Oral History: Political organisations – Peter Latham

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Interview transcript: Peter Latham

Date and place of birth: not given

Interviewer: David Hiscocks

Date of interview: 26 October 2012

Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives


Location – Peter Latham’s home, Forest Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne

*Dictaphone gets turned on as we sit down in Peter Latham’s living room, I have just made a comment about his collection of books, there is some rustling as we organise ourselves for the interview*

Peter Latham (PL) – It’s a matter of some controversy. Most of them I haven’t read for years. I suppose they tell a life story.

David Hiscocks (DH) – Definitely.

PL – So what did you want to know.

DH – Well I was directed here by Liz O’Donnell. So it’s her baby, it’s her project. What she wanted to do was essentially get some stories from you about your experiences in local politics. Nothing too in-depth straight-away. It’s just what stories you feel are significant which say something about your involvement and your experiences locally.

PL – OK.

DH – It’s a big question so I’ve printed off your basic CV as well, so I suppose the first thing, the big question, is what do you feel got you into socialism? Seems to be a key theme in your life, what inspired you?

PL – It’s not… One of the highlights of my life was carrying the Trades Council banner in the Durham Miners Gala during the 1984 Miner’s strike. Why I think that was one of the highlights of my life was that I grew up in the Thames Valley in Marlow, went to school in Henley, a State school, but still. Went to University down there. So you wouldn’t expect that someone with that kind of background would be carrying the banner, the Trades Council banner in the Durham Gala. On the other hand, if you look at my family one of my first political memories was the first Aldermaston march, which went from London, not the other way. And, erm, we didn’t march all the way, but we put up some Cambridge students who were marching on it, one of whom I realised forty years later was a mathematics lecturer at Newcastle University and a fellow member of the Communist party in Newcastle *chuckle*. It was only when my mother died and I was going through books and that, I came, they’d given us a book to thank us for putting them up, and I recognised his signature. So there was that radical nature of my family. My mother was an atheist, my step-father – my father was very conservative, my step-father did things like like Picasso. It was a bit radical in the Thames Valley in the 1950s. I went to Oxford. Had a brief period of rubbing shoulders with the ruling class, which, erm, confirmed me in my view that they were not very attractive. It also confirmed me in my view that May ’68 which confirmed me in my view that you needed something more radical than the Labour party to change things in society. And, erm, I was involved in various fringe students and movements. As I was a French Undergraduate around ’68. And one of the other things, there were quite a lot of radical young men, including people like Chris Hitchens who died recently, with SWP, around. Very posh, and very radical. Called each other, ‘Comrade’ *said in mock posh accent* a lot. I took a…*pause* strong dislike to these people. I didn’t want to be like them. And I also wanted, if I was going to profess Left-wing views, I wanted to actually do something about it. And then a Ruskin’s student came on to do a degree at Newcastle College, he was called Pete Smith, and he was a son of an Ayrshire coal mining, coal mining leader, was an active trade unionist. Been to Ruskin and everything. And he was in the Communist Party. And he more or less recruited me, and it suited me as he was working class. He wasn’t one of these pretentious middle class people who thought they were revolutionaries. Most of whom ended up working in the City of London or as Advertisers. And, erm, so that suited me, having, err, having decided I wanted to live out my beliefs, I had to decide what to do, and I decided I wanted to move North. And a job opened up in Newcastle, and there were various other personal reasons. So I got a job in Newcastle, after years in France I finally ended up in Newcastle and that’s where I got involved.

DH – Ok, so your, you mentioned how you were a French Undergraduate.

PL – Hmm

DH – Was that at Oxford?

PL – Hmm *in the affirmative*

DH – So given your background, your family background, what made you choose Oxford, given that you found it almost immediately not to your taste?

PL – Well, there was a period in my life when I was, well, aspirer is the term they use now. I had teachers who constantly said go for Oxford, go for Oxford, and I never really questioned it. And I know, after the exams, when I got the news that I’d got in I was cocker hoop! I had no idea what it was really like. For example, I’d been to mixed schools throughout my entire life, and then I found myself in an all-male college! That whole thing, I hadn’t really thought about it. And I hadn’t realised how class stratified it was.

DH – So it seemed to be not only a combination of the university, but also the year in which you went. You talk about going in 1968.

PL – Well yeah, quite. Well no, I went before that, I went in ’62. But that was the Cuban Missile Crisis, that was my first, demonstration at Oxford. The Cuban Missile Crisis. And I remember standing outside Balliol College, which was the sort of intellectual college, and there were some intellectuals as we were waiting to march round pouring piss-pots over us. Because we thought there oughtn’t be world war. So that confirmed my view. ’68, ’68 in Oxford was quite, erm. I’d spent years in France on exchanges and things like that. And I was in Oxford, I wasn’t in France in ’68, I was in France in ’66, ’67, and I was back in Oxford for a second degree in ’68. There was a lot of activity then, but I wanted to get out to be where real people were. ‘Workers’, wow. So I ended up here eventually.

