Monthly Archives: July 2015

Nicholas Mosley

Nicholas Mosley was born in 1923, the elder son of Sir Oswald Mosley.

He was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, and from 1942-6 he served as captain in the Rifle Brigade.

He is the author of books on politics and religion and has also written a biography of his father, Beyond the Pale. His many novels include Hopeful Monsters, which won the Whitbread Prize in 1990. Films have been made of two of his novels, Accident and Impossible Object. His autobiography, Efforts at Truth, was published in 1994.

I interviewed him in 1997.

Your autobiography Efforts at Truth might be described as an attempt to make sense of life. Do you think you have succeeded? 

I’ve succeeded in trying to understand something in myself that I hadn’t understood before. One doesn’t finally quite make sense of life, because there is something essentially ungraspable, but what one can do is get near enough so that somehow the understanding is there, even though you don’t actually pin it down.

Your autobiography does not take the usual form, a chronological account of birth, schooling, significant milestones, and so on. It is more a critique of your fiction interwoven with your life. Do you think your life can be explained in terms of your books, and vice versa? 

It was a way of trying to deal with the problem. A lot of autobiographies are by their very nature self-pleading and self-justifying, or they’re trying to attack someone. I thought that if I tried to talk about my life in terms of my books, there might be a chance of getting some sort of objectivity. I could look at what I was writing and I could look back on what I was doing at the time, on how I was living. By getting some sort of interplay between the two I would both be trying to understand what I was doing in the fiction and also looking at my own life.

Your autobiography offers a view of the human condition based on free will within the context of a Christian faith. How extensive is this free will? Are we totally free? 

No. We are free more than anything to look at what our situation is, which is itself a very large freedom. I don’t think one has freedom to alter the world or alter the circumstances very much, but if one uses one’s freedom to look at oneself and look at one’s circumstances, I think this does have an effect, even on the circumstances. Things are altered by looking honestly. That’s the real freedom one has: to look, to watch and to listen.

If we accept the concept of free will it suggests that life is full of choices, and in that sense we are free to make those choices, however difficult they may be. But where do chance and casualty come in? What about the chance of going overboard or falling under the proverbial bus? Or what about when a difficult choice is forced on you? Isn’t free will a hopelessly limited concept in this complex world? 

It is limited. I don’t think one can run the world or even run one’s own life by an effort of will, but I think that if one gets into the habit of looking at oneself and trying not to pull the wool over one’s eyes or other people’s eyes, then life does happen in a slightly different way. One is then a little less liable to fall down the coalhole.

Sons of famous fathers traditionally have a difficult time. When it is notoriety bordering on infamy it must be doubly difficult. Has that been a major defining element in your life? 

I find it hard to answer that, because I’m in no position to know what I would have been like if I hadn’t been the son of my father. But yes, obviously it has played a very large part in my life. It had certain disadvantages which one needn’t spell out, but there were also advantages in that my father was an extraordinarily lively man of ideas, and the sort of feeling I got as a young man was that one could question anything. That was a great help to me. Being my father’s son also got me out of what might be called the usual sort of upper-class Etonian rut. My father was an outsider, so although one had one foot inside the world, one also had a foot outside. It was a challenge whenever one became gloomy about being called Mosley, but it never really entered my head to think this was a great misfortune.

I suppose one of the problems is that even when – as in your case – you seem to have come to terms with the past, made peace with your father, laid the ghost, it will still be thought by others that your father is the cross you bear. Has that perhaps been an irritation? 

I don’t naturally think in those terms. Everyone is born with certain advantages and certain disadvantages, and to start wondering if life would have been easier if one had been a different person is not a good idea.

In The Rules of the Game you recall how you heard from your nanny about your mother’s death when you were at school, aged nine. You suggested the reason why you remember so little about your mother was perhaps because it was not bearable to remember. Has there been a tendency to romanticize your mother because of this? 

Maybe. After my mother died people used to speak of her in very glowing terms, very romantic terms. She was obviously a very warm person, a very much loved person, and that had a clear effect on me. But the really striking thing about my memories of my mother is how few memories I have. That is because I was brought up in the age of nannies.

Have you continued to miss your mother throughout your life? 

Not consciously, absolutely not consciously at all, but what goes on in the unconscious, who knows…It has sometimes been pointed out to me that I almost never have written about a mother-son relationship and that is because I have no experience of it, I suppose.

Your mother died at the time when it was fashionable to exclude children from death and funerals and even the opportunity to say goodbye. How conscious were you of that denial, of being shut out? 

I remember clearly being brought home from my prep school by my nanny. I was nine and it was my first term. A few days later, on the day of the funeral, my sister and I were told that we were not going because it was thought it would upset us. I do remember thinking that it was stupid, just one of the things that the grown-up world had got wrong. We used to live in this lovely house by a winding river in Buckinghamshire, and I can remember sitting on the banks of the river while I knew my mother’s funeral was going on, and saying out loud, ‘I’m sorry I’m not there.’ I certainly thought it was a mistake, but in those days, sixty years ago, that was the attitude.

It was not long before rumours abounded that your mother had died of a broken heart on account of her husband’s infidelities…that must surely have made things even harder to bear? 

I always thought that was rubbish. Even at the age of ten I can well remember thinking that it simply didn’t make sense, because my mother had actually died of peritonitis after an appendix operation. People used to murmur that it was because she’d lost the will to live, but there was no evidence of that, and I always thought badly of the people who said that. One thing I’m sure of is that my father was certainly heart-broken when my mother died. Perhaps he was being unfaithful, but he was the sort of man who could both be genuinely heart-broken when she died and be carrying on with another woman. He was a complex man of enormous energy.

You began to stammer at the age of seven and in Rules of the Game you go through the well-known psychological explanations for stammering. But the theory you seem to favour is that it is in some ways a protest against what you call ‘the too easy flow of words’. Isn’t that too simplistic as an idea – that we stammer because otherwise we might be drowned in a sea of words? 

Yes, it is a bit simplistic. It’s an explanation I gave to myself later in life, but I think it is superficial. The more interesting psychological explanation, which I was offered years later by a psychiatrist, is that stammering is a way of defending oneself from other people’s aggression and also, perhaps even more importantly, a way of protecting oneself against one’s own aggression towards others. I’d never thought of that myself, but it did strike a chord, and it is a nice psychoanalytical idea.

Would you be happily cured of your stammer, or has it perhaps become too much a part of your make-up for you to let it go easily? 

I don’t know. It has certainly become very much part of me. When I was at school it was a great pain, a great anxiety, and when I was in the army it was extremely embarrassing. But in later life on the whole I’ve been very lucky, and I’ve been able to lead my own life. I haven’t wanted to put myself into situations where it mattered, so it isn’t something which worries me very much. Every now and then I’m in a situation when I would like to be able to make a public speech without stammering, and then I find it an awful bore, but I usually just accept it.

Your marriage to Rosemary was an attempt to balance faithful commitment to each other with individual freedom – an attempt which did not succeed. Did you come to think that because you did not achieve it, that it was in itself unachievable? 

