Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Vote, vote, vote for Mr Strachey he's the one who'll gi'e ye ham and eggs

When driving up to Scotland to spend a few days there as my wife and I do three or four times a year, we pass the big blue and white saltire sign which announces we have returned to the land of milk and honey. I usually make an uncalled for and puerile remark vaguely directed towards my wife, who is English, about the air suddenly feeling fresher. Being a woman of insight she disregards these remarks with the sigh of the resigned, bored and weary. She has heard it all before. "Water off a duck's back," is the phrase that comes to mind.

The air is fresher here

Undaunted by this dismissal I usually begin to sing a Scottish song with a line like, "And it's oh but I'm longing for my ain folk" but driving up on this January 2nd just past I found myself singing, I don't know why they came into my head, the lines of a skipping song that the girls at Liff Road School sang and skipped to in the playground during the early 1950s. The lyrics went like this,

'My lad wears a kilt and he wears it in the fashion
And every time he twirls aroond, ye cannae help fae laughing.'

The boys' and the girls' playgrounds were separated by iron palings so we couldn't join the girls but we watched. Occasionally in the summer after school we'd find a patch of rough  ground and  some of us boys would join the girls in skipping. I should point out here and now before a volley of spleenful emails and texts are directed towards me :  the boys who were the best fighters in the school never ever joined in these unisex endeavours.

One skipping game I remember had an accompanying song about the 1951 parliamentary election. For the game to proceed two people plied a long rope in continued rotation while one skipper after another would take turns at skipping to a verse of the song. The song went,

'Vote, vote for Mr Junor, he's the one who gives ye ham 'n  eggs
And if ye dinnae vote for him then we'll shove ye in the bin
And we'll vote for Mr. Strachey instead'.

One skipper leaves and the next enters.

'Vote vote for Mr Strachey, he's one who gives ye ham 'n eggs
If ye dinnae vote for him then we'll shove ye in the bin
And we'll vote for Mr Bowman instead'.

And so on.

I'm not sure at that age we kids knew much about the elections, and I don't know how we came to know the names of the candidates but recently I decided to find out who Mr Bowman, Mr Junor and Mr Strachey were. Certainly we were singing the song around the time of the 1951 general election when these three  men stood as the only candidates for the Dundee West Parliamentary constituency.

David Bowman, engine driver
David Bowman who stood for the Communist Party was an engine driver and the only candidate from Dundee. 

Sitting at the heart of the Dundee West constituency Lochee, where our school was situated, was a stronghold of the Communist Party in Dundee at that time. In fact just near Frankie Davies Cafe was a large room, almost a wee hall, where the Communist Party would hold its meetings and sometimes on Saturday afternoons Party members would show old early talkie feature films and communist propaganda films. At first we were keen to go along to these matinees because we liked the idea of watching films for free, but the trouble was that the vision and sound were so out of sync that as entertainment it was not a very satisfactory experience and it wasn't long before we stopped going.

A communist all his adult life, David Bowman had refused to stand against Strachey in the 1945 and the 1950 general elections (which Strachey had won for Labour) because he respected the latter's Marxist sympathies and so he stood instead as a candidate for the Dundee East constituency in 1950 mustering just over 1,000 votes.

By 1951 Strachey's Marxism had become sufficiently diluted by his ministerial experience at the War Office from 1950 to 1951, that David Bowman decided to stand against Strachey for the Dundee West seat in 1951. Nonetheless on election day Bowman trailed in as the last of three candidates with 1508 votes. John Strachey again won the seat for Labour, polling 29,020 votes.

There being no Unionist candidate, John Junor, standing as the Liberal candidate, amassed 25,714 votes.  Junor, who had been a losing candidate in the 1945 election when he stood for Kincardine and West Aberdeenshire, and in a by-election for Edinburgh East in 1947, never stood for parliament again following his defeat in Dundee.  He continued his career as - in my opinion -  a bombastic newspaper columnist for, and later as the editor of, the Sunday Express.

John Junor :  Liberal?

Mr Strachey, as he had been in 1945 and 1951, was the one our parents voted for to supply us with ham and eggs.  John Strachey was an an Englishman, an Etonian and a graduate of Magdalene College Oxford who had joined the Labour Party in the 1930s because he was seriously and sincerely  concerned about a fairer  distribution of wealth.  He first stood for parliament in 1945 as did a number of young men and women from privileged backgrounds who had seen the sufferings of the poor in the 1920s and 1930s, and were determined that the United Kingdom should become a fairer place. How things have changed since those halcyon days of the 1945-1951 Labour Government.

Etonian Marxist

Well,  you cannae help fae laughing. The air isn't as fresh as it was. A left wing Etonian doesn't rule Dundee West any more, but a fashion that hasn't altered is the hegemony of the old kind of patrician Etonian over the United Kingdom.

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