Page 3, 10th October 1975

10th October 1975
Page 3
Page 3, 10th October 1975 — Background to Tribune pandemonium

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Locations: New Jerusalem, Dublin, London


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Background to Tribune pandemonium


four months after his arrival he had set up a school in Drogheda for 150 boys — 40 of them the sons of Protestant settlers.

It seemed natural to him to provide education for all, and he soon developed excellent relations with many of the leading Protestants of the area, including Protestant clergy, at a time when anti-Catholic feelings were being fostered in England.

his successor today is opposed to the desegration of Catholic schools in Northern Ireland. One feels Blessed Oliver would hardly give his blessing to such a view, as the present system helps to preserve "tribalism."

In Britain, the Parliament, many of them former Cromwellian officers, led by Lord Shaftesbury, opposed King Charles II's nomination of his brother James, a convert to Catholicism, as his heir.

Lord Shaftesbury, a skilled propagandist in a London where mob rule seemed the order of the day, seized on a "plot" conceived by Titus Oates.

This alleged that the Pope had ordered the assassination of the king and that England was to be put under the Pope's rule. Ireland was also said to he involved, the French king planning to land an army there with the financial assistance of the Pope.

Archbishop Plunkett was arrested in Dublin, which he had unluckily visited to attend the funeral of a relative, being normally in rural areas out of the authorities' reach. He was accused of organising an army of 70,000 men and money to finance them to join with the French invaders.

When he was first tried in Dundalk, he told the court he had no objection to an allProtestant jury. Nor did he have reason to. Of the two bribed witnesses against him, the one brought forward was drunk, the other had earlier fled to avoid being charged with serious crimes. The case against him broke down.

He was then taken to London and imprisoned in appalling conditions in Newgate Jail, while corrupt Protestant and Catholic witnesses, including some priests, were bribed to lie about his conduct.

Today what remains of his body is at Downside Abbey, Somerset. His head, exposed for veneration, is in St Peter's Church, Drogheda.

During his life, Blessed Oliver persuaded many Irish "guerillas" of the day who had been dispossessed when their lands were taken by Cromwellians, to lay down their arms. It would be hard to find a saint who could be more relevant to this part of the world


IT WAS BOUND to happen, although no one could make any prediction about where and when. It made good television. The scene could not have been better. More than a thousand people in a packed hall, the television arc lights and the battery of speakers including all the darlings of the Left — Eric Heffer, Tony Benn, Ian Mikardo, Michael Foot and in the Chair the Editor of Tribune himself, Richard Clements.

The great trades union leader interrupted Ian Mikardo, the elderly enfant terrible of the Labour Party and accused him of attacking the trades unions. What is the story. the meaning behind the whole scene which for a moment reduced the Tribune Rally to pandemonium and where two men, who had in the past been comrades and allies in so many battles, were glaring at each other before their amazed acolytes?

As I indicated in my article previewing the Labour Party Conference, not only the Left of the party is unhappy about the policy of the Government in trying to tackle the twin problems of mounting unemployment and inflation. The present policy, hammered out by the Government and trade union leaders, is a continuation of the Social Contract.

The work was done in the Liaison Committee representing the National Executive of the Labour Party, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress. Both Ian Mikardo and Jack Jones are members of this Committee. As in all agreements that are made and bargains struck. there had been give and take on both sides as the policy was forged.

Now Ian Mikardo, who had been present at the discussions, was arguing that the unions had given too much and obtained too little in return from the Government. They had scrapped free collective bargaining and accepted a disguised statutory incomes policy, had betrayed the lower-paid workers, pensioners and the other less fortunate in our society. That was the criticism.

It was right that the criticism should he made, whether it is fair or accurate is more debatable. Most Labour Party members are unhappy about the situation in which they find themselves. None of them is certain of the future or of the "sunlit uplands" to which Ted Short happily led us through Michael Foot's typhoon after Dennis Healey's navigator had been dropped over the side. There were so many weather metaphors and synonyms at Blackpool last week that we were often uncertain whether we were attending a Labour Conference or a convention of meteorologists vying with each other to see whom they could make seasick first by the mixing of horrific, climatic symbolisms. The unrest in the party had shown itself when Denis Healey had lost his place on the National Executive Committee to Eric Heifer, the hero of the Left, the martyr of the Great Debate on the Common Market. The Chancellor had not even the consolation of being runner-up in the elections, being beaten by Jack Ashley, the lip-reading champion of the disabled.

Now Mikardo brought the criticism of the Government's policy into the open and it was made as an attack upon the role the Trades Unions had played in the negotiations and Jack Jones was mentioned in particular. Jack Jones, who had seen the earlier Press release of the speech, stormed on to the platform accusing Mikardo of attacking the trades unions. The significant point about the Tribune platform on this occasion was that for the first labour Party Conference that can recall, there was no leading trades union representative among the speakers. Frequently in the past Jack Jones was on the platform, articulate, eloquent, quiet, spelling out the message of Socialist advance through the medium of both the unions and the party.

Over the years Tribune as a newspaper and an organisation has benefited considerably from the support of Jack Jones and the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Yet it was there, on the Tribune platform, that the unions in general and Jack Jones in particular were being attacked. The rest is history, but the significance of the event is important. Michael Foot made for me the best speech of the week in defence of the Government's policy and of the unions. He showed how in the Government's early months the lower paid, the public employees, the unemployed, pensioners and the rest had benefited and made up all the ground they had lost during the Heath wages freeze.

He was passionate and angry — angry at Mikardo, angry at the critics who refused to recognise the facts of economic life. We were in a deep financial crisis. The Labour Government had a majority of only one. We could succeed only if we carried along the Full support of the working people. And he underlined again and again the message, the majority is one "and we don't always know where he is."

Lose the majority "push the whole contraption over" and we ended up with a Tory Government who would not be seeking an agreement with the unions or working in parallel with them but would have different priorities (most of them contradictory) which would set back any social advance for a generation.

Jack Jones was right to be angry. He knows the risk he and his fellow trade union leaders are running in supporting the Government policy. If it is to fail he and they will lose their authority over the rank and file. He, too, would like to walk into the New Jerusalem of the Left tomorrow, but he knows it is not yet built and that to achieve it those on the Labour Left are finding it more difficult than building of pyramids. But we do have a few stones in place and more to come in the next session of Parliament.

In criticising the union leadership, Ian Mikardo has weakened the Left in the party, made it more difficult for those few voices the Left have in the Government and unions to he heard.

Jack Jones had a right to be angry — not at the criticism, but at the manner in which it was presented, and so was I.

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