Quail has demonstrated in his conclusion:
'The anarchist movement in England has shown itself capable of a progression of initiatives taken according to circumstances. Take, for example, the beginnings of the squatters movement in London.'
Quail realises that the English anarchists are prisoner's of historical circumstances when he argues 'it is only when anarchist strategies develop [and] move from pin-prick defiance and piecemeal defence to confront and change all this that the anarchist movement will make history instead of being dependent on it.' But this is true of the British left in general and even the trade unions, nay especially the British trade unions in this country, in so far as they are always reacting to events. Perhaps it is because he now sees change in this respect as such an hopeless expectation in this country that I understand Mr. Quail is no longer sees himself as an anarchist. As one northern anarchist once said to me: 'Each new batch of English anarchists have to learn the same old lessons every few decades, until in the end some of them give it up as a bad job.'
Starting in 1881, Quail identifies 'the first systematic propaganda defining itself as anarchist that had any effect within the (English) socialist movement came from America the shape of Benjamin Tucker's paper Liberty'. It seems that Liberty was a 'lively and far ranging and even (Tucker) was prepared to give space for the Anarchist Communist view', though according to Quail, Tucker had 'a good eye for revolutionary humbug'. And, on the English left there is so much 'humbug' about.
John Quail then goes on to remind us that '[t]he introduction of specifically anarchist ideas into the working class movement was thus going on well before the alleged Year One of English anarchism, 1886, which saw the foundation of Freedom.' (p37) (Freedom was finally closed down in 2014, and since then there has been an ongoing disputes between those who scuttled the ship of Freedom and their critics).
In conclusion Quail [page 333] writes:
'The anarchists have since shown the same astonishing ability to suddenly come from nowhere when everyone had assumed that they were finished... A new movement emerged out of CND and the Committee of 100 and to dispersed. The student movement of the 1960s again showed strong libertarian proclivities. And that too seems to have disappeared. I do not propose to talk about these movements in this book... A bare mention, however, is sufficient to bear out the general thesis that has emerged throughout the book that the anarchist movement grows in times of popular self-activity, feeds it and feeds off it, and declines when that self-activity declines.'
In contrast to Quail, Nick Heath wants to keep the anarchist movement alive in the fallow years with what he calls the 'leadership of ideas'. John Quail's book is very London oriented and it fails to include what the northern anarchist James Pinkerton sometimes called the 'anarchist fellow travellers': for in the same way that some say 'Christianity doesn't depend on the Christians', so very often anarchism doesn't depend upon the anarchists, as people like Colin Ward seems to have been aware. William Morris was close to anarchism politically but his influence was larger than mere politics and people like both Quail and Heath will both tend to overlook the 'Arts and Crafts movement' intellectually dominated by Morris, John Ruskin's ideas and the development of the National Trust, and self-help societies, and other kinds of cultural and intellectual spin-off.
Colin Ward's ideas developed in around 1960 is a more recent example of this approach, which in those days he described as 'permanent protest' or as some claim 'revisionist anarchism'. In a soon to be published memoir by the veteran anarchist Laurens Otter writes: 'Colin (while retaining the term Revisionist Anarchism) was by 1961 defining his aim as “widening the sphere of freedom”.' Mr. Otter then writes: 'Ward's then desired journal (which became “Anarchy: a journal of anarchist ideas”) would from its beginning reject any belief in progressive fundamental change.'
These ideas of Colin Ward contrast not just with the kind of intellectual bigotry of Nick Heath and the the more refine historical determinism of John Quail, but also with the whole of left-wing ideology in this country. This rupture which Colin Ward developed in the 1960s can best be understood by considering what George Orwell has to say in his essay 'Writers and Leviathan' (1948):
'The whole of left-wing ideology, scientific and Utopian, was evolved by people who had no immediate prospect of attaining power. It was therefore, an extremist ideology, utterly contemptuous of kings, governments, laws, prisons, police forces, armies, flags, frontiers, patriotism, religion, conventional morality, and, the whole existing scheme of things.'
Anarchism, like the rest of the British left, inherited a certain evolutionary faith associated with the Whig theory of history, or as George Orwell writes:
'Moreover the Left had inherited from Liberalism certain distinctly questionable beliefs, such as the belief that the truth will prevail and persecution defeats itself, or that man is naturally good and is only corrupted by his environment.'
