Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Harold Wilson

Tired and Emotional

A short version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 6 2017

The other day, I was reading HLD Mahindapala’s blog about the last days of Prabhakaran, I was surprised to read this: “In a desperate bid K Pathmanathan, the arms procurer appointed as Prabhakaran’s sole representative abroad, contacted Western journalists to send messages to George Brown, British Prime Minister, and President Obama.” George Brown died at the age of 70 in 1985. Brown did serve as British foreign secretary (with embarrassing results) from 1966 to 1968. The British foreign secretary in 2009 was David Miliband.

One of the advantages I find from reaching my advanced age is that historians are publishing books about events that I remember because I lived through them. The doyen of post-war British history writers is Peter Hennessy (Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield). He was born the year after me so lived through the same events. Like me, he grew up in an Irish Catholic family. Like me, he was educated at a grammar school in Gloucestershire. I wonder if I met him when I was playing for the Rugby team of my school, Sir Thomas Rich’s (founded 1666), against the team of his school, Marling (founded 1887). I remember playing rugby at Marling School. The most vivid recollection of the event is being served tea and sandwiches by a team of gorgeous girls. The picture Hennessy paints of the time of my growing up in a series of books Never Again: Britain 1945–51 (1992), Having it so good : Britain in the fifties (2006) and Establishment and Meritocracy (2014) rings true for me.

David Kynaston has ploughed the same furrow. He was born in 1951; like me and Peter Hennessy, he lived through the period he was writing about. He published Austerity Britain, 1945–1951 In 2007 and it was highly praised, named “Book of the Decade” by The Sunday Times. I have it in the form of two volumes entitled A World to Build 1945-48 and Smoke in the Valley 1948-51. I found Kynaston’s work hugely enjoyable and generally reliable, although my confidence wobbled a little when he referred to boxer Randolph Turpin as Dick Turpin. I recall listening to Turpin’s fights on the radio (commentary by Eamonn Andrews, inter-round analysis from W Barrington Dalby) with my father. Kynaston intends to chronicle the history of Great from the end of World War II to the ascension of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

Dominic Sandbrook is engaged in an exhaustive survey of the period I have lived through. In 2005, Sandbrook published Never Had It So Good, a history of Britain from the Suez Crisis to The Beatles, 1956–63.  The sequel, White Heat, covering the years 1964–70 and the rise and fall of Harold Wilson’s Labour government, was published in August 2006. Sandbrook continued the history of post-war Britain with State of Emergency (2010), covering the period 1970–1974, and Seasons in the Sun, which took the story up to the election of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1979. He has said that a fifth volume, covering the period 1979–1984 and provisionally titled Who Dares Wins, may follow. Sandbrook’s books have won high praise but I am less enthusiastic. To my mind, he does not write as well as Hennessy and Kynaston and is prone to errors (one example is referring to the comedy duo Mike and Bernie Winters as “Frank and Bernie Winters”). He often uses the horrible phrase “bored of”, which I first noticed in 1994. Sandbrook was born in 1974 (but has less hair than me) and often displays a tin ear for the period he is writing about. It really does not matter if more people liked Englebert Humperdinck than liked The Beatles but he keeps going on about it. There is little original thought in his books as his intention is to gather together what other people have written. He has been accused of plagiarism (by Michael C Moynihan, cultural news editor for The Daily Beast/Newsweek and the managing editor of Vice magazine – the man who exposed the plagiarism of Jonah Lehrer.) He suggested that Sandbrook was shielded from criticism by his social connections, saying: “There is an element of protection. Media buddies who go to the same dinner parties and all the rest of it.” Sandbrook rejected the allegations and maintained that he “footnoted his sources, and if popular history books sometimes sound familiar that is because there are only so many ways to say things.)” Despite my doubts, Sandbrook has compiled a fascinating catalogue of George Brown stories.

George Brown

When he was Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, George Brown’s drunken antics caused great amusement to an electorate depressed by poor economic news. This story is probably apocryphal but I wish it were not. Brown attended a function somewhere in South America, having already laid a substantial alcohol foundation at a previous function. He is said to have made a bee-line for a gorgeously crimson-clad figure. George said: “Excuse me, but may I have the pleasure of this dance?” The recipient of Brown’s amorous intentions demurred and gave three reasons: “The first, Mr Brown, is that you’ve had too much to drink. The second is that this is not, as you suppose, a waltz that the orchestra is playing but the Peruvian national anthem, for which you should be standing to attention. And the third reason why we may not dance, Mr Brown, is that I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.”

