Red Flag Over St Pancras
This is the third part of a study of the political tendency headed by John Lawrence. It deals with the activities of the group in St Pancras Labour Party in the late 1950s, centring on the controversial decision to fly the Red Flag over the Town Hall on May Day 1958, an action which led to Lawrence’s suspension from the Labour Party.
"You will recall that in my letter I indicated that your general activities and views were believed to be inimical to the best interests of the Labour Party and indistinguishable from those of known Communists. As you know, you were for many years a member of the Communist Party and of the Revolutionary Communist Party. When this was dissolved in 1949, you entered the Labour Party to pursue the policy of the RCP. You later became associated with Socialist Fellowship and editor of Socialist Outlook, both of which were proscribed by the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. You were a member of the Executive Committee of the National Association of Tenants and Residents and launched the Holborn and St Pancras United Workers’ and Tenants’ Defence Committee, in which Communists play an active part. Several meetings have been organised in which prominent Communist speakers participated, and one of which was as recent as 25 March at the outset of the London County Council campaign when one of the people speaking with you was the Communist candidate for the LCC in the North St Pancras Division.
"During recent years and months, your public declarations reveal you have little in common with democratic socialism, so much so that when asked whether you intended to rejoin the Communist Party, your answer was ‘Why should I leave a big party to join a small one? I want to get things done’. There is not hint of any difference of opinion with the Communist Party: indeed, on a subsequent occasion, you made it clear that ‘There is not much difference between socialism and communism’.
"Furthermore, we have received over a period of time a number of serious complaints from within the constituency. Among these are the following: that you have led an organised group within the party and many people have expressed themselves as feeling that the policy of this group follows, at all times, that of the Communist Party; that, indeed, it has been clear both by word and action that the group as such does not believe in democratic methods, with the result that the Labour Party is considerably smaller than it should be and is prevented from functioning as an effective political and electoral organisation. It has been forced to contribute to doubtful causes and persons even at times when essential party work was curtailed from lack of funds. This organised group was successful in 1956 in preventing the selection as municipal candidates of a number of sitting members of the borough council who were replaced by the nominees of your group. Subsequently, the resignation of the leader and chief whip of the Group was brought about.
"In the General Management Committee of the party there are noisy interruptions and a distinct feeling that attempts have been made to intimidate delegates. For example, at the meeting on 15 May, the people associated with you behaved as a closely disciplined group which at first attempted to prevent discussion and later tried to prevent a ballot vote being taken. They demanded a roll call indicating that this was required for future purposes. This, as you will recall, was on a motion demanding your expulsion from the local party.
"Other instances of the declarations of your views could be given if necessary, but I think I have said sufficient to amplify the point made in my original letter that they do appear to be inimical to the best interests of the Labour Party. I need hardly say that we have received substantial representations from within the constituency from people who have been greatly disturbed by the situation and who have asked the National Executive Committee for assistance to reorganise the party in a manner which would enable it to serve its democratic socialist purpose. I shall be glad to have your observations in writing at your earliest convenience."
On 14 June Lawrence sent the NEC a long letter justifying his conduct and rejecting the accusations against him:
"There is nothing in the letter of Mr Morgan Phillips which justifies your decision to suspend me from membership. I deny absolutely the allegations made against me. I am informed that the NEC believes that my general activities and views are ’inimical to the best interests of the Labour Party and indistinguishable from those of known communists’. This allegation is based on my political record stemming back twenty years, one single quotation from the Sunday Times, and a lot of inner-party gossip conveyed to you, on your own admission, by people who failed to carry through my expulsion in open debate. On this flimsy evidence you have removed me from the Labour Group of St Pancras Borough Council which had, only a few weeks before, re-elected me its Leader for the third year in succession, and you have ’re-organised’ my local Labour Party by excluding from membership most of its Left Wing.
"The national press, and the local Tories, have hailed your attack on me and the Holborn and St Pancras South Labour Party as a public repudiation of the socialist activities of the St Pancras Borough Council. These gentlemen have all along claimed that the Council’s decision not to participate in the farce of Civil Defence, our refusal to raise rents despite the threat of a surcharge, and our flying of the Red Flag over the Town Hall on May Day, were activities inspired by communists and communist views. The day after my suspension the London Star headed its editorial on the subject with the one word ‘disowned’. The London Evening News was more specific with: ’Red Flag Lowered in St Pancras.’