Elsewhere, Orwell points out in his essay 'Inside the Whale' (1940) that no 'real revolutionary feeling' had not existed for years and that the 'pathetic membership of all extremist parties show this clearly'. In that situation the British Communist Party became a subservient tool of Russian foreign policy and the rest of the left became for most part insignificant.
It seems to me that it is hard to see how English anarchists can escape the 'fate of history' or what Mr. Quail calls 'its pin-prick defiance and piecemeal defence' anymore than the British left can transform itself from the perpetual reactionary role of resisting changes imposed by the British establishment. Mr. Heath and his Anarchist Fed. show no sign of capturing the public imagination with his own belief in what Wyndham Lewis once called the 'associational habit' of membership organisations.
The Spanish anarchists, as Garcia Oliver says, benefited from having the trade union 'battle ground' of the CNT, and British anarchism gained vast influence when it had the peace movement to work inside in the 1960s. Today, anarchism lacks any focus or serious social movement to seriously promote its energies, in that situation some of us have found it more prudent to adopt politics with a regional tinge.
* Nick Heath leads a small sectarian grouping called variously the Anarchist Federation or A.fed. which grew up in the 1980s. Unlike John Quail, he does not embrace the broader Church of British anarchism.
Saturday, 23 April 2016
Did you know our Co-op is at risk?
THE Co-operative has always been different. It’s always been owned by its members, which means that it’s not just another grey PLC with the usual disinterested shareholders.
Because it is owned by its members, we have always been able to trust it.
That is why we – and this includes many Unite members who work in it - don’t want that change.
However, while all eyes are on May’s elections and the EU referendum, the Co-operative Group is once again calling a vote that would change the Co-op forever – but not for the better.
Starting this week, millions of individual members of the Co-operative Group will have a vote on whether or not to continue their historic partnership with the Co-operative Party.
If you’re a Co-op member - if you shop or bank at the Co-op - a ballot paper could be arriving any day either in the post or by email.
On behalf of your union, Unite, I urge you to vote to Keep it Co-op and vote in favour of motion 12.
We believe that if support for the Co-operative Party comes to an end there will be one less voice in Parliament speaking up for our communities and one less organisation telling big business it can’t have it all its own way.
So whether you are eligible to vote or not, please sign up at the ‘Keep it Co-op’ website to call upon the Co-op Group to maintain its radical, progressive roots, with a democratic voice for its members and staff, and a powerful voice in changing politics.
It’s vital we ensure that voice remains. Last year, thousands of people rallied around, voting resoundingly to keep the link between the Co-operative Group and the Co-operative Party.
Let’s ‘Keep it Co-op’ again.
Yours in solidarity,
Unite general secretary
Unite general secretary
by Les May
Editors Note: Les May wrote this review exclusively for our current edition of Northern Voices No.15, which was published in April of this year. He had in 2014 also written a review on Amazon. The interesting thing about these reviews is that, with the exception of a review by Nicholas Blincoe* in the Daily Telegraph also in 2014, they are so far as we know the only critical reviews of the book 'Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith' by Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker.
Since the book by the Rochdale M.P. Simon Danczuk was publish there has been much acclaim for what Mr. Danvczuk has had to say from pundits in the media and politicians of all complexions. The effect of Mr. Danczuk's book when it was first published by Biteback publishers was massive and almost unbelievable given its patently poor quality in research terms. John Walker who was the former co-editor of the Rochdale Alternative Paper (RAP), which in May 1979 first exposed the ultra vires conduct of Cyril Smith at Cambridge House, described the prose of Danczuk and Baker as 'flowery flannel'.