DH – So you talked about class a lot in that summary of your life story up until moving up North, would you say then, a personal question. Would you say you’re now working class?

PL – No, I wouldn’t say that. No. No, no. I’m lower middle class. My parents were divorced. My father was an army officer, got thrown out as a matter of fact. My step-father was a teacher, so we were sort of middle class, lived in the Thames Valley. But, I passed the 11 plus, went to Grammar school, and things like that, and came up here. I don’t think that coming up here and getting involved in Left wing movements actually changes my class origins. It changed my attitudes, or I decided to change my attitudes. *Pause*

DH – That makes sense. So when you moved up here you became the Secretary of the West Newcastle Communist Party.

(Time 09:50)

PL – After a while, yes. I went to a meeting that was the erm… the district congress, which was held in the old Co-op building, held up near the top of Westgate road. There was a bloke called Lez Allen who was a convener at the Thermal Syndicate, who spoke, and this seemed to me to be the authentic voice of the working class, in my sort of romantic incarnation. It seemed to me, that it was a party that was rooted in the local working class, and erm, and I hadn’t really thought about the complications with the Soviet Union. I was soon involved in doing things, selling the Morning Star, the Morning Star Bazaars, things like that. And I became Branch Secretary in the West End. As there were two branches in Newcastle, Newcastle West and Newcastle East. And I was with Newcastle West, which was quite active. But of course at that time, there were a whole load of things going on, there were a whole load of people like me, or perhaps not like me, perhaps of a more classical proletarian background, who’d received education, who’d been to university and who weren’t wanting to make millions, and wanted to pay back what they’d got because of what they experienced during ’68. Things like that. They felt that they wanted to change society. And some of the things that were happening in the West end of Newcastle, which you may or may not have heard about. My wife Judith has interviewed Margaret Mound who worked at the Law Centre in Benwell. That was a powerhouse. There was the Benwell community development project, the CDP, and the law Centre in Adelaide terrace in Benwell. We lived down that way in Benwell. And we were involve din that. And there were a lot of very significant people and ideas around that. People like Gary Craig, who’s now a professor of social policy at Hull, Colin Randell, who, erm, who became Trades Council Secretary. He’s dead now. And, and, and there were a lot of, erm, people a lot of activity. Kenny Bell worked there, who died last year of cancer, and a thousand people turned up to the memorial meeting at the Civic Centre. He was the Branch Secretary at Amalg and Unison {?} in the city centre. So there were a lot of people who had involvement, careers if you like, in the Labour movement, who were involved in and around that movement. Margaret Mound, who I’ve talked about. So there was that which was very powerful. Produced a lot of propaganda, information, analysis of the twenty ruling families, things like that. And there were two, the Communist Party had a bookshop, a People’s Bookshop, up on Westgate Hill, which is now a taxi office. And of course, there was, the… to put it loosely, the ultra Left bookshop, the Days of Hope. Otherwise known as the Haze of Dope *chuckles*. Which was run in those days by no-one… no other, for a time, no one less than Allan Milburn.

DH – Oh right, it seems like you’ve mixed with a fair few, for want of a better word, celebrities in the political world. You all seem to have some involvement in the Newcastle Communist scene.

PL – Not just Communists, but you also had the Left. You had the CDP, the Law Centre which I eventually became the Chair of. You had the Days of Hope, then of course you had the Trades Council was the other, the other focus of Left wing activity in Newcastle, which met in the Bridge Hotel, in the upstairs room before it was ‘gentrified’. Of course, the Bridge Hotel was the Lefty (sic) pub in those days. It wasn’t just the Trades Council who met there. It was a rendezvous for Lefties. The guy who ran it – he’s gone a long time now – Paddy, he fought in the Spanish Civil War. On the right, on OUR side. So the Trades Council was very much the focus. There were big meetings, there were thirty or forty people there every month, lot of Lefties, but a lot of so-called straight Trade Unionists. It was where things happened. It was where striking workers came for support, where campaigns were organised. Where we had our own, erm, we had our own, erm, monthly paper, the Workers Chronicle. *Shows me copy of paper, see scans* This was the one, July, August ’81, the People’s March for jobs, I wrote a big article on the People’s March for jobs. I’d like it back, but, erm.

DH – Thanks, I’ll take a look at it while I’m here as well.