"The press has at least judged us on what we have done. They know, as you know, that I do not write books nor produce a regular column in the Sunday newspapers. My views must, therefore, be expressed through my practical activities, in particular in pursuance of those council policies which I have helped to formulate. If my views are communist then that fact could easily be established in my activities. You have omitted all reference to these activities and that, in my opinion, is the most significant thing in the whole of Morgan Phillips’ lengthy letter.
"The one statement you produce in evidence of my communist views proves, if it proves anything at all, the opposite. I said that I am in the Labour Party because it is a big party and I want to get things done, and I don’t think there is much difference between socialism and communism. I once heard Aneurin Bevan say much the same thing. He said, at a public meeting, that were he Chinese he would be in the Chinese Communist Party for the same reason that, being British, he is in the Labour Party – because both these parties are the mass parties of the workers and could get things done. It would seem that if Mr Bevan would work for communism in China or socialism in Britain, he doesn’t think there is a lot of difference between them.
"You cite my past political record presumably to prove that I have always held communist views. In fact, that record – even in the garbled version of Mr Phillips – proves the exact opposite. The RCP was an organisation which, I now regret to say, spent most of its time attacking the communists. As I am being charged with organising a group which supports the communists, it is clear that something more than my past record is needed to prove your case.
"Anyway, you have always known about my past. Why now does it become grounds for suspension and possible expulsion? I think it is because now I am (or was until you suspended me) the leader of a borough council which has earned itself a reputation for defying the Tory government and for refusing to meekly acquiesce in Tory policy. My past political record is merely a convenient excuse to get rid of me and all who think like me. Being an ex-communist has nothing to do with it. Ex-communists voted for my expulsion when it was moved in the party, and ex-communists voted to remove me as leader of the Group. Dragging in my past membership of the Socialist Fellowship and my past editorship of Socialist Outlook is also irrelevant. Why now, after all these years, do these things become a reason for suspension? The Socialist Fellowship had thousands of members – including a lot of MPs.
"It is when you cite my admitted association with the National Association of Tenants and Residents and the Holborn and St Pancras United Workers’ and Tenants’ Defence Committee that we get a glimpse of the real reason for my suspension. In both these organisations, you say, communists are active. So they are, as also they are active in the trade union movement. It is something to their credit. Both the organisations referred to are bodies which exist to defend tenants against the landlords and their friend, the Tory government. They are not political organisations and, as yet, they are not proscribed. They are, in fact, rather primitive associations which permit tenants of all political persuasions to unite their efforts against a common enemy. When such organisations organise public demonstrations against Mr Henry Brooke’s Rent Act, as we did in the meeting at which the communist Mr Nicolson was one of the speakers, the only condition for participation is a readiness to resist the impositions imposed on tenants by the Tory government. To infer that Labour Party members should boycott such organisations because communists are active in them is cold war socialism in all its nakedness. This is the attitude, carried to its logical conclusion, which led the French Socialist Party to support De Gaulle rather than associate with the communists in defence of democracy.
"The rest of Mr Phillips’s letter consists of a series of allegations emanating from people who are my defeated political opponents, to the effect that I have organised a group which at all times follows the Communist Party line. I deny this absolutely. I shall refute all these hysterical allegations but first, may I pose a question: Would it not have been more democratic to have sought my views on all this chit-chat before you suspended me?
"Your anonymous informants tell you that I have organised a group which makes noisy interruptions at GMC meetings and they (your informants) feel intimidated. They say we tried to prevent discussion on a motion to expel me, that we demanded an open vote instead of a secret ballot, and that we ‘forced’ the party to give money to doubtful causes and persons. I say that all this is pure, unadulterated delirium. Noisy interruptions (on all sides) are, I’m afraid to say, a feature of many political meetings – especially when someone’s expulsion is being moved! But how this constitutes ‘intimidation’ is absolutely beyond me. It is true that some comrades were so disgusted with having to discuss my expulsion so soon after the May Day incidents that they moved ‘next business’. Nothing improper in that, surely. As for the open vote versus secret ballot, there can be differences about that – but they hardly call for a wholesale ‘reorganisation’ of the party. Donations to ‘doubtful causes’? I can’t say a thing in reply to because you don’t say what those doubtful causes were. This much is certain, though. All donations from the party were agreed by majority vote. Is that what you mean by being ‘forced’?