Once, when he was presented to Princess Margaret at a reception, he knelt on the floor to kiss her hand only to find himself unable to get up again. In the words of his biographer, Peter Paterson, Brown was “accident-prone, outspoken to an extent rare among modern politicians, intensely patriotic, hardworking, even harder drinking, quick as a Gascon to take offence”. He was as swift to apologise for any offence given: he probably wrote more letters of apology than any politician in history”.

Emotional and Tired

Paterson called his biography Tired and Emotional. Private Eye has for many decades used the phrase “tired and emotional” as a euphemism for hopelessly inebriated. I often heard Brown’s slurred tones on the BBC Radio programme Any Questions. He would begin drinking whisky at lunchtime, and top up throughout the day, so he was usually drunk by the time he appeared in the Commons in the evening. “He started two gins ahead of everybody else,” one of his friends later recalled. “He’d go mad, suddenly berserk, on a couple of glasses of wine …Alcohol, no matter how small the amount, used to change him, change his personality so that he became very aggressive.”

A Life on the Right of the Left

Brown’s antecedents were, like mine,  in County Cork. He  was born in poor circumstances at Flat 22, I Block, Peabody Buildings, Duke Street, Lambeth, in his maternal grandmother’s flat built by the Peabody Trust, a housing charity. Soon after his birth, his family left and moved to the Peabody Trust block at Peabody Square, Blackfriars Road, Southwark, near Waterloo station. His father, also called George Brown, had worked as a grocer’s packer, lorry driver and served in World War I as a chauffeur to senior  British Army officers. He did not go to university but left school at 15.

Early Promise

Brown ran as a moderate candidate for the Chairmanship of the Labour League of Youth but at the Labour Party conference in 1937 he was defeated by Ted Willis, a left-wing candidate later known as the television creator of Dixon of Dock Green. In 1963, Brown had a drunken argument with actor Eli Wallach on American TV after the JFK assassination when Brown made a fool of himself by claiming a close friendship with Kennedy which never existed. Brown taunted Wallach for not knowing who Ted Willis was.

Member of Parliament

At the 1945 general election Brown won Belper in Derbyshire with a majority of nearly 9,000. Brown was generally popular within the Parliamentary Labour Party. He briefly worked as PPS for Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Dalton from April 1947. Brown launched an unsuccessful plot to have Clement Attlee replaced as Prime Minister by Ernest Bevin, although without consulting Bevin.

Attlee knew about Brown’s plot but appointed him as Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries as he thought it would be best to keep him busy. In April 1951, Brown was Minister of Works.


When Labour lost the 1951 general election, Brown found himself forced to rely on an inadequate parliamentary salary. In 1953 he was hired as a consultant by the Mirror Group newspapers, enabling him to stay in politics. His natural campaigning ability became prominent, but also his tendency to be rude to those with whom he had disagreements.

After Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell’s sudden death in January 1963 Brown made his challenge for the party leadership. At the first Shadow Cabinet meeting after Gaitskell’s death, Brown and his leadership rival Harold Wilson agreed to a clean fight. Wilson, who was accused by the right of undermining party unity, then informed the press that each agreed to serve under the other, which countered his reputation for plotting; Brown repudiated any such agreement, laying himself open to that accusation.

Serving under Wilson

Brown was given a new ministry to promote growth and national resurgence. However, the Department of Economic Affairs proved a disaster. The failure of the National Plan was a severe blow to Brown’s prestige and blamed its collapse on the machinations of Callaghan and his Treasury officials, whose deflationary emphasis destroyed his hopes for growth. Many historians, like Brown, have blamed Harold Wilson for encouraging two different departments to run “diametrically opposed policies”.

British foreign policy after August 1966 was complicated by the fact that George Brown was Foreign Secretary. In 1968, he publicly insulted the wife of the British ambassador to France, Sir Patrick Reilly, at a dinner party at the French embassy in London, and later ended the ambassador’s career over personal differences. At a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference, Brown was observed by Barbara Castle “rolling around sozzled” and complaining about his new job. Effectively Wilson had to take over foreign policy.