(Time 16:10)

PL – The Trades Council was significant, the miners came to the Trades Council in the ’72, and so on and so forth. The two miners strikes in the ‘70s. The one that brought down Heath. We used to take soup out to the picket line out in the West of Newcastle. We’d go out at 11 o’clock at night with hot soup. It wasn’t a deep mine, it was a drift mine. At Horsham {?} And we’d go out at 11 o’clock at night with the hot soup, talk to the miners and everything, give them the soup. And then they’d say, half past 11 they’d say, because every four hours during the strike they’d switch the lights off because there wasn’t enough power. So they’d say, right, kkknncrch (sic) *sound effect* and you had the feeling of the immense power of the organised working class, which you don’t feel so much now. There was the UCS, we always supported collections for the UCS. The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. And, err, so there were lots of things going on. The trades Council was very significant. People like… Collin Randall, Steve Manchee. He’ll have been interviewed for the project.

DH – I’m not sure who else has been interviewed, sorry.

PL – Steve will have been interviewed, he became secretary after Colin. Alec McFadden who is active on Merseyside now, he was a leading firebrand. When he was taken to court for his 60 parking fines for parking in the Bigg Market where, you know, where the centre was. And he said that these fines should be waived as they were fines that he had, he had incurred in the service of the working class! And therefore it was clearly class warfare. *Chuckles* Alec, Ronnie Taylor, many others. And eventually of course we had a campaign to get a centre against unemployment down in the old cloth market. I’m not sure if… it had been a trade union office. The Tailor and Garment Workers, that’s right. We eventually bought it, and I think it’s closed now. It was on the verge of closing. And that became the centre against unemployment. And there’s a funny story about that, that the final time for closing the deal, the Tyne & Wear council was closed down by the Tories, and the legend is that Jim Cousins, subsequently MP for the North of Newcastle, who was deputy leader of Tyne & Wear council, two hours before it’s twelve o’clock closure signed a cheque to the Trades Council for twenty grand so we could buy the building. He always denies it.

(Time 19:30)

DH – *Chuckle* It’s a nice local legend.

PL – Well I think it shows the Trades Council was, erm, it was strange. On the one hand you had the official movement which dealt with its parochial things. The miners were always separate. They didn’t get involved. And then if there was something happening, a campaign, it was the Trades Council that did it. But it suffered, it organised all the big marches, May Day, all that stuff. But it suffered from the fact that it wasn’t mainstream. It tended to be, to put it crudely, a bunch of Lefties. Erm…

DH – Well, you say on here *referring to CV* that you were a delegate to the Trade Council from 1972 to 80. That must have been an interesting experience to work with what sounds like quite an eclectic bunch of people.

PL – Oh yeah, yeah, it was. As I said, if anything was happening, campaigns, support for striking workers, or things like that, or when there was a big march, when the anti- apartheid march came down, it was the Trades Council who organised the welcome, that kind of stuff. And then there was the May Day, which was a big demonstration, a big rally, that kind of stuff. That was in Exhibition Park. It was very active. Now, it is, like most Trade Councils, I mean, hardly anyone turns up. We got 30 or 40 people. There were ‘attempts’ by the TUC to reign us in because we were seen as a bit wild, and err, but those were the kind of, those were the kind of organisations that made things happen in Newcastle in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The CDP. Of course, Benwell Law Centre was very important in building links with the immigrant community, in dealing with racist issues and immigration issues. Of course, the first lawyer, the first solicitor employed at Benwell was, err. Oh, I’m terrible with names. Did I write it down… Was, was, was, was, David Grey.

DH – That rings a bell.

PL – There’s a big building down the bottom of Grainger Street, near the Assembly rooms, which is David Grey and Partners, which is a large solicitors firm. Errrm, of Left-wing inclination. But David Grey started off – he’s still a member of the Labour Party, I’ve seen him at meetings recently. He started off as the solicitor for the Benwell Law Centre. Did a lot of work on immigration cases, things like that. One year, he got a prize, for being the top solicitor nationally for these kinds of cases. And then he went on, and some were critical of him. He and a few other progressive solicitors set up their practice down there which has, err, prospered. Some people think he’s sold out, but, well, he’s retired now. But he still seems to be doing all the immigration work. Done a lot of work for voluntary organisations.

DH – So you personally, if I had to put you on the spot, wouldn’t say that he’d sold out?

PL – No. No I don’t think he did, no.

DH – Talking about – {interrupted}

PL – They were important, yeah.

DH – Hmm. Talking about that, I was just having a look at what you did later on in your career, and you do mention the Newcastle Law Centre in the West End.

PL – Yeah.