"It is then alleged that my activities have prevented the effective political and electoral functioning of the party. Facts speak for themselves in Holborn and St Pancras South we recently gained, for the first time, all three seats on the London County Council. Next, it is alleged that this mysterious ’group’ prevented the selection of some sitting councillors as municipal candidates in 1956. The two sitting councillors concerned appeared with the others before the ward members for selection – and, after a ballot vote, came bottom of the poll. There was nothing improper about it. The ward members merely exercised their right to select candidates of their own choosing. Why is this incident raised at all? Is it because you consider that sitting councillors should sit for ever, that they are irremovable?
"Finally, I am accused of having ‘brought about the resignation of the leader and chief whip of the Labour Group’. How this amazing piece of political hypnosis was performed is not explained but, as it is the first charge which has even the remotest bearing on politics, I will, if you will bear with me, tell the story in some detail. In 1956, Labour secured a substantial majority on St Pancras Borough Council and found itself having to fill five vacant aldermanic seats. The then leader of the Group, Councillor F. Powe, JP, LCC, parliamentary candidate for Harrow Central, proposed that we give all five seats to the Tories. The Group was flabbergasted – the more so when the leader explained that this proposal was in accordance with a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ entered into by himself and the leader of the Tories. The Group refused to accept this monstrous proposal, and Councillor Powe and the Chief whip resigned. Why is this raised against me? Do you suggest that, in order to prevent these resignations we should have accepted the leader’s proposal and given five buckshee seats to the Tories?
"I have now answered truthfully all the allegations and insinuations contained in Morgan Phillips’s letter. I submit that there is no case made to justify my expulsion. If, however, you now go on to expel me, I shall appeal to the National Conference. I shall ask the party to judge whether there is anything in my public record of activities which makes me unfitted for membership."
Not surprisingly, these arguments had little effect on Morgan Phillips and Co, and at its next meeting on 25 June the NEC expelled John Lawrence from the party. Some NEC members did raise the question of interviewing him, but Morgan Phillips dismissed this as unnecessary because Lawrence himself had not formally requested an interview. So Lawrence was thrown out without even being given the opportunity to attend the meeting to defend himself. "If this had happened on the other side of the iron curtain", he commented on receiving the news of his expulsion, "Mr Gaitskell would have organised a meeting to protest." Lawrence was asked if he would now join the Communist Party. "I am fighting for reinstatement to the Labour Party", he replied. "Does that sound as if I want to join the Communists?"
As Lawrence pointed out in his letter to the NEC, Transport House was also organising a thorough purge of the South Party. "The party was dissolved", George Wagner later recalled, "and the officers of the party were immediately taken into membership again and we were told to ‘filter out’ communists as we reorganised the party." As the constituency secretary, Wagner played a central role in the reorganisation, in the course of which he came into conflict with the national agent Len Williams who apparently wanted to use the proceedings to cleanse the CLP of all leftist influence. "Now you could talk sense to Morgan Phillips", Wagner observed. "We discussed how the party was going to work, and he told me we will have ward by ward meetings, where the officers can let in the others and then sort out who they take and who they don’t take. And I said to him, if you think you’re getting a right-wing party you are absolutely up the creek. We are keeping our general left-wing bearing, but of course no Trotskyites any more. And Morgan said, well that’s what I expected, I’m willing to play with that."