I must declare an interest here because the idea to produce a biography of Cyril Smith was mine which I disclosed to my friend John Walker and he then suggested we get Simon Danczuk to write an introduction and to help us find a publisher. I am an anarchist and ought to have logically exercise prudence whe deal with any party politician, but John has been a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party and has already published one book, I therefore left it to him to negotiate with Mr.Danczuk. Neither of us had had any previous dealings with Simon Danczuk, but it quickly became apparent that Simon Danczuk was interested in making money out of the Cyril Smith book and this appalled John Walker, when he later at my house in Castleton, Rochdale, told me of it how Simon would mimic Cyril's gate rolling across the screen for a docu-drama. In January 2013, as we ate our paella a la valenciana at my house following John's meeting with Simon and Matthew Baker, we struggled to come to terms Simon Danczuk's idea of turning the whole child abuse scandal into a melodrama for television. Up to that time John had met with Danczuk about six times in London, on at least one time in the House of Commons Bar. John told me that during their meeting, that Matthew Baker had seemed to be mainly interested in trying to squeeze information out of him, and that judging by Karen’s body language there seemed to be some animosity between Karen Burke (Danczuk’s wife) and Matthew Baker.
The visit to Danczuk’s office had not been successful, and sometime later in London, John Walker was approached by Mr. Baker and asked if he still intended to produce a book on Cyril Smith, to which he said that he wasn’t. Then we waited to see how they would handle the material, especially with regard to the fact that when he was at Cambridge House he was a prominent member of the Labour Party in Rochdale, and that when in the later 1960s Cyril had been investigated by the police Jack McCann the then M.P. for Rochdale had intervened on his behalf with the DPP. There is also even speculation that perhaps the then Labour Home Secretary, James Callaghan, got involved, as Mr. McCann was close to him.
Brian Bamford (October 2015)* Nicholas Blincoe is an English author, critic and screenwriter. He is the author of six novels, Acid Casuals (1995), Jello Salad (1997), Manchester Slingback (1998), The Dope Priest (1999), White Mice (2002), Burning Paris (2004). Blincoe was born in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1965. After briefly studying art at Middlesex Polytechnic he attended the University of Warwick where he studied Philosophy, gaining a PhD in 1993. The thesis was entitled Depression and Economics. The thesis explored the relationship between political sciences and economic theories, with particular reference to the philosophy of Jacques Derrida.
'Reviewing Cyril Smith's Lucrative Smile' by Les May (First published in print in Northern Voices No.15):A half a century ago an overweight Labour councillor in his mid thirties took it upon himself to act as disciplinarian and medical inspector at a hostel for young men. The man's name was Cyril Smith and the hostel was Cambridge House in Rochdale. The consequences of this decision took some sixteen years to emerge in the form of a detailed and well researched article in Rochdale Alternative Paper (RAP), one of those non-mainstream newspapers which emerged in the 1970s.
In the 1979 pre-election issue of RAP the story of Cyril's penchant for looking at young men's genitals and spanking their bare backsides was revealed to anyone in Rochdale who could afford a few new pence for the paper. Cyril threatened to sue, then quietly backed down, Private Eye and New Statesman ran pieces, and the rest of the press ignored it. At the election, Cyril, who by now had defected to the Liberal party, was returned to Parliament.
I bought 'Smile for the Camera' by Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker having been taken in by the hype surrounding it. So confidently did Mr Danczuk present his story of 'Cyril Smith the paedophile' at book readings, at press conferences and to any media outlet that would listen, that I assumed it was filled with solid evidence that Cyril continued and extended his sordid activities after the closure of Cambridge House in the mid 1960s. It isn't.
Instead what we have are a series of assertions and opinions by the authors, gossip, second and third hand stories which originated in pub bars, supposedly verbatim accounts of conversations which took place thirty odd years ago, accounts which we are led to believe are the authentic voices of men who had unpleasant encounters with Cyril yet which have a strange sameness about them, few definite dates and a garbled chronology, the same story apparently told more than once, misquotation of documents, a seeming absence of proper methodology and no indication of how many men they interviewed who claimed to have been abused by Cyril.
Feeling somewhat peeved at having wasted my money on such dross, I twice challenged the authors in a local newspaper about the apparent lack of methodology and how many men had been interviewed before this book was written, who claimed to have been abused by Cyril after the closure of Cambridge House. Having received no answer on either occasion I wrote to Mr Danczuk on 9 October 2014 asking him the same question. Again he declined to answer. On 24 October at one of his book readings he was asked the same question. Still Mr Danczuk refused to answer. Why the coyness? Perhaps the answer would be embarrassingly small.