I suppose it is really unachievable. Rosemary and I for quite a number of years made a very good shot at it. We caused each other a certain amount of pain – I certainly caused her pain – but for a time we did in a way achieve it, and we were very loving and fond of each other. We had a hard time at the end of our marriage, but after we’d separated and divorced, and I had married again, I was on very good terms with Rosemary. I used to go and stay with her up in the Isle of Man where she had gone to live, and we actually got on very well, rather like an old couple who had gone through hard times together. So in a way we achieved something, but we certainly didn’t achieve what might be called a stable marriage.

You went to live in a hill farmhouse in North Wales which was a conscious decision to remove yourself from the world, to remain aloof. You write: ‘We had found some Garden. But how in a Garden does one learn?’ Did you mean it was not possible to learn in isolation, or what? 

I suppose I was playing around with the image of the Garden of Eden and the idea that if Adam and Eve had stayed in the Garden they would have remained happy children. In some way, if the world was to mean anything, they had to get out. Rosemary and I worked this hill farm and we were happy, and I wrote my first novel, and my second novel, and she painted pictures, but there was always something else happening. And in the end trying to cut ourselves off in Wales didn’t seem to work, I used the idea throughout the book that the point of life is to learn, to learn what one’s here for. The phrase ‘the meaning of life’ has become a sort of farcical phrase, a Monty Python joke, but I think it’s very interesting.

You record that you had inherited your father’s impulse to philander. Do you think these things are in any sense genetic, or does one learn by example? 

I should think mine was in some sense genetic. I certainly don’t think it was learning by example, because I wasn’t very conscious of my father. The time when I was on very close terms with him was when he was in gaol in the war and then just after the war, when he was absolutely not philandering. He was very exhausted, very run down after the war, and he went to the country and just led the life of a country gentleman. But although I had no example, it was true that in the world in which I grew up, the world of my father’s and mother’s friends, it was just taken for granted that one philandered. And what I wanted to do when I married Rosemary was to be able to feel free to flirt in a rather romantic manner, but I also wanted to be faithful to Rosemary; and of course that’s what didn’t work.

You say at another point in the book: ‘We are not trapped by our background; we can change ourselves and the world.’ This would seem to suggest that you could have become who you wanted, done what you wanted, and that everything including philandering, was optional…is that right? 

I can’t quite remember the context in which I said that, but I certainly didn’t really mean that. I don’t think one can change either oneself or the world; I don’t think one can change anything by effort of will. All one can do by will is observe what the case is, and I believe that has a very subtle power of changing the whole atmosphere. It’s quite a religious attitude, whether you call it mystical or Buddhist. The whole point of detachment is to be able to get oneself away from being trapped by one’s environment or heredity.

Regarding your love affairs, you write, ‘There is no point in guilt.’ There may be no point but did you suffer from guilt none the less? 

Oh yes, oh yes…certainly when I realized there were people being hurt. The thing about guilt is, you have to try and do something about it – either by breaking it off, or by talking and trying to find a way through. It is of course very difficult to go through life without causing any suffering to others. Even people who play things very carefully can cause suffering to others by being so cautious they won’t commit themselves. Parents who won’t show any emotions probably do as much damage as anyone.

The letters from Rosemary which you published are very critical of your behaviour. At the very least you emerge as someone who must have been very difficult to live with. Was it a hard decision to publish them, and did you do so unflinchingly? 

Well what happened was this: I thought Rosemary’s letters were absolutely first class, so my writer’s eye was caught just by their sheer quality. I also thought that a lot of the criticisms were valid. At the time when I was writing the first draft of the book, I had Rosemary’s letters to me, but I didn’t have mine to her. Rosemary was still alive then, though she wasn’t very well, but I thought that it would be a bad move to ask for my letters and to publish a kind of defence of myself – this was just the sort of thing that I didn’t want. I didn’t want to justify myself; I wanted her to put the case against me, and I wanted my answer to the case against me to be shown in her later letters. She also wrote me rather wonderful letters saying, ‘This is what life’s like, and you’ve done your best, you’ve fought; you’ve struggled along, I know you, you’re a very difficult person, but in some way that’s life, and isn’t all that bad.’

Do you perceive yourself as a difficult person to live with? 

Yes, I think so, partly because I probably am anyway, and partly because I’m a writer. Writers are people who want to poke their noses into everything. If you want to see how life works you have to look into the dark things, you have to be interested in everything, and I think that makes you difficult.

You have had a complicated relationship with religion, Christianity in particular. Would you describe it as a flirtation, a passionate affair, or something much more enduring and accepting? 

It’s enduring in the sense that something has endured. I started off being very agnostic, almost atheistic, and very critical. Then I met this strange holy man as I call him, Father Raynes, an Anglican monk, who had a tremendous effect on me. In fact my commitment was really almost to him, but through him I then committed myself to an orthodox way of life, or I tried to, with extreme difficulty. But by doing that, I learned that that wasn’t the point, that that was just a stage to go through. You go through a stage of being committed, being obedient, and then if you do this, what you learn is the opposite. You learn a sort of freedom; and that has been something outside you becomes something inside you. That’s the theory, and I think to a certain extent that did happen with me.

You were once hostile to the Christian God and unable to answer the question of how a good and all-powerful God could permit evil. How do you answer it now? 

That’s the heart of the thing. I think God’s goodness is quite a difficult quality from what humans think goodness ought to be. God’s love of man was that he gave the highest gift that man could have, which was freedom, the freedom to love in a world in which it wasn’t easy. If there isn’t any love, one isn’t a human being one’s a robot. I’m putting this in the rather old-fashioned terms of God the Father, but the way I look at it now is that although there is an enormous amount of evil in the world, if one looks at it and faces it, one is almost given what in the old language would be called a gift of grace. One is able to find a sense of rightness even given the appalling evil in the world.

Have you found it? 

You can’t say you’ve found it because you might lose it immediately, but the possibility is certainly there, even with the horrors going on in the world.

Does your faith extend to asking God’s forgiveness for misdemeanours? 

Oh yes, but one does this in a very offhand way. One asks for forgiveness, but not by heavy breast-beating….one says, oh God, I’ve done that, and I’m sorry.

Your novels – up until Hopeful Monsters – have generally been considered difficult, over intellectual, rather un-English in canonical terms. Did this reaction disappoint, or was it in line with your expectations? 

It wasn’t in line with my expectations. I was always hoping to be suddenly welcomed with, ‘Wow, isn’t this very interesting stuff!’ And to some extent that happened with Accident and Impossible Object, published at the end of the 1960s. I got quite a bit of recognition there but not on a grand scale. After that I went out on a limb. I didn’t just want to stay preening myself on the little limb I’d got to. But I don’t think anyone understood what I was getting up to at all. It wasn’t their fault; I just didn’t get it right.

You have sometimes seemed to bemoan the lack of ideas and intellectualism, and an over-concentration on character in the English novel compared with its European counterpart. There has never really been an intelligentsia in England in the European sense and, so doesn’t our novelistic tradition reflect the way things are? 

There isn’t perhaps an intelligentsia in England, but the literary crowd in England tend to write about oddballs and weirdos. I don’t think everyone in England is like that really. One’s always being told that ideas are so boring in England, and that all that’s interesting is sex and violence or shopping. There’s an awful lot of stupidity, because it’s the fashion not to talk about ideas, but to run people down and criticize.