As Morgan Phillips had prescribed, the party was re-established through special ward meetings which were held without notifying supporters of the Lawrence group. In the case of David Goldhill’s ward, however, a sympathiser tipped them off when the meeting was to be held. "So we all turned up at the meeting, which we weren’t meant to be invited to", Goldhill recounted, "and we all sat in the room in Hampstead Road, the headquarters of the Holborn and South St Pancras Labour Party. And the official from Transport House said, we can no longer continue with this meeting unless you leave. We said, this is a meeting to re-form the Labour Party and we want to be members of the Labour Party, and we want to stay. He repeated his request for us to leave, and then closed the meeting. So they had another secret meeting and re-formed the ward without us. They re-formed the party with the people they wanted, not telling the people they didn’t want." And just to make sure that no Lawrence supporters slipped through the net, all those who were readmitted were required to sign a loyalty pledge accepting and agreeing to co-operate with the NEC’s reorganisation of the party. A Tribune editorial condemned this as "the language of McCarthyism".
Several members of the South Party were individually suspended and asked to "give reasons why they should not be expelled". One of them was Bernie Holland, who sent an angry reply to the NEC. "I plead guilty", he wrote, "to assisting in preventing evictions, in the formation of Tenants’ Associations and in defeating attempts to raise rents particularly through the introduction of means tests. I have fought against the deception of Civil Defence and its part in the government’s refusal to suspend nuclear tests. I helped to defend the Red Flag at St Pancras Town Hall, against the Tories and the Fascists, although we could have done with the assistance of those socialists who sing about it, once a year, at Annual Conference. In brief, along with thousands of others, I believe that actions against the Tories speak louder than words. I am grateful for having been allowed to play a part in the fight against my class enemies and I know that this fight will go on, irrespective of the desires of Mr Gaitskell and Co, until we have finally disposed of capitalism. These reasons, to Socialists, would dispel all thoughts of expulsion but no doubt will only confirm the National Executive Committee’s decision that John Lawrence and all who think like him must go."
Another victim of the purge was Irene Goldhill, the wife of the councillor, whose not unreasonable reply to the National Executive was that "I have not yet been told by the NEC why I have been suspended, and so I find it somewhat difficult to have to explain why I should not be expelled"! Needless to say, such appeals to elementary standards of justice failed to sway the NEC, and she was thrown out along with Bernie Holland. It was, David Goldhill points out, "real Stalinist stuff. My wife Irene, she wasn’t an official, she wasn’t a councillor, there was nothing they could get on her. She was just an ordinary active member of the Labour Party. So she was merely expelled, just like that, because she was married to me. There was nothing on the letter of expulsion, just that she was expelled, full stop. It was guilt by association".
John Lawrence and his supporters initially claimed that some 40 members had been expelled from the South Party, although George Wagner gave a figure of 12 to the press. The eventual number seems to have been somewhere in between. In addition, those councillors and aldermen from the North Party who had joined the Independent Socialist Group – Jock Stallard, Stewart Phelan, Phil Sheridan, Kathleen Sheridan (Peggy Duff’s daughter), James Buckland and Emmanuel Borg – fell victim to the NEC’s purge. Altogether some 30 members seem to have been expelled from the two St Pancras parties.
The St Pancras North Party had sent a letter to the NEC calling for the reinstatement of all those expelled, and later passed a resolution to that effect for annual conference. But they were evidently anxious to avoid a bureaucratic purge like the one in Holborn and St Pancras South. A statement was issued by four of the North Party officers, expressing their "dislike" of the way in which Lawrence had been dealt with by the NEC and their "regret" that his supporters had broken from the Labour Group, resulting in their expulsion from the party. The statement lectured the expelled councillors that "the place to fight for Socialism and for tolerance is inside the Labour Party", and emphasised that "there has been no investigation of the Labour Group or its policies and no criticism by the National Executive Committee".
This was too much for Jock Stallard, who sent a strong letter to Tribune, criticising the authors of the North Party’s statement for being "mainly concerned to justify their own acquiescence" in the expulsions. "I felt that we should have stood firm against this dictatorial interference by the NEC", he wrote, "and refused to allow them to depose our democratically elected leader of the council. In that case, I am sure, there would have been no expulsions at all and Councillor Lawrence would have been reinstated at the next NEC.... It seems that my crime in the eyes of the North St Pancras officers is that I didn’t run for constitutional shelter when the axe fell on my socialist comrades in the South Party – so now I and five other North councillors have been expelled. We all of us believed that ’the place to fight for Socialism is in the Labour Party’, but as far as I am concerned, whether we can still believe it after the October conference will depend on whether the conference reinstates the expelled St Pancras Socialists."