DH – Which, I, I don’t know anything about these Law Centres in Benwell and…

PL – {Mishears me} Not Benton no.

DH – I mean, it probably ought to be something I know about! But could you fill me in on exactly what they did?

PL – I think the Law Centre still exists. Or just still exists, but the changes to legal aid have threatened it. It was an attempt, an attempt, to provide free or cheap support to people who didn’t have access to, erm, legal support. So it did unemployment, immigration, things like that.

DH – So was it funded centrally?

PL – It was funded by the local authority. It also got money from legal aid. But its core funding was local authority. And that was a constant battle of course.

DH – Hmm.

PL – As a lot of the work it did was, tended to be tenants in conflict with the local authority, so there were quite a lot of, among the more Right-wing Labour councillors in Newcastle who didn’t see why the council should fund the Law Centre to take them to court! And generally cause agro. So there was always tension there. Although we had councillors like Peter Thompson who subsequently became Lord Mayor, on the board, it was always err, always a fraught relationship. But basically the Law Centre was there to provide legal advice and support for people who wouldn’t otherwise had had access to them.

DH – Oh right, ok. It seems like there were a couple of them across the Tyne & Wear region.

PL – There was Newcastle, and there was Gateshead. There were others. I think there was one in Sunderland. I think…. When I last heard, Newcastle had moved to the centre of town. Was clinging on. I’m not sure if it survived. Gateshead I think has closed. Or did it? I’m not sure. It’s like the CAB’s, all these organisations that depend on – whose aim is to help vulnerable people if you like – depending on public funds and the funds have just disappeared. And all the kind of projects that these organisations used to be able to bid for, they’ve all been handed over to large, Tory supporting companies mostly. Like, the usual range of things, G4S. But those were all, it was very vibrant in the ‘80s with the, err, the CDP, the Law Centre. There were other voluntary organisations down there as well as the Trades Council. And it hadn’t been long, when I first came to Newcastle, it was a conservatively, a Conservative controlled city. 1970 I came to Newcastle, and it was a Conservative controlled city.

DH – It seems then, from what you said, that you oversaw, the partial transformation at least of Newcastle to thinking Left-wing, and then, during the latter period in the 1980s slip away from that again for a variety of reasons.

PL – Yeah. I mean….

DH – To put it crudely.

(Time 28:10)

PL – I witnessed, rather than oversaw. Oversaw implies a rather large role. As by then we went to France for a year in ’77, ’78. And when I came back I got more involved in the Union. I was Branch Chair at Newcastle College which was a big branch, with 400 members. And I was involved regionally, nationally. National Executive for 12 years, err, Senior National Negotiator and stuff like that. So my focus changed a bit as I was in London for one or two days a week for that period. And, erm, so I was less involved in Newcastle. But I was still involved in lots of struggles. I mean, the things that went on the corporation of the colleges, and the new governing body, that kind of stuff. The old governing body of the college had tended to be local councillors, community people. And then when it was incorporated *tone of voice becomes sneering* it became the managing director of the brewery, managing director of Metro Radio, things like that. And instead of wandering into meetings they’d clear a whole car park so their chauffer, their chauffer driven cars could be parked while they popped into the meeting, and so on and so forth.

DH – Right.

PL – So there was a lot of work to be done there, in terms of campaigning against that. And I was threatened with the sack, that kind of thing. So I was very involved in those kinds of things in the latter period before I retired in, erm, ’97.

DH – So what period was that particular episode, erm.

PL – When?

DH – The one where you had the change from locals on the ground overlooking things, to a more managerial control of things in the local government structure?

PL – Well I never got to an elitist managerial role.

DH – No, no, not yourself. In the –

PL – In the colleges?

DH – Yes.

PL – Well, it would have been in the late ‘80s. It was certainly under Kenneth Baker and all that lot. Erm, they decided that the colleges should be incorporated. I mean, I’d have to look up the dates, erm, I actually did a talk about it, to the first Tuesday meetings, which is the North East Labour History meetings. I did a talk, I’m not sure where that is now. But certainly it was a big change. Oddly, the money, it was interesting. The college was given independence from the local authority, but its funding came from national. So in one sense it was nationalised, in another it was privatised. The governing body was dramatically changed, and there was a whole period of seeking to….reduce the salaries and increase the workload, and so on and so forth. Decreasing the pay of the lecturers, while increasing the pay and the number of the managers while paying them much more money. The principle, the Chief Executive, a Jackie Fisher, a Dame Jackie Fisher, has just announced her retirement from the college, and last year she was paid £220,000! Now, when I was, money goes up. But when I first started in FE obviously the principal got more than a lecturer. But the gaps weren’t extraordinary. It was sort of taken over and managerialised. As I think you said earlier. I’m afraid that will happen to the schools as well…

DH – So the local colleges, that was. Was that overseeing the college level of education?