There is no reliable count of the number of times Brown resigned. He finally left government in 1968. He lost his seat in parliament in 1970 and accepted  a peerage in the same year. He resigned from the Labour Party in 1976 and joined the Social Democrats in 1981.  He died at the age of 70 in 1985.


Roy Jenkins: ” Brown was certainly not a tepid character. He had great qualities both of intellect and personality, although they were balanced by appalling faults. He drank too much, particularly for his not very strong head…. And he confounded the trouble by being also capable of violent switches of mood, even when sober. On the big issues, he was almost invariably right and pursued his conviction with persistent courage.”

Brown always resented the Oxbridge-educated intellectuals like Jenkins who dominated the Labour Party in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1957, Richard Crossman was punched by Brown in a House of Commons corridor but the diminutive Brown found himself on the floor with the burly Crossman sitting on top of him.

Brown’s resentments and begrudgeries led to his self-destructive feud with Harold Wilson, who had won one of the most brilliant Oxford Firsts in the 20th Century and defeated Brown in the 1963 leadership election after the death of Hugh Gaitskell. Tony Crosland might have been the kind of intellectual that Brown resented but Crosland preferred Brown to Harold Wilson referring to the contest between the two men for the Labour leadership as a choice between a crook and a drunk.

Although the formidable Barbara Castle thought him “emotion- intoxicated, not drunk”, she also recorded that when she had gone through a division lobby with him he had unbuttoned the back of her blouse and “grinned like a schoolboy”. Even one of his political patrons, the former Chancellor Hugh Dalton, thought that Brown was “very awkward, vain, sensitive and fundamentally self-seeking and unfaithful”.

Brown regularly spoke on Capital Radio about having given up alcohol but always had a stiff whisky before going on air. He had two convictions for drunken driving. Brown once boasted that “Many members of parliament drink and womanise – now, I’ve never womanised. On 24 December 1982, after 45 years of marriage, Brown walked out on his long-suffering wife, Sophie, with whom he had two daughters, and set up home with his personal secretary Margaret “Maggie” Haimes, who was half his age. They had a daughter.

Jeremy Thorpe RIP

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday December 10 2014.

Colman's Column3

The news of former UK Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe’s death surprised me. My first reaction was, echoing Dorothy Parker’s question on hearing of the demise of President Calvin Coolidge: “How could they tell?” I was surprised that Thorpe had not died long ago. There have not been many sightings of him over the past several decades but when I last saw a picture of him, he was decidedly cadaverous.


I have often noted a quality of masochistic auto-schadenfreude in some Sri Lankans. They boast about how awful things are in their own country and marvel at how wonderful things are in the motherland of their former oppressors. They will concede that there is corruption and other wrongdoing in the UK but delude themselves that wrongdoers are always brought to justice and often the culprit does the honourable thing by resigning.

The case of Jeremy Thorpe is instructive. Obituaries describe him as charismatic and witty. His jibe after Harold Macmillan sacked several of his Cabinet in 1962: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his own life.” Of Edward Heath, he said “a plum pudding around whom no one knew how to light the brandy”.


Way back in 1979, I was on secondment from the big city of Manchester to the small town of Ashton-under-Lyne. The town was decidedly working class but also conservative. I could not get my usual liberal-left Guardian and had to settle for the Tory Telegraph. This proved to be a blessing in disguise because the Torygraph had a well-deserved reputation for providing detailed reports on salacious court cases. This was the go-to paper for sexual scandal, far superior to the late and unlamented News of the World.

In 1979, Thorpe was on trial for conspiracy to murder Norman Joliffe (otherwise known as Norman Scott). Scott had become a persistent nuisance to Thorpe with his claim that he had had a homosexual affair with the Liberal Party leader at a time when homosexual acts were illegal.


In late 1960 or early 1961, Thorpe first met Scott at Kingham Stables at Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, where the younger man was working for Thorpe’s friend Norman Vater. Thorpe told Scott if he ever needed help, should call him at the House of Commons. Soon after meeting Thorpe, Scott fell out with Vater and lost his job and national insurance card. On 8 November 1961, Scott went to the House of Commons to see Thorpe. Thorpe promised he would help to get him a replacement NI card. Scott claimed that a homosexual liaison with Thorpe began that same evening, at Thorpe’s mother’s home, and continued for several years.