A lot of what you call ‘the upper-class immunity against true feelings’ is bred and nourished in the public schools. One imagines that Eton might have been the perfect protection against an inner life. How did you manage to develop this inner life, to get in touch with your own feelings? 

The answer to that is that I had great friends. I had two or three really good personal friends who weren’t in the normal run of at Eton. When you’re at Eton you’re supposed only to have friends in your own house; it’s deemed rather bad form to have friends in other houses. But one friend was someone I had known in my infant school, another I had known at my prep school, and we talked about everything, and that’s what fed my own feelings.

Apropos your father’s infidelities which your father argued were trivial compared to the deep love he had for your mother, you write, ‘Perhaps in the end one does not have much chance of getting away with this sort of thing; but to be sure, people try.’ That makes it sound rather as if the problem is not the infidelity itself but the business of being found out…is that right? 

I think one is always found out; one finds out oneself. Infidelities take their own toll but I think you can learn from them, and you can learn how to be faithful. Quite a lot of people go through a stage of being unfaithful and then they learn that it’s not worth the candle. In the end you have to be found out if you’re ever to straighten things out. But I certainly don’t think it helps anyone to be unfaithful and then come home and pour it out. In the end, however, perhaps one’s responsibility is to be found out. It’s all a matter of timing.

How important do you think fidelity is in marriage? Do you think there is a correlation between fidelity and true love? 

It depends what sort of person one is. I don’t think one can manage true love by reining oneself in. If you have these energies, it’s not true love to sit on them and totally bottle them all up. Nor do I think it’s anything to do with love if you just go and gratify every instinct. True love is a genuine effort to try not to castrate one’s own feelings so that one withers and dies, at the same time as trying to respect other people’s feelings. This is a tightrope.

Diana’s reaction to the biography of your father was extremely complicated. It seems in the end to come down to the unacceptable or perhaps the unpalatable nature of truth. Did you not understand that Diana might have wanted to cling to her illusions are sometimes as important as reality? 

That’s very interesting. The answer is yes, except that my relationship with Diana over the years, ever since I first came across her when I was twelve, quite soon after my mother died, was always a very truthful one. I hope she wouldn’t disagree with this. She was one of the grown-ups I could talk to, and I felt she would always give me a truthful answer. As time went on, Diana and I had rows, but mostly by letter, and usually when I wouldn’t back my father about certain things. But always we had it out. She was a person who was always interested in the truth, and I’m sure she still is. When my father died she wanted me to write this book, and I used to go over and spend a lot of time with her in France, and she would talk about anything. We disagreed about some of the politics, but we disagreed in a completely gentle way. So the idea that Diana was someone who would always like to cling to illusions wasn’t there at all. She wanted to talk about the truth, about my father’s infidelity, about his politics, about the rightness and wrongness, about everything. It did strike me as I got to the end of the first part of the book that perhaps I was being a bit naive, and that when I had finished she might not like it. That she would need to feel a more pure loyalty to my father’s politics and what he was on and so on. This I think is what did happen. But there’s a part of Diana that has an extraordinary capacity to be truthful and to want to be truthful.

You acknowledge somewhere that biography, however much it intends to tell the true story, can never be complete. Isn’t there also a cause for saying that a son who writes the life of his father can never wholly and completely detach himself from the position of his father’s son, and that to this extent the story is coloured in much the same way as a wife’s story of her husband might be coloured? Can there be such a thing as a definitive biography? 

I suppose not. The first part of your question is absolutely true: the son can’t claim to be objective; he is writing his own birth and his own person is very coloured by being the son. That was why in my book I wanted to make it very plain that I realized that. I wanted to bring myself in as the observer, saying, this is my experience of myself looking at my father. I wanted to make it obvious that I was writing about the subject as well as the object. I shouldn’t think there is such a thing as a definitive biography. Once in a while one gets a miraculous work of literature, and one does have that feeling, but whether that feeling would ever be endorsed is another matter. The door is always open to other points of view.

When I interviewed Diana she told me that what she really minded about your biography of your father was not that you portrayed him as a philanderer, which she agrees he was, but that you made him out to be an essentially trivial person. Do you think there is a measure of truth in this? 

Oh no, I really don’t at all. I don’t understand why she thinks that. I haven’t seen Diana since the book came out but I have recently had a little correspondence again with her, from which I gather that she thinks I trivialized his politics. I thought I dealt with them as well as a layman writing for lay people could. With hindsight of course one can see that some of his political ideas were wrong, but they were very heartfelt and I think I gave them full prominence.

What Diana really objects to is that you do not suggest anywhere that he was a brilliant thinker or that he could have made a difference to the world had his ideas been accepted. She told me, ‘Instead he is portrayed as some kind of playboy, which is too absurd when you think of what the man was.’ Did you ever come to feel that perhaps the balance was slightly wrong? 

No, I don’t think so. He had a great brilliance for lucid exposition, but in other areas his ideas did not amount to all that much; they were too vague. They were too much of the sort, ‘Oh well, all we’ve got to do in South Africa is move all the blacks here, and all the whites there.’ The reason that isn’t a brilliant idea is that it’s totally incompatible. In two ways only was he brilliant: his economic ideas in the 1920s were brilliant; and he was a most brilliant expounder of ideas.

Diana also says that you have ‘a complete obsession’ about your father which she suggests is the consequence of tremendous jealousy. Do you find this very wounding? 

I find it absurd, I just can’t see it. I was always on very good terms with my father. Jealousy of what? His philandering? I don’t even know what I am supposed to be jealous of. I wasn’t jealous of him as a public figure because I’ve never had any aspirations to be a public figure at all; it just never entered my head. I was never in any conceivable competition.

Are relations still cool between you and Diana? 

Well, I rather hope not. When I wanted to publish her letters in my autobiographical book, I did write to her for permission, and quite understandably I thought she’d say ne, and she did say no, but that opened up a correspondence between us. I certainly don’t want to put my foot in it again, and I hope we’ve come, or are coming, to some sort of understanding, and I hope that it will go on. But of course there’s a lot of deep feeling. For some reason she was profoundly upset by my book, and I don’t quite understand it. It is not enough to say that I trivialized my father; I always feel there’s something else.

Do you admire Diana? 

Oh yes, I admire her. Think of her life – it’s been a fantastic life. She was the most beautiful and admired young girl, not just in England, but in Europe, and she gave up everything for my father. She was only twenty-nine when she went to gaol and she was in Holloway for three years. It’s extraordinary, her loyalty and her courage, and her good nature and her fearful guts. All through her life she was most totally loyal to my father, and she adored him; but also she saw him clearly, and was very honest about him. I really admire her for all those reasons. Of course, I think she was rather silly in the 1930s when she admired Hitler so much, but she was very young.

Despite the fact that you were on good terms with your father some years before he died, he still cut you out of his will. Was that a bitter blow? 

I was rather unfair about that. That’s one of the things I have tried to put right in the paperback edition of my biography. The phrase ‘cut me out of his will’ was a bit over-dramatic, so I’ve altered it to ‘he left me out of his will’. I actually thought it quite reasonable that he shouldn’t leave money to my sister, my brother and me, since we all got money from my mother. Under the French law, the Code Napoleon, we would have some claim on his property in France, but Diana said that he did not want that to happen, so we voluntarily signed away our rights after his death. What did irk me at the time was that Diana wrote me a letter, not only asking me to sign away my rights, but also saying, ‘Your father left you out of his will because you were not his sort of person.’ I was irked by that, if irk is the right word, but part of me said, OK, I’ll sign away my rights, I’ll make no fuss about that, but I’m jolly well going to quote it.