PL – Yeah, that’s right.

DH – It’s just to make sure I’ve got it all down correctly.

PL – Yeah, quite alright. So all the colleges became independent, Newcastle College, Gateshead College, and so on. They all had their ties with the local authority cut, and their funding all came from a national funding council. And a lot of senior managers in the colleges liked that. A. because it gave them more power, and B. because they had always disliked, in the North, in any region, was local authorities got together in a committee to decide what training was required in their region. For example, they’d say that you’ve got vehicle maintenance in Gateshead, you don’t need it in Newcastle as well. It’s only a mile away. And that was seen by the new entrepreneurial management as knocking competition. So we now find that Gateshead doesn’t have any vehicle maintenance courses (?) because Newcastle College has nicked it all! *Jokingly* And that’s much more efficient if you have competition isn’t it?! So that was one of the things, they didn’t like the dead hand of bureaucracy which stopped them cut-throat competition.

DH – I take it from what you’re saying here that you haven’t approved of a lot of these changes?

PL – Oh no, no. I was threatened with removal. I was in the interesting scene of being the elected Staff Governor. All the other governors – these captains of industry – they were all nominated originally, it’s changed now, but they were all nominated. Basically it was who turned up at the Freemasons, or who turned up at the erm, the erm, the rotary, or whatever. And, err, it was those kinds of networks. There wasn’t any kind of open system. And I was elected by the staff And, err, it came to a stage where after incorporation, the governors, the finance sub-committee of the governors, I spent ten years on it before I was excluded from it, came up with a new contract. Longer working hours, less money, short holidays. All the kind of things that you’d want really.

DH – *Laughs*

PL – As a staff governor, and as a national negotiator for the Union, I resisted this. And I was told, I was called into the Principal’s office, and I was told that as a governor I was subject to cabinet responsibility. That’s to say that if the governors took a decision, I had to support that decision. So I should actually be telling the staff that it was a really good contract and that they should all vote for it.

DH – Right, ok.

PL – And I was getting advice from a guy called John Griffith, who was a Professor of Law at LSE, who was our next door neighbour in Marlow. And he was arrested on Vietnam demonstrations, things like that. He was a good lad. He was giving me advice, and said, basically, that it depends on how far they want to go. But my line was that I was elected by my members, I therefore have a mandate, and their line was that nobody can have a mandate outside an organisation. Even though members aren’t outside an organisation. And anyway, it’s bollocks because on company boards you often have representatives of banks and they, and they represent the bank’s policy, they don’t… So anyway, there was this thing about umm, about umm, whether I could continue on the governing body as I was adamant that my job was to represent the staff’s view and they didn’t like the contract. So eventually a sort of soggy compromise was found, which recognised that some governors who’d been elected were in a different position from those who had been nominated. And err, this was agreed by a sub-committee. And, err, it was brought in front of the governing body, at which, the then Chair and Vice Chair of the Governors, seats were empty because they had resigned! They had resigned because they had regarded this as creating two classes of governors. And so on. And one of these is somebody you’ve probably never of heard of, who was a managing director of a large advertising company who had offices next to St James’ Park. And the other one was a character called Bill Midgely who was, at that stage, the Chairman of the Newcastle Building Society. A very vocal person. He’s been the Chair of the Durham Cricket Club. He’s been Chair of this, Chair of that and the other. In and out of the Labour party, when it seemed opportune to be in the Labour party. And, err, err, err, he, err, made a somewhat unpleasant statement about me in the Even Chronicle, saying, you know, that some people, some governors thought they should be treated differently from others. Which obviously I did I should be treated differently. I’d been bloody elected, they hadn’t! But, err, so it all sort of, I didn’t get the sack and it all sort of settled down eventually. But, err, it was a fairly, a fairly lively period. And we actually went into a long series of….meetings and so on, we eventually managed, after they threatened to sack us all at one stage as we said wouldn’t invigilate exams as were going to be on strike. We then got into a serious negotiation, and we came to an agreement on pay and conditions.

DH – Hmmm.

PL – As that was being done locally by then. But then this new, this woman who is retiring now, Jackie Fisher, spent the next ten years un, unravelling all of that. The college now has the worst conditions, the worst pay conditions in the area. But I left in, err, in the mid ‘90s they decided that too many lecturers and teachers were taking early retirement, and there was an edict from the government saying that if you want to take early retirement, you’ve got to go by July whatever it was, the 31st, 1997. Otherwise you’ll have to stay until you’re 60 and you won’t be able to get early retirement. I was 54 at the time, and I could see what was going to happen with this new principal, and I just thought, I’d had it. I could do something else. And I took early retirement. Got some enhancement and so on.

