by John Bateson 06/08/15
On page 176 of David Clark's " The Labour Movement in Westmorland " there is a photograph of an event held in February 1981 to celebrate 600 years of Labour Party membership, a total achieved by many of our long standing Westmorland members, some of whom had pioneered the party in our area. I first joined in 1973, though had transferred my membership to Bradford by this time, but many of the people on the photograph I knew and learned a great deal from.
On the front row the redoubtable Elizabeth Kemp is seated next to Frank Parrott. Elizabeth persuaded me to seek opportunities in higher education, indeed life long and high quality education for working people was Elizabeth's passion and in the best socialist tradition she made her passion a reality. In the centre of the front row are Mr & Mrs Joe Gardner ( women not only adopted their husband's surname, but their given name too !) I never knew them, but their son and I came to know each other well.
In 1977 I was accepted as a student at the Co-operative College, then situated at Stanford Hall between Loughborough and Nottingham, a Georgian mansion purchased by the Co-op movement in 1945. The course was the Nottingham University Diploma in Politics and Economics, and the chief economics tutor was Jeff Gardner, son of Mr & Mrs Joe and himself a former Kendal Borough councillor and Co-op college student, who had been persuaded to enter higher education by Elizabeth Kemp
Jeff was, in his own words " a confused Marxist, confused not by Marxism, but how it pertains to the world today ". He was a considerable critic of the Labour government in office at the time. I was inclined to support it and had written my introductory essay on the subject of the challenge to the post war consensus from the Right. He thought the challenge came from the Left. Intellectually he was, arguably, correct. Practically I think I was.
Before I left Stanford Hall the Thatcher government had been elected and the rest, as it is said, is history. Unfortunately it is not our history. Margaret Thatcher's government began the long process of dismantling many of the considerable achievements, not just of the Attlee government, but of the Wilson and Callaghan governments too. On my last visit to Stanford Hall in 1997
a Labour government had been elected for the first time in eighteen years. It was the last time I saw Jeff ( I believe he moved south - a dreadful thing for a northern lad to do !) We still disagreed on socialist fundamentals, but agreed that the political world had changed beyond recognition and we had been powerless to prevent that change.
Today we face the prospect of five more years of Conservative government more ruthlessly right wing than ever. In the 2015 election the Labour party put forward a better vision for our country's future. I was proud to carry the Labour message in Westmorland & Lonsdale. We lost the election, and we lost it badly. Our task now is to unite behind our new leader and win in 2020 and create the better society for the 21st century and begin again the process of national renewal.