The question of 'how many' comes to mind repeatedly, because some of the stories about Cyril's activities appear to be recycled. For example the same story about one resident fleeing the hostel after being beaten by Cyril appears on pages 51 and 93, leaving the impression that they are separate incidents. Another example, complete with garbled chronology, appears on pages 50 and 109.
We now know Lancashire Police investigated Smith's activities at Cambridge House in 1969 and that in March 1970 a file was submitted to the DPP containing complaints from eight young people about indecent assaults by him. The GMP update containing this information does not detail any other group of complainants. But similar stories about 'police files' appear in the book on pages 45, 47 and 51, again leaving the impression that they refer to separate complaints. But do they?
Some of the strangest passages in the book appear in the three chapters headed 'Silent Voices'. Ostensibly these are accounts in their own words of the experiences of three men at the hands of Cyril Smith.
Here are a few samples ostensibly from two men assaulted in the 1960s;
It was said that Leonardo da Vinci would gaze at the stains on walls and imagine vivid battles and landscapes. That day cheap exuberant motifs gave way to a swarm of angry locusts bringing a load of plague and pestilence. p87
The all-nighters at the Twisted Wheel club in Manchester were legendary. Hard rhythm and blues, rare soul and American imports: it was the best music you'd hear anywhere in the north of England. p119
You may wonder whether, if you were reporting having your backside wacked by a bully when you were a teenager half a century ago, you would include passages like these in your account.
It doesn't stop there. Contrast this description by the first of these men describing the assault by Smith;
Above his heavy breathing I could smell his rancid body odour. It was like cabbage boiled in vinegar. As his heavy breathing slowed, a continuous low sound rose in his chest like a purr of contentment. p92 and a few lines later
His humming was louder now, broken every now and then by strange squeals of pleasure. p92
with an account which does not appear in the book but was sent to me in June 2014 by a man who was also assaulted at Cambridge House;
During the time I was a resident, (from late ‘61/early ‘62 to late ‘63/possibly early ‘64), on two occasions I was subjected to Smith’s bogus ‘medicals’. During one of these I was asked to take down my trousers and underpants, turn round with my back to him, bend over, then hold my buttocks apart, while he ‘inspected’ me. On another I had to, again, lower my trousers and underpants and Smith started poking and prodding and I was then told to cough while Smith held my genitals.
These two men may even have met each other at Cambridge House and are describing similar events. But whilst the account in the book is dramatic, 'white knuckle' or even vaguely pornographic, the second is hesitant and matter of fact.
Now I do not doubt the two men at the centre of the accounts given in the book were spanked by Smith just as they say they were. But I don't think that we are reading their own unvarnished words on the subject. One of them says;
Cyril couldn't have abused all these boys on his own. He had a team of people behind him. They were all in on it. p131
How convenient for the authors that he volunteered his opinion in this way! How nicely
it 'corroborates' the opinion of another of their informants;
Digan, like others, is of the view they (paedophile gangs that is) were encouraged and protected by Cyril Smith. p115.
We'll meet Mr Digan later. But for the moment we'll note that these are opinions not facts.
The third 'Silent Voice' is perhaps the strangest. Essentially it is a 'kiss and tell story', though it is not presented that way.
In 1979 a young man of 16 meets Cyril and becomes involved in Liberal politics. The RAP article spilling the beans on Cyril's antics at Cambridge House appears just before the election, but he is happy to join Cyril's election campaign and soon becomes 'a close member of his team'. Payback time comes when Cyril starts to grope him. So what does he do, walk away immediately? No! He continues to work with Cyril until 1982. Now he feels a sense of shame for letting it happen, but to his great credit refuses to let his life be taken over by hate.
This is a sad story. Cyril does not emerge as a very nice man, even in the dirty world of party politics. But not being very nice isn't a crime. At a personal level he is exploitative and clearly takes advantage of this young man. Yet, like the two earlier stories, it's not paedophilia.
So why do the authors use it to treat us to passages like this?
In the years that followed, Cyril repeatedly used me to satisfy his perverse cravings. He treated me like a sex object. p153
As we read this would our feelings be the same if it was about a fifty plus Celia Smith with her 'toy boy'? Are we being subtly invited to a bit of 'queer bashing'?
If you find such an idea offensive how about this?
