Today 6th August is the 20th anniversary of the death of Marxist MP and class fighter Pat Wall. In his memory we publish a tribute to him by Rob Sewell.
“I am the grandson of a dock worker and was brought up politically on the Mersey docks, where I learned to debate and to fight politically among dockers and the dock industry.” Pat Wall, speaking in the House of Commons, 10th January 1990.
Politically, Pat Wall was a giant of a man and an outstanding comrade. He cut his teeth in the political battles against the right wing in Liverpool during the 1950s. He became a leading figure in the Militant Tendency and was to become Labour MP for Bradford North in 1987.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of Pat Wall’s death.
Pat was born in his mother’s parent’s house in Manchester on 6th May 1933. After a few weeks, he moved from the Kennedys to a house in Garston, Liverpool. Pat’s working class parents were politically progressive, especially his mother, which clearly had a great influence on him as a youth.
As a teenager, Pat attended the Liverpool Institute. It was there he decided to join the Labour Party in 1950 at the age of 16 after standing in a mock school general election and winning the contest for Labour. He left school in the same year after getting his school certificate and found a job as a lab assistant in an animal feeding centre. Soon after joining the Garston Labour Party during the 1950 general election, he was elected constituency secretary, the youngest in the country, which began a lifetime career in left-wing politics.
At this time the Liverpool Labour Party was dominated by Jack and Bessie Braddock, who ruled the movement with an iron hand. The right-wing machine attempted to crush dissent but there still remained a vibrant left wing within the rank and file. The Deane family, which had a long Marxist tradition, represented the tendency in Liverpool party, centred in Walton. They were the core of the former branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party which had dissolved in 1949 and became supporters of the Ted Grant group within the Labour Party around the ‘International Socialist’ and later the ‘Socialist Fight’.
Pat wanted to find out more and eventually contacted the Deanes. “He was very keen to find out more about economics and the theories of Marxism, and was told by councillor Bill Sefton (who ended up in the House of Lords) to go over to Walton and ask the Deanes”, explained his wife Pauline. “After that he read and read and read. He devoured all the Marxist classics.”
The comrades in Liverpool were producing a youth paper at the time called ‘Rally’. All the discussion meetings took place at the Deane’s house at 99 Hurlingham Road.
Along with Brian Deane, Pat became very active in the Labour League of Youth and was elected to represent Garston LOY at the Merseyside Federation and its regional conference. Soon he was elected to the League’s national conference and to its national committee. There they promoted a ‘Youth Charter’, which took up the problems of young people. Pat also took on the role of secretary of his USDAW branch. In February 1952, both Brian and Pat went to London to set up a national editorial board for ‘Rally’, but this proved too difficult.
In 1954 Ted Grant had visited Liverpool, as he had done on many occasions, and spoke at a small meeting of party activists. Pat wrote to Ted soon afterwards explaining that “the women who attended your meeting fully appreciated us despite the small meeting you had; the effect in the Division has been tremendous. Everyone has learned about it and the Division is now one of the most politically conscious in Liverpool.” The letter, as normal, was signed ‘Paddy’. (13/9/54)
In 1955, due to its left-wing stand, the Labour leadership closed down the national Labour League of Youth. It was at this time that Pat was called up to do his National Service, stationed in Norfolk, which tended to cut across his political activities. Even then, he was in touch with the London office on a regular basis. In January 1957, he wrote to Ted from Paris. While he was there he saw Pablo and Pierre Frank and attended the 12th congress of the French section as a “fraternal delegate”. There were about 50 people present with “several Indo-Chinese and fraternal delegates from Germany and Greece.”
Pat was nevertheless correctly very critical of Pablo who was warning of a new world war. “I hope you and the other comrades will not make any concessions on this issue”, stated Pat. “You will remember they once said that Korea marked the beginning of World War Three and as far as I know they still have that position… [This was] Just as false as the policy adopted between 1945-47 that World War Two had not ended. Not only that, but in the last analysis the position of Pablo, etc, can only be one of left-Stalinism.” (Letter to Ted Grant, 2/1/57)
After he finished his National Service, he continued his political work in helping to build up the tendency on Merseyside. ‘Rally’ was re-launched with a sale of at least 500 copies in Liverpool, Glasgow, Nottingham, Manchester, Rochdale, York, Blackpool and London.
