Dipping my toes in the murky waters of politics

When I returned to my desk on that mid-November Monday, following the funeral of my last grandparent, I was determined to throw myself into my work and become part of the Basildon community (although to do that fully I would need to wait until I was allocated a flat).

Basildon was born out of the Attlee Labour government’s desire to rebuiild Britain after the ravages of the 1939-1945 war and to create new towns as well as to offer a better standard of living.

By the time I arrived in 1972 the Basildon Development Corporation was well into its stride of house building, having been formed over two decades earlier, and had also been responsible for new shopping developments as well as industrial sites and leisure areas. The corporation was not the only major player in the housing game as the Basildon Urban District Council was also a major provider of homes.

The bright new future for Basildon as offered by Attlee was, however, mainly created during the 13 years of Tory control from 1951 to 1964.

When the plans for a new town were set up Basildon was part of the South-East Essex constituency and was represented by Ray Gunter, an army officer in the recent war who won the seat for Labour in 1945. Since the 1920s (before which the seat had been a shuttlecock batted back and forth from Conservative to Liberal) the seat had been held at different times by the Tories and Labour and since the election before the war had been held by the Tories.

Ray Gunter

The Parliamentary political situation changed before the new town plans had really got under way, however, and Basildon was incorporated into a constituency centred on Billericay and except for the 1966 election was then held by the Tories, starting with Bernard Braine. It was taken back by Labour’s Eric Moonman in 1966.

Bernard Braine
Eric Moonman

By the time I arrived, in 1972, the seat had swung back to the Tories and the MP during most of my time there was Robert McCrindle but by 1974, under a reorganised constituency, Eric Moonman returned in triumph as MP.

Robert McCrindle

This political shilly shallying had little to do with the politics of the people of the new town of Basildon, which tended to be Labour, as indicated by the continuing Labour control of Basildon District Council.

In North Wales I had talked to MPs from Tory and Labour but in the main I had more contact with the members of the various rural and urban authorities around Rhyl. These were a mix of Tories, Labour, Independents and groups such as the Rhyl Residents Association.

I was still not a diehard for any particular party at that time although I felt more at home in the Rhyl Labour Club than the Conservative Association Club. In Basildon, however, I found that politics in the town itself was more important to those closely involved, than any matter of life and death.

I began spending more time dealing with politicians when reporting on council meetings and other matters than I had at home in North Wales. Before long I found myself meeting up with some of the councillors at the bar of the local Arts Centre (which had begun to be an important area of my life) including a rising Labour star, John Potter, who became leader of the Basildon Urban District Council soon after I arrived and continued as leader when it became Basildon District Council.

Although he was about 10 years my senior I felt more at ease talking to him than I did the older council members, especially the Tory ones who seemed to be stuck in a century-old rut.

Gradually that flicker of socialism that continued to stay alight in my heart and mind began to burst into the fuller flame of the workers’ torch which at that time still formed part of the image of the Labour Party.

John was powered by that same flame which made some of those chats over a pint get quite heated at times, but not in the sense of argument, just of heated debate. At the end of the night we tended to be in agreement on most things political.

This awakening of my political sensibilities did not affect my work, however, and I always made sure that any story I did regarding local or Parliamentary politics was always covered from all angles with no preference given to one side or the other.

I did learn a lot about politics from John and before long I began looking into the Labour Party as opposed to just general socialist movements over the years. I found, at that time, it was more acceptable to me than the somewhat dated policies of the Tories and certainly more so than the Liberals who still appeared as a rather pallid political grouping that didn’t really know where it was going.

I had been a member of the National Union of Journalists since my early days in North Wales but I hadn’t had much involvement as even in Basildon it seemed a rather toothless tiger that mainly operated at national level.

My views on that were due for a surprising awakening within my first year but that is a story for later. For now I increased my awareness of socialism and its links to reform and revolution by spending time on Saturday morning at the second-hand book stall at the local market.

Here I found old editions from the Left Book Club; a two-volume edition of Das Kapital by Karl Marx; slim paperback volumes of the Little Lenin Library; even a book on Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

Sidney and Beatyrice Webb

My library of socialism, communism, revolution and reform has grown into the hundreds since then but this nucleus still forms my favourite part.

Since dipping my toes in the political waters half a century ago my views have not remained unchanged. After all if on your journey through life you do not listen to new ideas and give them careful thought then you will never learn. Instead of toning down the red from those early days of enlightenment I have tended to see the flame fly brighter and redder.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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