Meanwhile, the Lawrence group launched a vigorous campaign for reinstatement. They issued a leaflet entitled An Appeal to Labour Voters which put their case against expulsion:
"Labour voters! Are you aware that people who for years have led the fight against the Tories in St Pancras are now being expelled from the Labour Party in large numbers? Did you know that to carry through this purge, the top leaders – the National Executive Committee – have over-ruled strong protests from both local Labour Parties and from the Labour Group on the Council?
"Among those who have fallen under the axe are: Councillors John Lawrence, leader of St Pancras Borough Council; Hilda Lane, the Deputy Mayor of St Pancras; Jock Stallard, the Chief Whip of the Labour Group; John Edwards, Public Health Committee Chairman; Jim Buckland, Building Committee Chairman; David Goldhill, Secretary of the United Tenants’ Committee, set up to fight the Tory Rent Act; Stewart Phelan, Secretary of the St Pancras Trades Council; Emmanuel Borg, Secretary of the North St Pancras Co-op Party; George McKew, Shop Steward at Covent Garden; Phil Sheridan, one of the mainstays of the St Pancras Labour Youth Section; and Roy Beecham, Branch Official of ASLEF; Alderman Mrs Sheridan, for many years Secretary of North St Pancras Labour Party; and Charles Taylor, past Socialist Propaganda Secretary and active member of NATSOPA; also Margaret Davis, Secretary of the Holborn Co-op Party; Bernie Holland, Secretary of the Covent Garden branch of the Transport and General Workers Union; and many other active supporters of Socialist policies.
"All these expelled members have been accused of conducting activities against the interests of the Labour Party. It is a shameful lie. Here is their record. Please judge it for yourselves.
"Over the past two years St Pancras Borough Council, led by the people who have now been expelled, has fought the Tory government on every single issue affecting the lives and well-being of the workers of St Pancras. They have build more houses than most other London boroughs – while other councils have shut down their building programmes in accordance with the Government’s credit squeeze. They have refused to raise rents (some rents have actually been lowered), and have prevented the introduction of the means test for council tenants. They have started a vigorous slum clearance programme, which the Tory minister has now put a stop to. They have refused to participate in the deception of Civil Defence and have called on the Government to reach agreement with other nations for the banning of the bestial H-bomb as the only way to save the people of London from certain death. They have given all council employees a paid holiday on Labour Day – May Day – and have flown Labour’s flag, the Red Flag, over the Town Hall in defiance of threats from enraged Tories and Fascists.
"But these people whom the National Executive have chucked out of the Party didn’t confine their activities to the council chamber. They believed, and still believe, that the place of a Labour councillor is with the people in every demonstration against the Tory Government. They were, therefore, among the original sponsors of the United Tenants’ movement against the Rent Act. They marched in demonstrations against this Act. They spoke on the street corners against it. They prosecuted landlords who abused it. They picketed the homes of tenants who were threatened with eviction and they forced the landlords to retreat. They organised demonstrations to Whitehall to demand that the great empty houses in Cumberland Terrace be handed over to the council for housing some 6,000 families on the waiting list. They turned out – with thousands of other Socialists – to defend the Trades Council’s May Day rally against the Tories and Fascists, and many of them were arrested and fined. In brief, these expelled members have tried to act like Socialists. Is this why the National Executive Committee has expelled them? Is the National Executive Committee trying to say that there is no place in the Labour Party for people who fight the Tories?
"The National Executive Committee have now split and divided the Labour Party; it is a godsend to the Tories. Unless you intervene, it may mean less houses, higher rents and the end of all fight against the Tories. Only a few months ago, Labour in Holborn and St Pancras gained all three seats on the London County Council for the first time ever. We already have a good majority on the Borough Council, and our borough is represented in parliament by two Labour MPs; all these achievements have been placed in jeopardy by the actions of the National Executive Committee.