DH – Well it sounds like since your retirement you’ve been, you’ve still been very active. Member of the North Tyneside Council, Chair of the Wallsend People’s Centre as well.

(Time 41:00)

PL – Yeah, well, after I retired, it was one summer so it was nice and sunny. And we went to France, we had a house in France in those days, a bit bourgeois but never mind! And err, err, about, this time of year after I had finished painting the fence, pruning the trees I began to think. Who am I? I used to be a lecturer and a trade unionist, I knew who I was. Now I’m not really anybody. What am I going to do to keep my brain active and make some contribution. And somebody said to me, I’d go for a cup of coffee somewhere and bump into somebody and they’d say, oh, do you want to be on our committee? I went to the Labour Party committee here, and Janet was one of the councillors, and said that one of her colleagues was retiring and would I be interested in standing? I mean, there’s a selection process and all that, but I stood for the council and got elected, because it was all Labour in Benton at the time – it is again now. And err, spent 6 years on the Council, including being one of the Chairs of a select committee which was quite interesting. One as a member of cabinet as a member for organisation. One as a secretary (?) of the Labour group. So it was a fairly active time.

DH – Hmm. Something a bit different from your former days in the Trade Union?

PL – Yeah, yeah. Err, I don’t feel, on reflection, I don’t feel that I achieved a great deal. When people ask me what I achieved, I say that I achieved a Keep Clear sign at the entrance to the shopping centre on the road, and a rockery a bit further down! I suppose I must have achieved more than that. But you spent an awful lot of time in meetings, and things didn’t get done very quickly. The other thing was that local government ha been stripped of most of its powers by then, so you didn’t really have vast power and influence. So as I say, you spent a long time going to meetings, I don’t think we ever really achieved anything really. We did some things, but it was a bit disappointing. And then the Boundary Commission came in and they were looking at the wards, as some of the wards had 4000 voters, and there other wards of 8 to 9000 voters, which was clearly unfair. So they came in with proposals which I was involved with resisting, but most of them they actually imposed. And that meant I’d been 4 years as a councillor, as you elected a third of the council every year, and then you had a fallow year, which is now the mayoral election as North Tyneside now has a mayor. So I’d been re-elected after 4 years and was going to do another 4. And then the Boundary Commission came in and I needed to stand for an election again after 2. And I just couldn’t face it. I thought, I can’t be bothered with this, it’s not worth the endless meetings. So that was it.

DH – So was your disappointment in what you achieved, erm, partly down to the fact that during the ‘70s, ‘80s, early ‘90s, you achieved far more and you were sort of thinking back.

PL – I don’t know that I achieved more. I had achieved more in the Union I achieved quite a lot. I am still, if you look on the headed notepaper of Newcastle College, I am the lifetime President of the Branch. Erm, err, that’s never happened anywhere else I don’t think. But, erm so I did achieve a lot there. I think times have changed. I have to say that North Tyneside Labour group has never been a very stimulating environment, and, erm, err, I just felt I had other things to do. As you say, I was Chair of Wallsend People’s Centre, which did a lot of work for immigrants, for people with, err, with employment problems, for employment cases. Helping people get jobs, things like that, as well as putting them on education courses, computer training, things like that.

DH – Is that something you’re still involved with?

PL – I’ve just finished my involvement with it. It’s gone through a very difficult patch because a lot of the work we had, the employability work that kept us afloat has all been privatised basically. The government, when the new government came in they allocated all this work to their own private firms. The idea was that the third sector would get the, would be… subcontracted to the third sector. But it hasn’t ever been. They’ve subcontracted to their own little companies, their own friends and everything. So we lost a lot of work, and we had a big project, which has been very successful in terms of revamping the Memorial Hall, which contains a 100 person ballroom among other things. But that was delayed, and we haven’t been able to earn the money that we hoped to earn. So we’ve had a lot of problems. And, erm, it’s resulted in conflict. I’ve been at the centre of the eye of the storm of conflict between the funders, the people who lent us the money and are anxious to get their money back, and the now former manager who was a friend of mine, or rather *laughs* an ex-old friend of mine, so I just decided at the AGM last week that I would get out. But I spent 14 years there. I was put on there by the council, and, 12 or 14, I think it’s 14. And I just sort of felt that I’d had enough of that, being torn both ways. And I’m also coming up to 70, so I thought I’d leave it to some other people to do. But we did a lot of good stuff there. A lot of stuff for asylum seekers, stuff like that. But I’m involved in lots of other things. I’m involved in the Society François (?) which organises talks and things, social things for people interested in France. I’m on the humanist committee. They had a meeting here last night. Oooh, what else do I do? Oh, there’s a farm down at the Rising Sun, there’s a farm, we have a farm, I went to the Rising Sun centre one lunchtime and bumped into a friend of mine, Margaret Hall, who was a councillor when I was a councillor. And she said, Oh Peter, you’ve got lots of free time now, would you like to be on the committee? And I, being a bit soppy, said yes. What else do I do? Erm, I’m on the err, I’m on the Northumbria Healthcare trust. I’m an elected governor of Northumbria Healthcare Trust which runs the hospitals in Northumberland – Hexham, Ashington and North Tyneside General Hospitals, among others.