Thorpe helped Scott in many ways, but Scott was resentful and claimed that Thorpe held on to the new NI card. Thorpe denied this and the missing card became a major grievance for Scott. In December 1962, Scott told a friend of his plan to shoot Thorpe and commit suicide. The friend alerted the police, to whom Scott gave a detailed statement about his affair with Thorpe. The police took no action but a report was added to Thorpe’s MI5 file.

In mid-March 1965, Scott wrote a long letter to Thorpe’s mother informing her of the homosexual affair. He accused Thorpe of callousness and disloyalty. Ursula Thorpe gave the letter to her son, who drafted a statement rejecting the “damaging and groundless accusations” and accusing Scott of attempting to blackmail him. Thorpe turned to Liberal MP Peter Bessell for advice. Bessell flew to Dublin in April 1965 and after that for two years Scott stayed quiet in Ireland. In July 1967, Scott returned to England. Bessell began paying Scott a “retainer” of between £5 and £10 a week and gave him £75, on the understanding there would be no further demands for a year.

Thorpe was now leader of the Liberal Party but was not an immediate success. Some of his aides, doubtful about his sexual orientation, were disturbed by his comments about his marriage to Caroline Allpass: “worth five points in the polls”.

Scott’s reappearance in November 1968 disturbed Thorpe and, early in December 1968, he summoned Bessell to his office in the House of Commons. Thorpe said: “We’ve got to get rid of him”, and later: “It is no worse than shooting a sick dog”. Thorpe argued that disposal of Scott’s body down a mine was feasible. He suggested his friend David Holmes, a party assistant treasurer and best man at Thorpe’s wedding, as an appropriate assassin.

In May 1969, Scott married. Later, when his wife could not claim maternity benefits, Scott again threatened to talk to newspapers. Bessell managed to get him an emergency NI card and Scott went quiet for a while. In 1970, Scott’s marriage collapsed; he blamed Thorpe, and again threatened exposure. Bessell kept Thorpe’s name out of the divorce proceedings, and Thorpe anonymously paid the legal costs.

In May 1971, Scott told his story to senior Liberals, who, although unconvinced, felt the matter warranted further investigation. A confidential party inquiry dismissed Scott’s allegations.

Thorpe’s first wife had been killed in a car crash in 1970 and in 1973, he married Marion, Countess of Harewood, whose former husband was the Queen’s cousin. In the February 1974 general election, the Liberals won over six million votes (19.3% of votes cast), but won only 14 seats.

In January 1974, Scott told his story to Tim Keigwin, Thorpe’s Conservative opponent in North Devon, but his leadership told him to keep quiet. In January 1974, Holmes paid £2,500 for documents Scott had passed to his doctor. Builders renovating a London office formerly used by Bessell found a further cache of papers in November 1974, which they took to the Sunday Mirror who passed the papers to Thorpe and suppressed the story.

Newton lured Scott to Porlock Moor, shot Scott’s dog, Rinka, and turned the gun on Scott, saying, “It’s your turn now”. The gun jammed several times and Newton drove away. At the trial that convicted Newton of firearms offences, Scott made his claims about Thorpe public.


In Private Eye on 12 December 1975, Auberon Waugh wrote: “My only hope is that sorrow over his friend’s dog will not cause Mr Thorpe’s premature retirement from public life”. In the 1979 election, Waugh ran against Thorpe on the Dog Lovers’ Party ticket. Waugh published his own account of the trial The Last Word: An Eye-Witness Account of the Thorpe Trial. Most newspapers knew what was going on but covered it up. Nevertheless, as with the current situation relating to a former cabinet minister and rumours of paedophilia, journalists were firing warning shots.


Barry Penrose and Roger Courtiour, collectively known as “Pencourt”, had originally been hired by former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson after his retirement, to investigate his theory that Thorpe was a target of South African intelligence agencies. Barry Penrose returned to the story, this time in association with Simon Freeman and wrote a book, which gripped my attention when I read it at the time. (Bloomsbury Publishing brought out a new edition, 17 July 1997 Rinkagate: The Rise and Fall of Jeremy Thorpe). They believe that Thorpe probably formed the outline of a plan to silence Scott early in 1974.Holmes later said that Thorpe was insistent that Scott be killed. Through a series of intermediaries Holmes was put in touch, in February 1975, with Andrew Newton, an airline pilot, who said he was willing to dispose of Scott for an appropriate fee—between £5,000 and £10,000 was suggested. Newton always insisted that the size of his fee showed that his job was to kill, not frighten Scott.