He wrote regularly to the national centre about the work in Liverpool. In January 1958, he wrote a critical letter about the work in Liverpool to John Fairhead, the acting secretary: “I take the view that the building of a national group is of vital importance and that the centre has a right to know the position in Liverpool and indeed must have if we are to get away from this anarchistic manner of doing things...
“Trotsky once said that politics were so complicated because of the interaction of both objective and subjective factors – and how true that is, you know without any historical perspective one could well believe that the revolution was doomed because of parents, girl friends, […], husbands, night schools, etc.”
Pat worked hard to improve the situation. However, as a result of trade union activities, he lost his job. In September 1959, he got married to Pauline, who had become politically active through the Labour Party’s youth section. She helped out with the production of ‘Rally’ and soon joined the work of the tendency. Pauline recalls how much hard work was put in duplicating the paper, helped by Laura Kirton, secretary of the Walton Labour Party. “It was typed on stencils, duplicated, collated and then bound down the spine with red tape”, explained Pauline. They used the Trades Council duplicator to get it out.
Pauline remembers that they went on the first “Ban the Bomb” Aldermaston to London march, through the pouring rain. Cannon Collins told them to take their ‘Rally’ banner to the back of the march. They attended all the other marches, which attracted thousands of youth.
Both of them attended the Liverpool Trade and Labour Council, whose meetings were very much to the left and very lively. This labour movement body served to train up an important layer of younger comrades. It was eventually closed down and reorganised for this reason and the Trades Council and the Labour Party were formally separated.
Apart from politics, Pat had other wider interests, including jazz, climbing, bird watching and Everton football team! He was such a fan that his ashes are symbolically buried behind the goal at the Everton ground. His passion for jazz took him to Ronnie Scott’s and elsewhere. I recall he wrote on one occasion an interesting appreciation of the jazz musician Charlie Parker for ‘Militant’.
Pat’s work attracted many others, including Terry Harrison, who was the leader of the Apprentices’ strike on Merseyside in 1960. In 1958, Terry was thinking of joining the YCL, but picked up a copy of ‘Rally’ at a ward meeting and wrote off to find out more. It wasn’t long before he was participating in the work of the tendency. During the Apprentices’ Strike, Gus MacDonald, a member of the Cliff Group and leader of the Glasgow apprentices, came to Pat’s house. Now MacDonald is visiting a different “house” - the House of Lords! It is amazing how some people travel on the way to becoming part of the Establishment.
Pat and Pauline had three children in the 1960s: Simon, David and Kate. In this period, Pat got a new job in Littlewoods as a stock controller. “He loved his job”, said Pauline. This meant that the family had to move, to Market Harbour, Bradford and Grattan. As a buyer, Pat travelled widely, visiting comrades and groups of supporters nationally and internationally. I remember him coming to Swansea on a regular basis, staying in the Dolphin Hotel, and speaking to meetings of comrades. The last one I recall was in the Buffs Club in Wind Street (demolished now) on the history of the tendency.
He became a Labour councillor for Fazakerly ward in Liverpool. In 1964, the ‘Socialist Fight’, which had come out irregularly, was finally put to bed and ‘Militant’ was launched. Pat had been put down as a shareholder for WIR Publications, the publishers of ‘Militant’, without being informed. The right wing tried to use this fact later on to stop him being endorsed as a Labour candidate, and forcing him to “sell” his unknown share.
The family moved to Market Harborough in the late 1960s, and then on to Bingley in Yorkshire for work reasons, where Pat ended up winning a Labour seat on the council in May 1970. The seat was later reorganised and absorbed and he concentrated his efforts on the work in Bradford Trades Council, soon being elected as its President.
By this time, Pat was well-known in Labour Party circles after his regular speeches at national Labour Party conference. He was an established figure at the event. Pat was a very articulate speaker, full of passion and conviction. He could hold an audience and was able to explain complicated ideas very simply. He was very involved in the battles over re-selection of MPs and party democracy, which he spoke about at national Labour conferences. He stood several times, alongside Ray Apps and David Skinner, for the NEC of the party, achieving over 100,000 votes on one occasion.