Is it true, do you think? 

It is true that he said it, it’s true that Diana told me, and it’s also true that for quite large periods of time my father didn’t like my whole tie-up with Christianity; he was always very hostile to that. And so in that respect I was not his sort of person. But I also think in some ways I was the closest to him of his children.

Your most successful novel Hopeful Monsters is widely thought to be about the getting of wisdom…would you agree with that? 

The concept of the ‘hopeful monster’ is based on the idea that every now and then there is a mutation in a species that is more suitable to the environment than the old strain, and this is a combination of being ready for that sort of chance and then the chance of it happening – the tie-up between a chance event in the individual and the external world. That’s all a bit airy fairy, but certainly what I’m saying in Hopeful Monsters is that if we’re not more wise about ourselves, more detached, able to see what we really are, then we’re in danger of the whole human race getting into real trouble.

The ‘hopefulness’ of the title seems to express your own view of life. Is your optimism innate in your character, or has it been achieved through your experience of life, and held on to during difficult times? 

I think it’s been achieved. When I was a young man I think I was very gloomy, prone to great periods of depression and despair. What I’m optimistic about is that there’s a sort of chance. What I mean by that is that if one gets the right attitude, then there is something in life that is not necessarily hostile. If one is ready for them, chances do occur.

You admire Faulkner’s The Wild Palms on the grounds that the hero has chosen grief rather than nothing. You say, ‘This was the book I once loved beyond all others.’ On the face of it this does not seem to accord with your stated views on hopefulness. Is grief a viable way of life? 

No, I think you’re right about that. Up to when I was about thirty I used to think it was wonderful, but Wild Palms is a pessimistic book. Faulkner’s later books are actually full of optimism, but like everyone else he found it harder to write about. It’s much easier to write about grief, happiness being much more still and hidden. The trouble about being hopeful is, you can’t talk about it too much; as soon as you say, ‘I’m really hopeful,’ you sound like a fool, and you’re just asking for the roof to fall in on your head.

It seems from all you say and write that you believe in the possibility of goodness. Do you believe also that goodness triumphs over evil? 

One can say it does because we’re still going; the human race is still staggering along. And in spite of what people say, the world is probably a kinder place than it was a hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred years ago, even knowing what we do about what’s going on in Bosnia or South America, or wherever.

You resigned from the Booker Prize jury because your fellow judges seemed to prefer novels which depicted what you call ‘the terrible quaintness of human characters’. What exactly did you mean by that, and why was it necessary to resign? 

Why it was necessary to resign is a different question. There were five judges and we had to find six books to go on the short list. My six books were books that no one else had chosen but I thought that I would get at least one on to the list. I didn’t. In the end it all depended on the chairman’s casting vote, and when he said, ‘I cast my vote against you,’ I thought, what’s the point of my being a judge if I can’t even get one book on. I wanted to make a dissenting statement and the only way I could make a dissenting statement was by resigning. So I resigned. As far as the terrible quaintness of human characters is concerned, that is the English tradition of novel writing. For example, what Dickens is famous for is all these wonderfully quaint characters – I used the word ‘quaint’ quite carefully, because it has both not too bad a ring to it but also not too good. We love to read his novels and say, ‘Oh isn’t he a card!’ and, ‘Isn’t Mr Pecksniff awful!’ as though the interesting thing about life was how you could be an oddity, and that was the whole be-all and end-all of it. I feel I’m fighting some sort of lone battle for people who are interested in more than just being fearfully quaint.

There are those who would always say that your life has been lived in painful reaction to your father. Would they be wholly wrong to say that? 

I don’t know if they’d be wholly wrong. I’ve had to do battle with things which might have haunted me, but I feel I’ve got over most of that stuff quite a long time ago.

The differences between father and son are very marked. Your father was a man of strong convictions, you seem to be more doubtful. Your father was in love with rhetoric, you are more aware of the qualities and nuances of the language. He wanted power, you seem uninterested in power, and so on. Are there nevertheless ways in which you are inescapably your father’s son? 

I think I’ve got his love of ideas and speculation, and something of his sense of humour. When he wasn’t being a big rhetorician, he had this extraordinary sense of fun, and I certainly hope I’ve got that from him. I’ve got none of his love of power, and I think certainty is almost always false; the only truth is in the search, it’s never in the certainty.

Has your attitude towards him mellowed in the sense that you tend to make more excuses for him now? 

When he was still marching up and down in the East End with a whole lot of anti-Semitic people, or even after the war when he was up in Notting Hill, making speeches which, however subtle, could certainly be taken as anti-black, it was extremely hard to be sympathetic. But then when he was an old man, he would say, ‘Oh, we made a few mistakes in those days. Although it was not really quite enough to say ‘we made a few mistakes’, I found I could get on with him. He was very gentle, very mellow in his old age, and it was easy for oneself also to be mellow.

Have you given your own children a difficult legacy, would you say? 

Possibly yes, but one thing you can be sure is we can all talk about it, and laugh about it. My second son was joking recently about my autobiography, saying he found certain things difficult. But he’s now in his forties, and he knows one has a hard time, and one makes the best of one’s life. But actually my children all seem to be making much more of a success of being good, responsible human beings, fathers and husbands, than I ever did.

What do you most regret doing, or not doing? 

I would have liked to have been a better person to Rosemary, my first wife. I don’t dwell on it, since in some ways we did our best. I am so pleased that we were on very good terms at the end, but I would just like not to have been such a tormented selfish person when I was young. But then I might not have written my book, I don’t know.

The leitmotif of your latest book seems to be the driving out of the devil, and the seven devils which come to replace that one devil. Was your autobiography an exorcism of the devils, or are you still beset by demons? 

I was very much struck by that parable in the Bible; and yes, perhaps when one thinks one’s straightened out something, a whole lot of other problems appear. I feel now on the whole there aren’t so many devils coming in, perhaps because it suddenly isn’t worth their while. One never quite gets over devils, but I think they finally get fed up. No doubt they think it’s not worth going on haunting one. And then one becomes mellow, rather like my father did.

Thought for the Day

Do I ever wish I was sitting in what was once our little garden in Nazareth, under a small oak tree, reading a book in total peace, as I used to do in 1947 when I lived with my two old ladies of Nazareth for a brief period of my life?

I was sixteen then, full of zest and vigour, and in total harmony with my environment – despite the Spartan existence we had to endure as the accommodation and facilities were minimal and as nature deemed them.

The serenity that prevailed was so strong that discomfort turned into an alignment with the elements around us, and seemed intrinsic to nature’s indelible inner strength. But the real joy I experienced was in the comfort of the two old ladies who were indirectly responsible for the future structure and development of my own life with their actions and words of wisdom, despite their being totally innumerate, unable to read or write, but having the gift of premonitions inherent in their genes.

I loved them beyond anything I could have ever imagined and remember them to this day, as if the passage of time has not mattered in the least.

OldLadiesNazareth CoverI wrote a book, which Quartet published in 2004, as a tribute to them, entitled The Old Ladies of Nazareth. This little book has had a magical effect on everyone I know who read it and remains the best thing I have ever written and treasured.