DH – It sounds like you are keeping yourself busy.

PL – Oh yeah! And I’ve got the dog to walk, I go the gym, and I cycle. Go to France and Spain whenever we can. So yes, I wouldn’t want my sort of…. I was always, err, after the original pulse of activity that my parent s undertook around CND, they, erm, stopped being active and they moved out into the country and I was always terrified of being somebody who professed radical views but did nothing about them! And that was personified by my step-father who was very concerned about design, and they were very worried that the third London airport was going to be built in Buckinghamshire where they lived. And there was a campaign, but my step-father wouldn’t put a sticker on his car before he thought it was badly designed. Not the car, the sticker!

DH/ PL – *Laughs*

PL – And he wasn’t prepared to have a badly designed sticker on his car! And I sort of, I felt this was kind of the epitome of, erm…..

(Time 50:00)

DH – Saying…

PL – Of saying something but not actually doing something. You know. He could wax lyrical about the horrors of the airport but he couldn’t put a sticker on his car! So I’ve always been very concerned. A sort of Protestant guilt thing I suppose. Erm, I was concerned that if I was going to profess certain views I was going to do something about them.

DH – Hmmm. Well, one thing I was going to ask, I had two things I wanted to ask. I vaguely remember, as I had some involvement in the Newcastle Marxist society.

PL – Ahhur *in the affirmative*.

DH – Did you come and speak at one of the meetings in the last couple of years?

PL – No. I spoke a long time, the guy, the guy who, he must be retired now. The guy who was on the first Aldermaston march, who was a maths lecturer at Newcastle University. He used to run a kind of socialist debating society for the staff. And I remember speaking, actually it was a very bad speech I gave. I still feel embarrassed by it, erm, speaking there once. But I’ve not spoken there recently.

DH – Right, fair enough.

PL – The Trades Council used to meet in the Students Union at one stage! Used to meet in the big hall in the Union. Bloody freezing! I always remember, erm, we had, we used to have liaison meetings with the students, and I always remember being there, I don’t know when it would have been exactly – it would have been in the ‘70s – going to a meeting, and the new president of the Students Union was gay! And had brought his friend with him. And the Trades Council, they weren’t all horny handed sons of toil, there were lots of other people from other backgrounds. It was a mixture of people. But I could see the delegation going *imitates whispering in a mocking way*. *Laughs*. Makes you realise how far things have changed.

DH – Hmm.

PL – Of course, in those days, there were a lot of, a lot of radical students around. There was the guy, who was president of the Students Union, Nigel Wild, who erm, who used to make bread and was involved with Red Herring, which was a sort of hippy café up in Fenham. But he also spent time in Durham jail because he refused to pay the bit of his tax which should have gone to nuclear weapons, so he was sent to Durham jail. And Newcastle College had a radical women leader called Deborah Leon who was killed in a plane crash in Nepal. So there was quite a lot of things going on. They got very worried at Newcastle College as the Students Union got quite radical, and they were a bit worried about me as well. And err, so they put in this Tory manager of the Students Union. But he turned out to be corrupt, but they turned a blind eye as at least….

DH – He was a Tory.

Pl – Yeah. But, I really think we really felt that things were going to change in the ‘70s. Lots of demonstrations, lots of people, we felt we were on the way. Of course you had the Trades Union movement, we had Jack Jones, the TNG, you had, err…. You had Cousins. You had quite a lot of radical leadership. You had obviously the miners who had just won two strikes. And, err, you felt you were on a roll. Not turned out quite like that.

DH – No, it doesn’t seem to have done.

PL – No.

DH – But it’s not all doom and gloom.

PL – No, no! I’m not really, the Trades Council is more or less dead now. I think that’s generally the case. I think they’ve got to find different ways of doing things, doing things different. Ways of being in contact with people, electronically and so on.