In January 1976, Scott appeared before magistrates on a social security fraud charge, and spoke in court about a sexual relationship with Thorpe. This claim, made in court and therefore protected from the libel laws, was widely reported. On 10 May 1976, Thorpe resigned as Liberal leader.


Newton, released from prison in October 1977, sold his story to the London Evening News. He said that he had been paid £5,000 to kill Scott. A lengthy police enquiry followed, at the end of which Thorpe, and three others were charged with conspiracy to murder. Thorpe was additionally charged with incitement to murder.

Reporting restrictions were lifted, which meant that newspapers were free to print anything said in court without fear of the libel laws. Thorpe had hoped for an in camera hearing which would avoid unfortunate newspaper headlines. Scott gave clinical details of his alleged seduction by Thorpe in November 1961 and on other occasions.


Comic genius Peter Cook mocked the judge’s summing up for the jury: “You will now retire to consider your verdict of not guilty.” The real judge himself said of Scott: “He is a fraud. He is a sponger. He is a whiner. He is a parasite.”


eye acquittal

Despite the acquittal, the broader public perception was strong that Thorpe had not behaved well, nor had he adequately explained himself. He continued to be an embarrassment to the Liberal Party which blocked a return to active politics. In 1982, Amnesty International appointed him director of its British section, but after protests from the organisation’s staff, he withdrew. Not long afterwards, Thorpe first showed signs of the Parkinson’s disease that led to his almost complete withdrawal into private life in the mid-1980s.

The son of Thorpe’s defending counsel George Carman, who won the acquittal ,told The Times: “The best deal done by Carman QC was persuading Taylor QC [counsel for the prosecution] not to use any of the abundant evidence of Thorpe’s promiscuous homosexuality.”

The papers, Waugh asserts, knew a great deal about the whole affair for years, but, mostly out of cowardice and obsequiousness, declined to write about it. Many journalists knew that the scandal was potentially much bigger than just a case of a gay party leader. There have long been allegations on the internet that Jeremy Thorpe had a taste for young street boys and runaway teenagers were often brought to him. Thorpe certainly covered up the sordid activities of Cyril Smith the paedophile Liberal MP for Rochdale. There is a suggestion that Thorpe was acquitted because he threatened to expose the perversions of others in high places. Rumours of paedophile rings in government and parliament have persisted for decades and continue today.


The case of Jeremy Thorpe is instructive. Obituaries look hard for the good in him, describing him as charismatic and witty. He spoke out against apartheid and the racist Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia. He made a show of detesting inequality, but did not formulate a practical plan to improve matters. He was involved in a company that was charging 280 per cent interest on second mortgages, and when, at the end of 1973, the company collapsed there was revealed a tangled web of fraud. Rumours of ballot-rigging, clouded Thorpe’s election to the presidency of the Oxford Union as long ago as 1951.

He reacted strongly against Establishment snobbery but did not hesitate to use his connections to protect himself. An Old Etonian and Oxford graduate from a long line of Conservative MPs, he could have been a Tory. Labour politicians as well as Conservative and Liberal protected him. There has been some comment in the blogosphere along the lines of: “Thorpe was a victim of homophobia”. He was not on trial for Homosexuality. Bisexuality or paedophilia. He was on trial for incitement to murder and conspiracy to murder. He used his establishment connections to get away with it.

Sir Cyril Smith

Auberon Waugh, when writing his book, had to be careful about the libel laws. Even if he knew Thorpe was guilty, a jury had acquitted him. He explains that his book “may be read, if people choose, as a gesture of atonement for ever having entertained the silly idea that a Privy Councillor, an MP, an Old Etonian, a barrister, a friend of prime ministers, archbishops and high officials, a former client of Lord Goodman, could ever be found guilty of conspiring to murder a homosexual male model of lower-middle class background and doubtful record.”

This is England, after all!

Corruption and Construction

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday August 20 2014.

Colman's Column3

Urban renewal seems to be inseparable from corruption. T Dan Smith was once a local hero in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then he was sentenced in 1974 to six years in prison for accepting bribes. Smith believed strongly in the need to clear Newcastle of slum housing and put a great deal of effort into regeneration plans.