The book is still available and will no doubt be appreciated, so long as people and nature intertwine.

The Seven Faces of Irina Shayk

The Russian model and actress Irina Shayk is in her prime.

Born 6th January 1986 she is known for her appearances in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue between 2007 and 2015.

The daughter of a Russian coal miner and his wife Olga, a kindergarten music teacher, Shayk started playing the piano at age six. At nine she enrolled in a music school and studied there for seven years, both playing the piano and singing in the choir as her mother wanted her to study music.

After high school, she entered a beauty contest with her sister and won it. She never looked back.

Shayk made her acting debut as Megara alongside Dwayne Johnson in the 2014 film Hercules.

She is a woman whose body is built to perfection and has an international appeal which seems never to wither and a complexion that glitters brightly to give her a magical glow and a sexuality whose definition is almost the domain of poetic expression.

The seven faces she projects, as these pictures show, are every man’s dream of feminine naked power which sizzles in the darkness of intimacy and rejuvenates man’s desire at any age.

I personally will wish for nothing better, for I find her to be a great monument to womanhood and a sexual siren of intense passion that adores her own body and, as such, reflects the beauty of the female magical form.

She is an art work of exceptional impact and I doubt whether anyone will not be carried away by her aura. A peek at her cheeks is enough to send you into a twirl of uncontrollable ecstasy.

Thought for the Day

The Labour Party is going through a period where it could disintegrate if wiser counsel is not to prevail.

The party seems to have lost its momentum and capability of realising that public opinion has moved from the days when leftist dogma appealed to an electorate hungry for change, and struggling from an inequality which was morally repugnant.

Although poverty is rampant in certain sections of our society, it is mostly for reasons which can be eradicated as it is more or less self-inflicted. Some people are inclined to choose the easy way out and take advantage of a caring administration and live on benefits, without contributing to the wealth of the nation, when hardly anybody willing to work and earn their living is prevented from doing so. Perhaps the choice of an ideal job is not always easy or available but idleness should never be tolerated or condoned.

We live in an era where incentives are the motivating factor and competition is fierce and almost limitless. Consequently, it is only hard work and commitment that determine success and eventually the road to wealth.

Today’s Labour Party has no one of any stature to lead it to the fecundity of thought and adaptation essential for its survival as a political force to be reckoned with. Alas, it is more likely to shoot itself in the foot by electing the wrong leader, yet again, who will lead them to the same disaster from which they are still counting the consequences.

The Tories must have a credible Opposition to keep them on their toes; otherwise political arrogance, for which they are noted, might creep in and make them intolerably pompous and rather ineffective in the long term. They need to be aware that their hides must be roughed up from time to time to withstand the occasional onslaught from public dissatisfaction. It is then that true politics really works.

From Bad to Worse

The repercussions following the forcing of Sir Tim Hunt to resign as an honorary professor at UCL, in a row over comments he made which the Provost of the university with his band of misguided cohorts deemed as sexist, has fuelled controversy throughout the nation.

A former president of UCL’s Student Union has written the institution out of his will in protest at its treatment of a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, who was shabbily treated by the very people who should know better. To evoke such ridiculous ideology, which shames the very existence of free speech, particularly when it’s humorous, from an academic institution of learning is the ultimate in lunacy and a sign that free thinking has hit a new level of deterioration.

Jeremy Hornsby, seventy, an author and journalist, has now cut his alma mater out of his million-pound legacy. Mr Hornsby had planned to leave each of the two establishments that educated him – Winchester College and UCL – a tenth of his estate as a sign of gratitude. He will now write UCL out of his will, leaving it around £100,000 worse off.

Mr Hornsby wrote to Professor Michael Arthur, UCL’s Provost, warning him of his intention to cut off UCL. His threat became a reality after the Provost failed to even acknowledge him.

In his letter, Mr Hornsby explained that his exasperation with UCL over its seemingly soft stance on Islamic extremists, including the allegation that the so-called ‘underwear bomber’, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, had become radicalised there during his studies had been compounded by the Tim Hunt debacle.

Mr Hornsby wrote: ‘I have always been a loyal apologist and enthusiast for UCL where I was President of the Students Union, 1958/9, the year we moved to the old Seaman’s Hospital on Gordon Street. I have managed to ignore the various decisions over the years which appear to have enabled the radicalisation of Muslim students at UCL, but the case of Sir Tim Hunt is the last straw. Suffice to say that if I do not read that Professor Hunt has been reinstated within the next week or, should he decline to return, that an apology has been issued to him, I shall sadly feel that I must alter my will to remove the benefaction to UCL.’

The fact that Jeremy Hornsby has not even received a reply to his letter goes to prove that UCL is now run by a bunch of arrogant people whose tenure represents, in my view, a threat to everything that academia is supposed to represent. It seems that standards of decency have given way to abrasive behaviour, not worthy of people entrusted with the nation’s education.

Sir Tim, a biochemist, caused a storm of protest largely among feminists, after reports of his speech in South Korea were tweeted. Sir Tim reportedly said: ‘Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab; you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.’ Sir Tim said the comments were a joke. A recording, released recently, shows his audience laughing after he calls himself a ‘monster’.

Mr Hornsby, who graduated from UCL in 1959 after studying Philosophy, said: ‘I wrote my will many, many years ago and there was no question UCL would get ten per cent. But I just feel very strongly about the treatment of Sir Tim and have decided to change it… When I wrote to the Provost I was astonished not even to receive an acknowledgement.’

UCL keep insisting that their decision not to reinstate Sir Tim is right. In my view, they should all resign in shame and put an end to their bungling of a minor incident by giving it credence to inflame public opinion.

Jack Jones

Jack Jones was born in Liverpool in 1913.

He left school aged fourteen to work in the docks and at the age of fifteen became local ward secretary to the Labour Party. In 1936 he was elected a city councillor, and he fought with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War before being wounded at Ebro in 1938.

Jack JonesHe served in the trade union movement all his working life, rising in 1969 to become General Secretary of Transport at General Workers’ Union, a position he held until retirement in 1978. He was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and was a lifelong campaigner for industrial democracy. From 1978 he worked for Age Concern. He was also president of the Retired Members’ Association and chairman of the National Pensioners’ Convention.

His autobiography, Union Man, was published in 1986. I interviewed him in 1997 and he died in April 2009.

You have devoted nearly the whole of your life to the working man. Would you say that the working man as you knew him is an endangered species nowadays? 

Not really. We still have a very large number of people who have to work for their living. The nature of work has certainly changed in many industries – we’ve lost the traditional apprenticeships to a large degree, and there’s been a change to more and more white-collar work – but a great many people leave home in the morning and come back at night. Perhaps the old sense of community has altered, but fundamentally there’s still a case for a closer relationship between those who work for their living as against those who make money.

Would you say that the struggle you have been engaged in has principally been a class struggle? 

It depends on what you mean by class. Obviously people who work for a large undertaking, the Imperial Chemical Industry for example, feel there’s some difference between them and the board of directors. The board of directors are probably making a lot more money, and their interests are certainly not the same when it comes to making decisions about closures or reducing the labour force. There’s a huge difference between the owners and those who work on a weekly or monthly basis.