"The North St Pancras Labour Party has sent a resolution to the National Conference asking for the reinstatement of all expelled members. The Conference meets in October and we ask you to back up this appeal for reinstatement. Show the Party that we want a united labour movement in St Pancras, that we want to continue with the good work that has already been done, and that we want more socialists in the Party, not less."
This leaflet was distributed in a door-to-door campaign, and Labour supporters were asked to sign a petition calling for the reinstatement of the expelled members. Lawrence stated that 80% of those who were approached agreed to do so. By early September more than 5,000 Labour voters in St Pancras had put their names to the petition, while another petition in Greek had received the signatures of 300 Cypriots in the borough. Lawrence and the other expelled councillors also organised a public meeting to answer the charges against Lawrence by the Labour Party right wing. "It is a lot of chit-chat gossip from people who have lost out within the party and have had to go running to the National Executive Committee for help", John Lawrence told his audience, before going through Morgan Phillips’ letter point by point.
Morgan Phillips accused him of being a former member of the Communist Party. "So I was – 21 years ago", Lawrence retorted. Phillips said that Lawrence had been associated with an organisation known as the Socialist Fellowship. "So I was and one of its functions was to sing socialist songs. This accusation could be used against thousands of Labour Party members and 30 MPs." He was accused of having been the editor of Socialist Outlook. "I enjoyed it, too. I got out when it began to be almost exclusively used for anti-Communist propaganda." Morgan Phillips went on to say that Lawrence had organised several meetings in which prominent Communist speakers had taken part. "I know of only one", replied Lawrence. "That was the counter-meeting to the Holborn Hall meeting of Mr Henry Brooke and the Communist was Jock Nicolson who never once attempted any Communist views. Only last week Gaitskell spoke at a miners’ meeting with Communists on the platform." Lastly Lawrence took up Morgan Phillips’ claim that his public declarations had little in common with democratic socialism. "If the way I have been chucked out is democratic socialism, I want no part of it. The people who have had me expelled are discrediting socialism – not me."
Lawrence also campaigned for the right to address the Labour Party conference at Scarborough in September and appeal in person against his expulsion. A request to the NEC was turned down on the grounds that expelled members had no constitutional right to do this. But Lawrence was able to point to a precedent in the case of Stafford Cripps, who had been permitted to make a speech to the party conference after his own expulsion 20 years earlier. The hopes of Lawrence and his supporters were raised by the decision of the conference arrangements committee to report his request "to give an account of himself" to the conference delegates.
Delegates to the Bournemouth conference of the TUC early in September were issued with leaflets urging them to support Lawrence’s campaign for reinstatement which, Lawrence told the press, were well received. "The Labour Party can ill afford to lose such militant brothers from its ranks, yet all will be cast out – unless the trade union movement takes up their case", the leaflet stated. It was signed by executive committee members of the Electrical Trades Union, the Transport and General Workers Union and the National Union of Vehicle Builders, the assistant general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the convenor of Briggs Joint Shop Stewards’ Committee (of which Lawrence was secretary). Messages of support came from Constituency Labour Parties and trade union organisations across the country.
On the eve of the Labour Party conference the NEC dropped a further bombshell when it announced that it had barred Jock Stallard from attending the conference, despite his having been elected as a delegate by the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Although the NEC did not give a reason, Stallard told the press that he had no doubts that the ban was the result of his expulsion from the Labour Party because of his association with John Lawrence and his refusal to give certain undertakings which would have meant his continued Party membership (presumably an agreement to break with the Independent Socialist Group). "This raises a serious constitutional issue", John Lawrence pointed out. "Up to now affiliated members of the Labour Party could be delegates provided they were not also members of any proscribed organisations. This must virtually exclude all trade union members who are not also individual members of the Labour Party from attending the conference or indeed any meeting of the Labour Party." Jock Stallard stated that he had continued to pay the political levy to his union, of which he had been a member for 18 years, and had no intention of stopping in spite of the ban. He vigorously denied that he was a member of any proscribed organisation.