Modernist planning was at its height in Britain during the 1960s, after the end of post-war austerity. Newcastle, as well as Manchester and Birmingham, was drastically transformed. It was a time of “clean sweep” planning, where the only constraints on redevelopment were economic. Conservation policy was restricted to the preservation of a limited number of major buildings and monuments. In his article, Alas Smith and Burns? Conservation in Newcastle upon Tyne city centre 1959–68, John Pendlebury of the School of Architecture at Newcastle University, wrote “though modernist rationalism was the driving force in the city’s re-planning, it co-existed with a conscious policy of conservation, born out of a picturesque design tradition.”

Not everyone appreciated Smith’s efforts. Alec Glasgow wrote a contemporary folk song:

Weep, Geordie, weep,

At the murder of your city.

Weep, Geordie, weep

For the vandals have no pity.


Smith’s name is usually spoken in negative terms regarding the destruction of historic and aesthetically pleasing buildings, which were replaced with a concrete jungle.

Some called him Smith “Mr Newcastle” others called him “the mouth of the Tyne”. Another nickname was “one-coat Smith”. When he ran a painting and decorating firm, his painters were noted for their stingy use of materials. Despite this, the firm was granted more than half the contracts for painting council houses.

While his evangelical zeal to make Newcastle a better place may have been genuine, Smith’s desire to make money was stronger and got mixed up with his political ambitions. Smith was appointed Chairman of Newcastle council’s Housing Committee in 1958 and was elected as Leader of the City Council in 1959. He created one of the country’s first free-standing Planning Departments and made it the most powerful department in the council. He strengthened his power by creating an inner Cabinet of his own supporters. When Harold Wilson became prime minister in 1964, Smith was confident that he would be invited to take a national ministerial post. However, Wilson had vague suspicions about Smith’s probity and did not call him.

In 1962, Smith set up a PR firm to support redevelopment of other urban centres in the northeast, and later nationwide. Through this, he established links with John Poulson, an architect with a reputation for rewarding those who put business his way. Smith eventually received £156,000 from Poulson for his work, which typically involved signing up local councillors on to the payroll of his companies and getting them to push their councils to accept Poulson’s redevelopment schemes. Poulson earned more than £1,000,000 through Smith.


Another of Poulson’s contacts was the then Shadow Commonwealth Secretary Reginald Maudling. In 1966, Maudling accepted an offer to be Chairman of one of Poulson’s companies for £5,000 per annum. Maudling’s son Martin, who had left Oxford University without taking a degree, went to work for another Poulson company. Poulson agreed to donate large sums of money to a charity patronised by Maudling’s wife. Maudling helped to bring pressure on the government of Malta to award a £1.5 million contract for the new Victoria Hospital on Gozo to Poulson. This had led to heavy losses to the Maltese government. A Parliamentary inquiry into Maudling’s conduct concluded that he had indulged in “conduct inconsistent with the standards which the House is entitled to expect from its members”.


No punishment was imposed but Maudling drank himself to death at the age of 61. The son, William Maudling, 42, who once lived in Downing Street with his family, threw himself from the 16th floor in 1999, his life ruined by heroin.

Smith’s PR firm was also involved with Wandsworth Borough Council in pushing a redevelopment scheme. Smith’s Wandsworth council contact, Alderman Sidney Sporle, fell under police suspicion of corruption in the late 1960s. The police investigation led to Smith himself being charged with bribery in January 1970. He was acquitted at his trial in July 1971, but was forced to resign all his political offices. Smith was arrested again in October 1973 after Poulson’s 1972 bankruptcy hearings disclosed extensive bribery. He pleaded guilty in 1974 and was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment; despite his guilty plea, he continued to assert his innocence.

After his death, Smith’s career was the inspiration for Austin Donohue, a character in Peter Flannery’s play, Our Friends in the North. The part was first played by Jim Broadbent in the Royal Shakespeare Company production, and then by Alun Armstrong (who once stayed at our friends’ guesthouse in Badulla) in the 1996 BBC television drama version.

Back in the early 70s, I worked as a social security visitor in a poor district of Manchester. Some of the street names were already familiar to me from reading about the Moors Murderers. Brady and Hindley once trod those drab streets in Gorton and Ardwick. Things were changing in those days. The streets had been built as warrens of terraced back-to-back houses for the workers of the industrial revolution. Lives could be cramped and stunted but there was also a sense of community still celebrated by the popular teledrama Coronation Street, which started in the early 60s and is still running.