Your own roots were very much working-class Liverpool, where you witnessed appalling poverty and hardship. Would you say that there is poverty and hardship in Britain on the same scale today, perhaps differing only in degree? 

The answer to that is yes. There is a considerable degree of poverty. I live in Camberwell in London, and there’s a huge area of high-rise flats where people in the main are working at very low-paid jobs. I would say that their poverty is in many ways as great as the poverty I knew as a child. Of course we didn’t have television then, but you can be very poor and still have a television set. The difference is that we had the community of the street and family sort of relationship with our neighbours. That’s gone, because of the nature of high-rises and the mixed communities.

You remember the General Strike of 1926…would you say that was when your determination took root? 

It certainly accelerated the process, although I was already very interested. My three brothers and my father were trade unionists, and so I knew about strikes before the General Strike. My father took part in the dock strike of 1924 and queued at the soup kitchens, and so on. One of my brothers was a member of what was called the council of action for the local trade union during the General Strike, and I myself actually felt part of it in the sense that I was always running messages on my bicycle.

Are the ideals which you started out with the same as those you have today, or have you had to change and modify with the times? 

Basically, they are the same. I still think that the idea of a society of people helping each other is the right one, and I have become more and certain of the fact that we have to construct many things in a universal way. When my old mother used to take us to the local co-operative hall for lantern lectures, I remember a slogan over the platform which said: EACH FOR ALL AND ALL FOR EACH. That’s just as good a principle today as it was then when I was a youngster. When you look at the needs of pensioners, of children, of the health service, it is essential to grasp the idea that we can only handle these problems collectively. It’s quite wrong to farm them out to private enterprise. It’s not that I’m against private enterprise, but there are certain things that should be dealt with collectively.

As a young man you fought with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. The reasons which impelled you to go there are stated very matter-of-factly in your autobiography, but there must surely have been a tremendous amount of feeling and idealism… 

That’s right. Don’t forget this was a period when Hitler was marching all over Europe, and since I was then working on the docks, I met seamen who were able to tell me about the situation in Germany. One felt that here was a great danger to ordinary working people which should be resisted. One hadn’t felt the same thing as much about Mussolini, but it was very clear that a lot of what was happening there was going to be even worse in the case of Hitler and the Nazi crowd, and it should be opposed at all costs. When we got news about Spain – I was in touch with a lot of Spanish seamen – I helped to organize support as much as possible and then volunteered. I was in the Territorial Army, so I had military experience in that sense, and though I was held back for some time, eventually off I went and was prepared to lay down my life for a cause which I thought was justified.

But what was the feeling when the cause was lost? 

My feeling was a sense of inevitability. It was clear that the odds were on Franco’s side, and on the side of the Germans and the Italians – they had all the heavy weaponry, and they had enormous access to well-trained troops. But I was determined to assist the opposition which continued in the form of guerrilla activity and trade unions – illegal unions as Franco saw them. We sent out Michael Foot to observe the trial of ten people who were threatened with death simply for trying to organize illegal unions. This is no exaggeration – some men were actually executed. In the case I’m talking about Michael Foot made representations, and once the Franco period was at an end the men were released – and some of them became leaders of the Spanish trade unions. And some of them are now personal friends of mine.

Just before you went to Spain you met and fell in love with Evelyn, whose husband had been killed in Spain. You said you both knew you would marry if you came back. Did you feel sure you would come back? 

No, I wasn’t sure, but I knew that if I did, our relationship was such that we were identified together. And I did come back.

The present world is full of injustice and terrible problems and totalitarian regimes…can you think of any comparable situations nowadays which would motivate young men to go off and fight for the cause of democracy in the way you did back in 1938? 

I suppose there could be circumstances, though it would be difficult to imagine precisely what they might be. What I do know is that there are many young people prepared to risk a lot for what they think is right – for example, those who work in overseas aid, those who give up careers and go and work in Central Africa. One has to admire the same sort of spirit as I think we demonstrated. I suppose we were in more danger of dying and being killed, but people who go and work in outlying areas face disease and death from shortages of various kinds. There are lots of young people now who are very courageous in Zaire, for example; it takes courage to help your fellow man, and I think you have to get that spirit young.

Do you still feel a glow of pride about what you did? 

All I can say is that I still feel now it was justified, and I felt it was justified then. Probably in retrospect I feel even more that it was justified, and I regret that we didn’t have more people, and also that we didn’t somehow get the necessary arms that were refused us. We were just overwhelmed by the power that the other side had.

You were a local ward secretary of the Labour Party at the age of fifteen and a delegate to the Labour Trades Council at seventeen. Such things would be almost unimaginable for a youngster nowadays… 

I suppose it would be, but of course the trades councils do not have the same influence that they had then. I became the youngest city councillor, maybe because my ideas took root very quickly.

Whom did you admire in the political arena at that time? 

When I was young, Ramsay MacDonald was the leader of the Labour party, and he was greatly respected, but then people soon lost faith in him because he moved towards the aristocracy too much. Lansbury, who founded the Daily Herald, had a folksy style and attracted a lot of working people because he seemed to speak their language. If there was a strike on, Tom Mann would appear and make a rousing effort. In Liverpool itself we had a woman who was the mother of Bessie Braddock. She was a very popular, very courageous, persevering Scotswoman, well respected because she was prepared to help people when they needed help, especially if there was industrial trouble. Ernie Bevin was well known of course, very well respected amongst the dock workers at that time, and Cook received considerable publicity because of his leadership of the miners during the General Strike.

You were in the trade-union movement all your working life, and were responsible for the shop-steward system. Do you think that your contribution was a step along the way in the necessary transformation of the trade unions, or are recent events – isolation of unions, removal of their power, and so on – a travesty of what you worked to achieve? 

The last point you make is correct. What I wanted was ordinary working people to play an active part, to count in their trade unions and in society. People who work for a living are too often ignored, and I believe it is right that they should be encouraged to have a say, to influence decisions made in relation to their working conditions or indeed their future. I was keen for them to be consulted through elected representatives, and that was the idea behind the shop-steward system. In the 1970s they reached a stage where they really counted in industry and some of the legislation in the 1974 Labour government was directed towards helping them, for example to have time off for meetings, to have access to information about the conduct of their companies, and so on. That was all part of my endeavour to ensure that there was a democratic structure. Trade unions have now lost a lot of influence, and individual trade unionists in many cases, except in the bigger establishments, often now risk their jobs, just as they did when I was young. If you were too active, you risked the possibility of being dismissed. I risked that many times.

But, in retrospect, don’t you think that the trade unions went too far in the end, and became too powerful – something which lost a lot of sympathy with the public at large? 

I’m not sure that I accept what you say is correct. After all, I initiated the institution of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service as a means of ensuring that people would take their problems to consultation and conciliation rather than indulge in strike action.

But I remember a time when everybody seemed to be going out on strike. 