John Lawrence, Jock Stallard, Hilda Lane and Bernie Holland all went to Scarborough, where they had booked a room for a fringe meeting to put their case against expulsion. Lawrence spoke optimistically beforehand about the prospect of being allowed to address the conference, but seems to have been prepared for the rejection of his appeal against expulsion. "None of us intends to drop dead if the Labour Party refuse to take us back", he remarked. They took with them the petition – 68 yards long! – calling for their reinstatement. In addition, money collected door to door in St Pancras and donations from trade union branches had enabled them to produce more than 2000 copies of a 24-page pamphlet, The St Pancras Story, setting out their case for reinstatement, a copy of which was issued to every delegate. Edited by Lawrence himself, the pamphlet featured on its cover a picture of St Pancras Town Hall with the Red Flag flying above it. It explained where the Lawrence group stood politically, what had happened inside the Labour Group on the borough council and the facts about the reorganisation of Holborn and St Pancras South Labour Party, and it included the correspondence between Morgan Phillips and Lawrence.
The introduction to the pamphlet asked:
"On what did the NEC base its decision to carry through this purge in Holborn and St Pancras? Ostensibly on the material contained in the letter from Morgan Phillips to John Lawrence. But we believe that this ‘charge-sheet’ was merely a pretext and that the real reason for the expulsions was the NEC’s intense dislike of some of the activities of St Pancras Borough Council. It cannot be otherwise, for we have broken no party rules and, although we are accused of hostility to democratic methods, everything we have done on the council has been done with the full and even the enthusiastic support of the Labour Group, the two Constituency Labour Parties and the local trade union movement.
"As you know, some of these activities have received considerable publicity in the national press – things like the abolition of Civil Defence, the refusal to raise council rents although threatened with a surcharge, and the celebration of May Day with a public holiday for all council employees and the flying of the Red Flag over the Town Hall. (Of course, the council has done other and less publicised things and, in case there are people who think that we spend most of our time flying Red Flags or wrestling with the police, we have published elsewhere in this pamphlet a list of the activities on the St Pancras Council over the last twelve months.)
"Enraged by our efforts to act like socialists, the Tory press has been howling for action to be taken against the ‘reds of St Pancras’. The leader of the St Pancras Tories publicly announced that he was writing to Morgan Phillips to ‘do something’ about us. In our opinion, the NEC has bowed to this reactionary pressure. They have publicly repudiated socialists and socialist policies in order, presumably, to placate the alleged ’Liberal’ allies of the labour movement ...
"The NEC will tell you that we are ‘secret communists’. We’re not. We are socialists who believe that unless Labour people speak and act with some pride in their socialist beliefs, unless they squarely counterpose those beliefs to the ideas of the Tories, they will fail utterly to inspire socialist convictions in the ranks of Labour’s supporters. It is not enough to sing the Red Flag at the conclusion of this conference – it is necessary to fly it where we can and be proud to defend it against the synthetic patriots of the Tory Party and the hooligans of Mosley’s Union Movement.
"If we have discredited the party in St Pancras, how is it that 5000 ordinary Labour voters have signed a petition asking for our reinstatement? How is it that on May Day 3000 workers gathered outside the Town Hall to watch the ceremonial lowering of the Red Flag in the evening and sang the Red Flag again and again with many an old campaigner shedding a few tears of emotion? It was a sight we shall never forget and was ample reward for all the insults and slanders we have suffered at the hands of the Tory press.
"Seven of the expelled members were arrested for defying the police and the fascists on that memorable day. If this discredited Labour, how is it that in a few days more than £100 was sent in by Labour organisations to pay the costs of the court and the fines? We are not ashamed of what we have done. We are proud of it and, whether we are reinstated or not, we hope to see that flag over St Pancras next May Day – and over a lot more Town Halls as well.
"You may not agree with everything we have done in St Pancras, but at least you will admit that we tried, in our small way, to ‘have a go’. We didn’t just tamely submit to the established order of things. We tried to show in our public activities that Labour is a rebel party, a fighting party, a socialist party. We fully expected to earn the hatred of the Tories and the fascists – but we must admit that we didn’t bargain on being publicly disowned by the national leaders of our own party.
"The NEC says that our views and activities are indistinguishable from those of known communists. We deny it, but we could reply with far more justification that the views and activities of many prominent party members are indistinguishable from those of known Tories!