Manchester Corporation, like similar ruling bodies in other municipalities, probably had good intentions when they embarked on slum clearance and urban renewal. Some of the old houses were pretty grim with outside toilets and some had gas mantles rather than electric light.

New blocks sprang up quite quickly. These resembled something out of a movie about the French Foreign Legion. Local people called them Fort Ardwick and Fort Beswick. As well as disrupting the sense of community enjoyed in the old terraces these new blocks might have been designed to assist crime with their walkways in the sky.

Even when they were brand new, these dwellings proved not fit for purpose. They were put up very quickly using prefabricated materials like a huge Lego kit. They were not as durable or well-designed as Lego.

The kind of concrete used caused condensation indoors so that the walls were dripping wet, causing respiratory problems in the elderly and in babies. Under floor heating was installed which could not be controlled by the tenants. Tenants were often baked to a frazzle and faced with huge fuel bills that they could not pay. A friend of mine lived in a council property in Hulme and found the place infested with cockroaches and beetles because the walls were built of straw.

I visited Manchester eight years ago and the area once covered by Fort Beswick had neat little rows of houses all on ground level. Although there was more space and the houses looked in good condition, they did rather remind me of the old terraced houses that were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s.

Not far from Beswick is the new home of Manchester City football club. The new stadium was built at a cost of GBP 110 million for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The stadium is owned by the City Council and leased by the football club which, despite its previous lack of glamour, in 2008 became the richest club in the world after a takeover by an Arab consortium headed by Dr Al-Fahim, known as the Donald Trump of Abu Dhabi. A previous owner was former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known to Mancunians as “Frank Sinatra”.

Manchester City FC signed an agreement with the Council in March 2010 to allow a £1 billion redevelopment led by architect Rafael Vinoly of land around the stadium and possible stadium expansion. In a spooky link with T Dan Smith, Vinoly was hiredby Wandsworth Council in London to develop the area around Battersea Power Station. The proposed development is supposed to generate 15,000 jobs. The network of tall curved blocks of offices will block the view of Sir Gilbert Scott’s industrial masterpiece. The accommodation is not intended to attract local families but hordes of predatory bankers with no children but easy access to the City and huge bonuses.

Manchester City’s stadium was a part of the massive Eastlands redevelopment. According to the consultative regeneration framework document, 3,000 jobs were created in ten years. This is low considering that at least 2,000 jobs were axed to cut public spending. The much-lauded regeneration of East Manchester never lived up to the hype of galvanising growth and job-creation in one of the city’s most deprived areas. New jobs tended to be poorly paid ‘flexible’ jobs, servicing the consumption habits of middle classes. Only half of the hundreds of new jobs at supermarkets went to local residents. Save the Children found that 27 %per cent of children in Manchester were living in “severe poverty” – the worst record of any local authority in the country.

On my last visit to Manchester, the city centre was very different from the bleak place it was during the Thatcher years. The IRA did the city a favour by blowing up the ugly Arndale Centre and opening the way to better buildings. The new city centre reminded me of Seattle. There were luxury apartments and chic hotels. Even old churches and cotton mills had been converted into housing. Salford used to be grim but now it has luxury accommodation and an arts centre dedicated to LS Lowry. Somehow, it was still grim.

According to the Eastlands document, 5,000 extra homes have been built in East Manchester. However, the Manchester-Salford Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder (whoever came up with that name!) between 2008 and 2009 demolished 2,200 more homes than it built at a cost of GBP 600 million. The project ground to halt, leaving a wasteland behind it.

How will Beswick, Bradford and Lower Openshaw compete with the new enterprise scheme at Manchester Airport (another arm of the council)? There are many empty office blocks in Manchester and but more will be built at the airport.

Some people will have made a lot of money out of continually knocking British cities down and re-building them. Not many of those people will go to prison like T Dan smith did. In 1985, Smith wrote that “Thatcherism, in an odd sort of way, could reasonably be described as legalised Poulsonism. Contributions to Tory Party funds will be repaid by the handing over of public assets for private gain”.

Thatcherism and Poulsonism live on in all the British political parties.

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