That was never correct. Indeed, in 1975, when the trade union movement was the strongest it had ever been, we had fewer strike days lost in Britain than for fifteen years before. As trade unions grew stronger, industrial troubles in fact reduced. It’s true that 1979 was a problem, but that’s different. The government was insisting on a very tight wage policy which had not been agreed with the trade unions, and maybe some of the trade unions at local level went too far. For example, I don’t subscribe to the idea of not burying the dead, and there have been times when I’ve been in charge of strikes when I’ve urged people to carry out tasks in a voluntary way, without pay. Trade unions can exercise a humane approach, and they have often done so. But if you set up a situation where trade unions are virtually outlawed, then eventually there will be a measure of revolt, the worm will turn at some stage, and I think this will happen in industry, because so many people are feeling aggrieved. Though workers are producing more with fewer people, their hours of work in many cases have lengthened in Britain. If you take the London busses, for example, the men are working three or four hours a week longer for less wages. I campaigned many years ago for a thirty-five-hour week, and yet in so many industries, it’s gone in the opposite direction.

But do you think we can afford to be part of Europe and work fewer hours all the time? 

Yes, indeed. The Germans and the Scandinavians have moved in the direction of shorter working hours, and so have the French.

Yes but they’ve got problems… 

We shouldn’t be competing with these countries on the basis of worse conditions for our labour force.

The strike was perhaps the single most powerful weapon in the armoury of the trade union. Was it also much more than that symbolically – for the workers themselves? 

The right to strike was always important, because it was the ultimate weapon the trade unions had, but it was used to a very limited degree. It was never the first thing that was thought about; it was always the very last. Certainly from my point of view, I always wanted to ensure that we exhausted every avenue of negotiation rather than withdraw our labour, and my record will show that although I’ve been involved with strikes more than most in the country, I always tried to find solutions that were peaceful.

Peter Riddell in his book about the Thatcher era and its legacy says that the trade union issue has disappeared from the centre of the political stage. Would you concede that? 

The trade unions are weaker than they were, yes, but my impression is that from now on they will begin to get stronger, just as in the United States of America the trade unions became very weak indeed but they’re now recuperating and reorganizing. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the trade unions. People are insecure at the moment, and eventually they will stand together again in order to get better conditions.

Peter Riddell also says: ‘The power of Jack Jones in having a crucial say over the shape of the late-1970s’ incomes policy was replaced by the weak leadership of Moss Evans and the spluttering ineffectiveness of Ron Todd.’ Are these words painful to you? 

They are, and I’m not in a position to say anything about my successors. I can only say that I stand on my record. There’s no question than through a combination of factors, not least the unravelling of legislation on the part of the Conservative government, the trade unions have been weakened, and you must take that into account, apart from the operation of individual leaders.

Do you feel nostalgic for the days when there were so-called ‘beer and sandwiches chats’ in Downing Street to settle industrial disputes? 

Well, you know, beer and sandwiches never solved any dispute. They were usually brought into play when the prime minister wanted to talk to the trade unions and maybe also the employers, together or separately, because in the old days there wasn’t the conciliation and arbitration machinery that we set up subsequently. Beer and sandwiches was certainly the characteristic of the days when the trade union leadership were talking with the Wilson government about the proposals for a document called In Place of Strife, which was supposed to change labour law. As one old miner said at the time, the beer was not very cold and the sandwiches were so dry they were turned up at the edges. I don’t think they contributed to good industrial relations.

Twenty years ago a Gallup opinion poll found that 52 per cent of the British public thought that Jack Jones was the most powerful man in Britain. Did you ever actually feel that degree of power? 

No, I didn’t, no. I was aware I was speaking on behalf of large numbers of people, but it had nothing to do with personal power; it was simply representative and it was used on behalf of the working population to try and influence those in real power – the government, the employers.

In 1979 the Conservatives set out to defeat the political power of the trade unions and to reduce the impact of strikes – and they succeeded in both aims. Was that a very bad time for you? 

Yes, and I think it was a very bad time for the country. It’s worth remembering why the trade unions become so influential. Let me give you an instance. In 1956 when I was leader of the trade union movement in the West Midlands, the British Motor Corporation sacked ix thousand people overnight. People went to work at 8 o’clock in the morning and they were told, you’re not wanted, you’re finished, get your cards and there’ll be a week’s basic pay. That was it finished, they weren’t even allowed to enter the factory. When I contacted Ted Heath, who was then a junior minister of labour, he was sympathetic to our cause, and yet he was powerless against the employers’ decision. We had to have a strike in order to get some measure of sense. We didn’t win a total victory, but we won some understanding that there would be an opportunity for people to return to work when trade improved. That example was typical of what happened then, and it caused great feeling. The strike resulted in considerable interest amongst the workforce who weren’t in trade unions, so membership increased. We became very well organized in the motor-car industry, and I played a part in that. I was proud to do so, and I believe it was the right thing to do, and even people like Ted Heath would agree with me. All we ever wanted was good consultation, friendly relations, and the right to negotiate. The last is crucial, and any employer who thinks he can get away without negotiating will ultimately be defeated.

Your autobiography ends up with the conviction that trade unionism is required more than ever to secure quality and justice in society and in the workplace. That was written ten years ago. Would you put things differently now? 

No, on the contrary. That message is stronger today than ever; it’s getting it across that’s so difficult.

But do you feel a bit like a dinosaur in Tony Blair’s Britain? 

No, I don’t. I think my principles are still right: the idea of ordinary men and women who have to work for their living, having some respect, some recognition – that’s absolutely right. We’ve got to find some way of ensuring that these principles go into the law and into labour relations in individual establishments. I don’t accept the idea of every man for himself; we have to work things out collectively.

Does Old Labour still exist in any meaningful sense, and if so, are you still a paid-up member? 

I’m a member of the Labour Party. The important thing is that the Labour Party should be democratic, that any infringement of democracy within the party be opposed. The great difficulty at the present time, not just amongst Old Labour supporters, but amongst people in general, is a malaise, a feeling that it’s not worth taking an interest in politics, because politicians are all for themselves, that they are there just to serve their own interests. All the sleaze business has lowered the respect for Parliament that used to exist, so I hope the Labour government will act in such a way as to bring respect back for Parliament, and also to demonstrate that the government is determined to act in the interests of the people as a whole. Don’t forget the majority of people who work for their living. We should not just fall on our knees before the law of the market; we should get together and make our country better collectively.

But wouldn’t you agree that Labour had to change its image dramatically in order to be elected? 

Oh, but there were certain things in the Labour Party that had to be altered, I accept that. From time to time you have to adopt policies to meet the given situation. What I would say is, let’s see what Tony does, and I’ll work with him to the best of my ability, and I hope that others will too. We must give him a fair wind.

You refused to go to the Lords, even though Jim Callaghan suggested that you might. You have said that the Lords is proof positive that there is life after death…whilst it is obvious what you mean, would you not concede that some democratic purpose is served by the House of Lords? 

Personally, I don’t think so. I believe the idea of hereditary peers or people appointed by personal preferment is totally contrary to democratic principles. I’m all in favour of an elected Parliament. My own view is that the nation pays enough to the House of Commons, and with their committee system acting as a sort of vetting instrument, I would have thought that everything could work well without the need for this antediluvian, very undemocratic institution. I go in there occasionally when I’m invited to meet people and although I respect some of the members, by and large my views about the institution, as presently constituted, become stronger than ever with each visit. I once said to Jim Callaghan that it should be turned into a pensioners’ club, and Jim said, ‘Oh, that’s exactly what it is.’