At the 1976 Labour Party conference, Pat intervened in the major debate on Industrial Democracy as the delegate from Shipley CLP on the Monday morning, in a speech that is as fresh and relevant today as it was then. “For 20 years following the war we were told by the theorists of this movement, by the Fabians and the new Fabian essays, by Jenkins, by Crossman, by John Strachey, that capitalism was reformed, that there could never be any return to mass unemployment; there could never be a situation where the Government would need to slash the social services; that there could never be a situation where workers’ living standards would fall. When people like me came to the rostrum at conferences of the Labour Party we were told that we came from Mars; that we were some sort of madmen, totally out of touch with reality. Well, Comrades, the reality is here. The reality is in one and a half million unemployed. (Applause) Reality is in 70,000 odd youngsters who have left school to go on the dole. The reality is in the reduction of living standards of working people by eight per cent. The reality is in the cuts in social services and in the social wage of our people.”
I can remember him now, watching him on the TV, hammering home his points with the maximum effect in a strong Liverpool accent.
“I think many of us are sick and tired of electing people to positions in the trade union movement and the Labour Party who come here when we are in Opposition and talk about socialism, talk about redistribution of incomes in favour of the working people, talk about nationalisation and public ownership and control of the economy. When they are in power, when they have the opportunity and when working people in the desperation of present economic circumstances demand action on their behalf, every excuse, every device and every policy gimmick is used to avoid the real question, which is taking over the commanding heights of the economy and planning it in the interests of the working people. (Applause)”
Later in the week he managed to get in on the pension’s debate on a resolution moved by Jack Jones.
“It is not a question that the money is not there”, he said, “it is a question of not organising our society in a way in which that money is available for the real needs of the working people. (Applause) It is available for the speculators, but it is not available for a woman who is a cleaner in the Liverpool Corporation in order to retire at 60 and live on a decent pension. And that raises the question that if we really wanted to face the issue of retirement at 60, then we have to take over banks and the big companies and we have to organise the financial system for the benefit of our people, and not for the benefit of a tiny group of capitalists and speculators. (Applause)”
Pat was selected as the prospective candidate for Bradford North in early 1982 after beating Hilary Benn and others. He had to cross other hurdles, including investigations by the NEC of the Labour Party and being disowned by Michael Foot. The sitting MP, Ben Ford, was hated and ended up being deselected by the local party. He was known as “Free lunch” Ford and sat on the Anglo-Portuguese Committee under the dictatorship. During the selection meeting, Ford placed objections to Pat’s selection on various spurious grounds. One was that you could hear music in the selection meeting from the rooms below. He nevertheless prevented Pat winning the seat at the 1983 general election by standing as an independent and splitting the vote.
The capitalist press also attempted to discredit Pat. In 1982, Pat had agreed reluctantly to debate at the university with the SWP, but had forgotten all about it. One day, a local comrade Keith Narey came to see Pauline to say that posters had appeared everywhere advertising a debate the following day. Pat was away at work and not back until the night. He was genuinely surprised but decided not to pull out. “If I don’t go I will be condemned”, he said. It was a debate over the Marxist attitude to socialist change and the state. In the end a question was raised about the monarchy which Pat answered, saying the institution would be abolished, along with the privileged position of judges and generals. However, there was a journalist (what a coincidence!) from the ‘Sunday Times’ in the audience who wrote up a massive smear story about “Bloody Revolution” and the like in the following weekend’s edition. While Pat had explained that the socialist transformation of society would entail the dismantling of the old state apparatus, he also explained that the revolution could be carried out entirely peacefully with the mobilisation of the working class. But that was not reported. Pat had clearly been set up by a right-winger in Bradford North who had connections with the newspaper. Everything was used to distort Pat’s views and undermine his support.
The defeat in the 1983 general election was undoubtedly a set-back, but Pat managed to take the seat in 1987, with a swing to Labour of 9.9%. This was despite being featured in the Tory election broadcast and the public call by ‘The Sun’ newspaper for him to be defeated. He finally joined the other ‘Militant’ MPs in Parliament, Terry Fields and Dave Nellist – as worker MPs on a workers’ wage. However, heavy pressure was now exerted on those “lefts” in the party who had supported him. The union bureaucracies aided this conspiracy. They were told by regional office that “Pat won’t win”. They should continue as normal and blame the left after the defeat. They were shocked by the result. Pat had won a stunning victory!