Cyril, he said, liked them young with tight sphincter muscles. When their sphincter became looser as they got older, he would ditch them. p210
'I can't forget the graphic detail,' Foulston tells me, 'I was disgusted.' p210
Was the intention to leave the reader 'disgusted'?
Knowl View was a residential school which opened in 1969 and had a troubled history. In the years following its closure in 1994 it was the subject of claims of a 'cover up' going back to an Independent on Sunday (IoS) article in 1995. Strenuous attempts are made in 'Smile for the Camera' to associate Smith with sexual abuse of boys at the school. But they largely rely upon the suppositions and opinions of a single individual, social worker Martin Digan, and it is difficult to find any independent evidence for them. Again there is no chronology.
According to the authors Mr Digan started work at the school in the late 1970s p109. In what must surely be one of the most remarkable statements in the book they tell us, 'For many years he was oblivious to what was happening in the school – until he was promoted to head of care and began to realise that things weren't quite right.' p109
The authors don't think it necessary to tell us when this was. But a Manchester Evening News (MEN) article from 2 December 2012 indicates Mr Digan became head of care in 1994.
So what had been happening in the school? What no one disputes is that in 1991 an Aids worker, Philip Shepherd, spent a day in the school talking to staff and then wrote a report, (of which more later) which was sent to the Director of Education, Diana Cavanagh. In response to what he wrote a clinical psychologist, Valerie Mellor, was commissioned in late 1991 to investigate the reported sexual activity involving the boys at the school. Mellor's report presented in February 1992 confirmed and expanded upon the Shepherd report. It included the comment, 'It is very difficult to believe that this behaviour had not come to the attention of at least some members of staff.' Also in 1991, Rodney Hilton, who lived nearby was convicted of sexually abusing boys at the school.
Responding to a letter sent to her by the Knowl View staff in April 1992 Diana Cavanagh was strongly critical of care staff. With reference to boys aged 11 to 13 at one unit of the school being involved in homosexual activities at the Smith Street toilets in the centre of Rochdale, she is reported to have said, 'Those supervising the boys in the evenings appeared either not to notice that they were missing, or not to communicate their observations.' and, 'There is insufficient evidence to prove culpable neglect, fraud or incompetence by any single member of staff.'
If, as the authors tell us, Mr Digan had been at the school since the late 1970s, this seems to be a lot for anyone to be oblivious of. As for how Mr Digan had the scales lifted from his eyes you can choose between the prosaic versions from the MEN of 2 December 2012 and 30 November 2013, that he was given access to the reports when he became head of care or the melodramatic version from 'Smile for the Camera' in which he slipped into the headteacher's office at night, 'Then, just as he was leaving, he caught sight of a file of papers spread out on the desk under an adjustable lamp.' p112
This is what Mr Shepherd had actually written in 1991:
'One boy who is homosexual has contact with an adult outside the school. Several of the senior boys indulge in oral sex with one another.
Reputedly five of the junior boys have been or are involved in 'cottaging' in and around public toilets. Men as far away as Sheffield are believed to be aware of this activity and travel to Rochdale to take part.
'One eight-year-old is thought to have been involved. The police are aware of the problem. What action has been taken is not known.
'One rent boy has been removed from the school. The suggestion that he may return soon has angered the staff.
'Some boys have been "forced" to have sex with others.'
and this is what Danczuk and Baker claim it says:
'In matter of fact language, the report described the extreme sexual abuse that young boys had been subjected to. Boys were beaten and raped continually by men as far away as Sheffield who had travelled to Rochdale to take part.' p112
A few lines later they quote Mr Digan as saying, 'These boys were sold to paedophile gangs.' Of course neither they nor Mr Digan provide any evidence for this.
A page further on they imply that Cyril Smith's and Harry Wild's names appeared; when in the Shepherd report when they did not; 'This file was eventually made public by Digan but Cyril Smith and Harry Wild's names were not mentioned.'
This was the IoS article in 1995.
When the authors resort to misquoting documents in this way, presenting opinions as facts and implying that something is true when it isn't, then it casts doubt on much of their book. Being named as Sunday Times politics book of the year and being listed as one of The Telegraph's best politics books to read in 2014, does not make it a reliable document if you want to know about Cyril Smith. My dad used to say, 'You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.'
I hope he was right!