"Haven’t we got leaders who advocate no more nationalisation, leaders who resign their parliamentary seats (but not their party cards) to take up office on the directing boards of vast capitalist monopolies, leaders who publicly deplore strikes, and leaders who think there is nothing wrong in dining at the Royal table with leaders of industry and the Tory Party? In Labour’s ranks are prominent people who make a good living from the capitalist press by writing scurrilous attacks on trade unionists, while others, equally prominent, devote themselves to preaching morals to the workers and brotherly love to the employers. Leading Liberals – without abandoning their life-long Liberalism – become Labour MPs within months of joining the party, but socialists in St Pancras are expelled because they have dared to speak on the same platform as a communist at a meeting called by a Tenants’ Association to rally opposition to the Rent Act.
"None of the expelled members are communists – but we are all convinced that Labour will never fulfill its historic role of socialising Britain while it is sick with the disease of ‘anti-communism’. We believe that the party’s present insane hatred of Russia and the communists divides and confuses the workers, and inhibits us from undertaking any truly socialist activity. (We mustn’t, for example, fly the Red Flag for fear we shall be called communists.) Anti-communism plays into the hands of the Tories who, of course, have a vested interest in crushing Russia and preventing the spread of communist and socialist ideas among the British people. By going along with this anti-communist crusade we become the bugle boys of imperialism instead of its grave-diggers. In our opinion, if even half the energy at present expended in attacking Russia and the communists was devoted to attacking capitalism and the Tories, the party would long ago have discredited Macmillan’s government of public school bandits and be well on the way towards sweeping them from power for ever.
"These are the fundamental beliefs which have inspired the work we have conducted in St Pancras, both inside and outside the council chamber. We are not ashamed of what we have done, and we don’t regret it. Now the NEC – overriding all protests from the local labour movement – has cast us out. You, the rank-and-file delegates to the great conference have the power to put us back. We hope you will."
At the conference itself, in a closed session, Peggy Duff on behalf of St Pancras North Labour Party moved the suspension of standing orders so that John Lawrence could be heard. This was seconded by no less a figure than TGWU general secretary Frank Cousins who, though no political sympathiser of the Lawrence group, apparently felt strongly that the party should have proper machinery for appeals against expulsion. Such sentiments were evidently popular within the party, for the St Pancras resolution received 2,531,000 votes. Even Tom McKitterick, the Holborn and St Pancras South delegate, was mandated to support Lawrence’s right to be heard. But, with 4,101,000 against, the motion was comfortably defeated. And while dissatisfaction with the methods used to expel Lawrence was widespread, there was less opposition to the expulsion itself. When Peggy Duff moved the reference back of that section of the NEC report dealing with the St Pancras purge, this was defeated by 6,019,000 to 476,000. Here a decisive intervention was made by McKitterick, who mounted a bitter attack on Lawrence and his comrades.
Speaking to the North London Press, John Lawrence praised the efforts of Peggy Duff, and said that the conference’s refusal to accept his petition was a snub to the 5,000 Labour voters who signed it. "We have long known", he said, "that the Labour Party is not Socialist in policy, but it would appear now that it is not even a democratic party, since it has been established that the NEC, in the matter of expulsions, is judge, jury and executioner and there is no machinery for appealing against their decisions."
"Readmission into the Labour Party – at least for many years – now seems impossible for Councillor Lawrence", the North London Press commented. "He and his supporters have been discussing whether to join another party or remain an Independent Labour group. Councillor Lawrence said on Wednesday that he would never stand for the council as an Independent and he was not prepared to wait five years ’doing nothing’ for the Labour Party to welcome him back." The Independent Socialist Group on the council were unable to agree on their next move. But in the week following the party conference Lawrence stated that, since the Labour Party no longer wanted them, he and his supporters would have to consider joining another party. The party they had in mind was indicated by Lawrence’s subsequent statement that they would support the Communist candidate in a forthcoming by-election in Somers Town, "for Communist policy on local government is identical with our own". The Communist candidate John Taylor, for his part, declared that the CP regarded Lawrence as a "good socialist" and would be happy to have him as a member.
To be continued