DH – Hmm. I did have another question, this one is more related to personal interest. You talked about how you helped a lot of different interest groups, erm, you know, immigrants, unemployed…

PL – Well, I was involved with helping them, I claim no credit.

DH – Yes, well, erm, how about ex-servicemen? Was that even a political issue during the ‘70s, ‘80s.

PL – Not really. No.

DH – Was it raised at all?

PL – Not really, I think we regarded them as a bunch of reactionaries really.

DH – Oh right, so they would have been more in tune with the Tories, in your opinion?

(Time 56:00)

PL – I think, I think, erm, I think it was a mistake! I know when I was on the council I was more or less obliged to attend the November Remembrance Day events here in Forest Hall, when they marched down from the British Legion club into the churchyard there where there is a memorial, and, as a local councillor it was more or less, it wasn’t required, but I was expected that you’d turn up to that. And, err, I found it very difficult. Because, I’m not a pacifist, erm, but it seemed to me that it was kind of a glorification of war, rather than a sad remembrance of people who’d, certainly in the case of the First World War, had been needlessly sacrificed to the egoism and incompetence of the ruling class, and I come from a military family, and my father went to Sandhurst, his father was a, was an officer, got a {Military Cross in the First World War} (?) but I found all that, these people in uniform marching up and down. I found that very uncomfortable. You know. I’m all for remembering but in a rather more sombre, rather than, let’s go and have another war! *Laughs* Kind of way, an unquestioning kind of approach. But I had to say that I did get to know, and I still see him at the gym, Major Bill Campbell who organises the ceremonies here, and I’ve always got on quite well with Bill. And I think, err, it was probably a mistake that the Left made, in those days, because these were, this was the, to come back to the Trades Council, we were wonderfully vibrant, dynamic organisation doing lots of things. But we were totally detached from, the ordinary working class population of Tyneside. Unless they were on strike and they come to us and they needed help. You know. Erm, we were not really in tune with them. The paradox was that the TNG, the GMB and that, who sent delegates often, but weren’t that involved, were much more in contact with the day-to-day concerns of people.

DH – Which two organisations where they?

PL – The GMB.

DH – The GMB, so, erm…

PL – General Municipal Boiler Makers Union.

DH – Oh right! Ok. And the other one was?

PL – T and G. The Transport and General Workers. Because, of course there were lots of other Unions in those days. You know. There was NALGO. All sorts of stuff.

DH – So it probably would have been those Unions that had more, that had more to do with the issues that ex-servicemen presented.

PL – I would have thought so. I would have thought they would have. I don’t know, it depends, as there were quite a lot of, powerful, Left wing figures. Although the Tyneside Labour movement, apart from the Trades Council, were known for being Right wing, just as the North-Eastern Labour MPs were known for being A. Right-wing, and B. generally being as thick as two short planks. I mean…You know, they really weren’t , they weren’t, they didn’t make much of an impact outside of the region. I don’t know…. There were people like Lez Allen (?) who was a convener at the Thermal Syndicate, err, there were some firebrands in the shipyards as well. There was the Boiler Makers Union, who had their headquarters next to Jesmond Metro, it’s the big imposing building next to Jesmond Metro, not West Jesmond which is now part of the school there. That was the Boiler Makers Union. Danny McGarvey (?) was the Secretary of that. And that was very powerful as the boilermakers were the elite in the shipyards. And, I think, err, and he was quite, they were quite elitist, but he was quite progressive. And there was a guy, what was his name? Convener at Vickers, on Scotswood road, whose name escapes me. He was a Leftie. So there were a variety of quite progressive people. And of course the regional TUC were often quite progressive people. But I don’t know that. I would imagine that, the members of, the veterans, the service people, were part of the social fabric. Just as the shipyard workers were part of the social fabric. People, you know, were shipyard workers, people were involved in. The club here in Forest Hall, it’s not called the British Legion anymore because the British Legion demanded a huge subscription fee to be called a British Legion club, so it’s called the Ex-Servicemen’s Club.

DH – Hmm.

PL – So they were deeply rooted in the communities. The local Labour party used to meet there, and so on and so forth. So I think that they were rooted in the community, but my feeling is that, there may well have been individuals involved on the Trades Council, who did have connections, but by and large, there was an understandable, but not entirely sensible tendency to regard them as a bunch of reactionary old-farts who liked nuclear weapons, and saluted the Queen, and other things we weren’t too keen on!

DH – Thank you, that’s very interesting. You have answered all my questions, you have answered all my questions. You’ve given me a really good summary of your involvement and experiences in local politics. So thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Pl – It’s all right.

DH – I really appreciate it. I’ll just turn this off.

*Interview recording ends here at 1:03:40.*