Was your refusal also perhaps to do with believing that going to the Lords would be a betrayal of your principles, a betrayal of your class even? 

Partly, yes. If I had gone to the Lords I think it would have sent the wrong message to people I had represented over the years, and on whose behalf I still like to speak – ordinary working people who don’t want to see snobbery prevailing, who don’t want to see differences of class so strongly presented as they are in the Lords. It’s so out of date in its approach and conception that I would have thought that any sensible and reasonable person would want to see an end to it. 

Would you say that many of the problems in British industry had their roots in the class system which is perhaps unique to Britain, and that this made confrontation rather than cooperation the natural relationship between shop floor and management? 

I’d say yes to that. That’s a very good way of putting it.

In 1977 you delivered the prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture; your subject was ‘The Human Face of Labour’. Is Labour still the only party with a human face, would you say? 

Not entirely, no. I respect parties like the Scottish Nationalists and the Welsh Nationalists, and there are sections of the Liberal Democrats for whom I also have great respect. And – please don’t misunderstand me – there are even some MPs in the Conservative party whom I admire, Ted Heath being one example.

Some years ago you stood against Princess Anne for the chancellorship of London University. Was that principally a symbolic gesture against the establishment? 

It so happened that at that time I was an associate fellow of the London School of Economics, which is part of London University, and I was invited by a number of students to stand. I knew there was a possibility that it would be against Princess Anne – the outgoing holder of the office was the Queen Mother – and I decided on that principle I would accept, because I wanted to see the institution reformed. The only thing I regret was that after I’d agreed to stand, some of the younger students nominated Nelson Mandela. I wanted to withdraw, because if there’s one man in the world I respect very greatly it’s Nelson Mandela. Of course at that time his chances of being elected were not very great, and in the end I was prevailed upon to withdraw. But I didn’t like feeling that I was doing anything to damage the standing of Nelson Mandela, then or now.

Apart from the fact that Mrs Thatcher was perhaps the main enemy of trade unionism and everything that goes with it, how would you rate her? 

I rate her as a determined woman but ultimately determined in the wrong direction. I believe she was unduly influenced by wealth, not so much by wealthy industrials as by the big-money men. Her ideas were influenced by people like Jim Slater who argued that what was important was making money, rather than making things. When she removed exchange control restriction, it was to encourage money to go wherever it was going to get a bigger return. She should have been more concerned with making our manufacturing base stronger instead of weakening it. She did a great disservice to the interests of the British people because of that.

Denis Healey once said that although you represented in your union the rejection of much of what Ernest Bevin stood for, you were one of the few union leaders who shared something of Bevin’s political vision. Would you agree on both points? 

I certainly had a very great admiration for Ernie Bevin. He was a man of the people, and he put his effort into building a strong trade union and that’s what I tried to do too. The idea of pursuing the right to negotiate on the part of working people, that was a top priority with me, and in Bevin’s early days it was also his top priority. So I learned from him, but when he got into the realms of high politics, I did begin to question just where he was going. But that’s another matter.

I wanted to ask you about your attitude to Tony Benn…you were always suspicious of his support of the unions and said in 1974: ‘We felt he was with us but not of us.’ What were the grounds for saying that? 

‘With us but not of us’ – by that I meant he wasn’t a working man with a working man’s experience, which meant his judgements were often impaired. He was more a product of the university than of the workshop. He took an idealistic view of the industrial situation, and in that sense he wanted to be with us, but I felt that he was often removed from reality. But in the main our ultimate objectives for a better society were shared.

Has your own belief in socialism ever wavered? 

Not in the general sense, no. As long as it’s democratic, it’s taking the people along with you, respecting each other, irrespective of colour, country you belong to, and so on. If you work for a living or if you have worked, then to me you’re my brother or my sister.

The award which you apparently cherish most is the gold medal given by the TGWU. Why is that? 

Well, it’s a recognition by my fellow workers. To have something like that is like being awarded the Victoria Cross of the movement. I don’t believe in medals all that much, but I think a recognition like that, decided upon democratically, that’s a nice recognition to have. And that’s as much as you need really.

You have had some very lofty ideals throughout your life. Which ideal would you say you have found most testing, or most difficult to live up to? 

I haven’t found my ideals difficult to live up to. I’ve tried to serve them. In the main I’ve not served myself; we still live in a very modest flat in a very modest way, because I think if you represent people you have to be with them. If you believe in your fellow man, if you believe in the each-for-all-and-all-for-each approach, then it’s not difficult to continue with your ideals. I try to live with my conscience, and I’m always proud of the fact that my children take a respectful view of me and I of them.

Where do you stand on the question of religion? 

I have none. You could call me a humanist, I suppose. I know people have strong feelings about religion; it’s a sensitive area and I wouldn’t try to persuade one person against another, but at an early age I came to the conclusion that what we see and what we know is just that. There isn’t anything beyond. When you die, that’s the end of the road. If you live a good life and you respect others, that’s the main thing.

In your autobiography you quote Dylan Thomas on death: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night,/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Are these sentiments you share? 

Very much so. However old you are, you should still have the spirit to speak out, and if you see injustice to oppose it, and that’s what I try to do still. Of course if you get physically weaker, it becomes much more difficult. This is why I very much regret the diminishing of my wife’s physical powers, because she’s been a wonderful woman in her time. We’ve been very close, and still are of course, but physically she’s not able to play any part in the sense that she used to.

You also quote Milton’s famous words: ‘What though the field be lost?/ All is not lost.’ So you think these words may be applied to your own life and work? 

Yes, I do. The flame of freedom, the flame of understanding for a better society is still there. It flickers, but it’s still there, it’s still burning and it’ll go into a flame again.

Correcting Windmills

It’s mind-blowing how regional authorities in most countries very often make a hash of big projects that land them in the loss of millions, without obviously batting an eyelid, all because of a proper lack of research in the first place.

Inefficiency has become endemic when enthusiasts for an idea cloud the commercial viability when times of prosperity loom.

A case in point is Spain’s ‘ghost airport’, which cost hundreds of millions of Euros to build and which became a symbol of the excesses of the bonanza years, and has just been sold to a Chinese group for £7,000.

Ciudad Real airport, in the central Castilla-Mancha region, has been closed since 2012 despite being opened for only four years. The regional authorities raised an estimated £700,000 in private investments to build it, hoping it would draw millions of visitors each year to the area, known as the home of Miguel de Cervantes’ fictional knight, Don Quixote.

But the airport soon became a quixotic venture, drawing just thirty-three thousand travellers in 2010. The airport was put on sale for £55 million, but there were no takers before the 10th July deadline.

The purchaser is now China’s Tzaneen International, a group of investors, which said it planned to invest up to £70 million in the airport, declaring that: ‘Chinese companies are interested in making it their main point of entry into Europe.’ The deal includes the landing strip, hangars, the control-tower and other buildings. But the terminal and parking facilities are not part of the sale.

Controversy surrounded the airport before its completion, with local authorities saying it would be known as ‘Madrid South Airport’ despite being one hundred and twenty-five miles from the capital. Initially, Ryanair was the only carrier to use it.

If I know the Chinese, they will certainly turn the airport into a lucrative business proposition and show us how to meet a challenge head on. Happily, we in the West will perhaps learn a trick or two from the Chinese modus operandi – Hallelujah!