Ronnie Fieldhouse, the chair of the local party, and John Barker, an official in the print union, instantly distanced themselves from Pat and attempted to isolate him. “The day after the election, they didn’t want to know”, explained Pauline. It was almost impossible to get the election expense accounts, which were being held in the print union offices. When Pat wanted to get his material distributed each month, they resisted and prevented the distribution. The witch-hunt against ‘Militant’ was causing problems within the Bradford North Labour Party. The stress was enormous, commented Pauline. She believes that Pat’s rare illness, which later claimed his life, could have been caused by this stress.
Nevertheless, Pat championed the interests of the workers inside and outside of Parliament. He participated in the support for the miners and the Liverpool City Council. He came out in favour of non-payment of the Poll Tax. However, in the local Labour Party, there was continuous guerrilla warfare against Pat and his political stand.
Pat was lonely in Parliament, divorced from the activity of the working class. Unlike the careerists, he certainly did not enjoy the job. In the end, he did not think it worth while. He was not cut out for such an alien environment, while being attacked and undermined in his local Labour Party by fair-weather friends.
I remember him ringing me up before Christmas 1989 to see if I fancied a drink in the Commons. I took a few comrades over and had a few pints. Even then, I remember the sad expression on Pat’s face. That was when his illness had begun.
Pat developed polychondritus, a very rare illness that attacked his immune system. It took months to diagnose but there was no cure. It attacked his skin, which cleared up, and then it attacked his hair, which also recovered. Then it affected the cartilage throughout his body, which eventually affected his windpipe and breathing. He courageously fought the disease and was hospitalised for long periods. He even attended Parliament when possible until five months before his death, when he spoke in the debate on the economy, despite having serious voice difficulties. He retained his sense of humour, saying the Tories must have been delighted by his vocal difficulties. He fought the struggle until the bitter end, finding time even in his last weeks to write letters in support of Scargill and Heathfield in their battle against the smears of the capitalist press.
Pat was a political giant and an inspiration for all those who knew him. His death 20 years ago was a great loss to the movement. It now falls on the new generation to carry on the struggle where Pat left off, to abolish capitalism and establish a new society free from violence, poverty and squalor. A new society where the talents of all can be used to the full and where, for Paddy Wall’s sake, we all can appreciate the benefits of jazz and Charlie Parker (and possibly Everton).
His speeches in Parliament can be found here: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/people/mr-pat-wall
The following is an extract of a speech he made in the House of Commons on 5th November 1987:
“The folklore of the American 1929 crash—the popular picture—is that of millionaires, jobbers, brokers, company presidents and ex-rich investors throwing themselves from the windows of the stock exchange. Now they have built that building so that that is impossible. Those deaths represented a tiny handful of people, but many more people died as a result of the 1929 crash. In the years of depression that followed 1929 and the massive unemployment that occurred in Germany, in Britain and throughout the world, many people in ordinary families committed suicide. Many people died prematurely because of inadequate diet. Many people died prematurely because of diseases that could have been cured if they had had the money to seek treatment at that time. Many infants died in the first weeks and months of life because they lived in the appalling slums that existed in the cities of the world at that time. Therefore, nobody on the Labour Benches and no Socialist makes the prediction of the coming recession with pleasure.
“In recent weeks the Conservative party, officially through the Prime Minister, has said that Socialism is dead. It has been claimed that Socialism is an outmoded philosophy and that its support among the people of Britain will soon die. However, with the pressure of the stock exchange collapse, part of the Socialist ideals has been accepted by the Conservative Government. It may be argued that the stock exchange is of no relevance to the real economy and that is true. More than 90 per cent of the transactions that take place on the world stock exchanges have absolutely nothing to do with commerce and industry. They are concerned with gambling and speculation in shares, futures and currencies. They have nothing to do with the creation of wealth on a world scale. Wealth is created by the labour of working people in productive industries.
“It is on the basis of the wealth created in the productive sectors of the economy—as the Tory amendment partly recognises—that we can pay for the civilising parts of our life: health, education, sport, culture, the arts and all the things that make life richer and more noble. The belief that that is the role of the stock exchange shows that it is not Socialism that is old fashioned, but capitalism, which has gone back to the same old process of the inter-war years.
“There have been two old-style recessions since 1975, with two weak booms in between them. We now stand on the eve of an even more devastating recession in the world economy. As we have already seen with the BP farce, much of the gloss has been taken off so-called people's capitalism. Socialism stands for collective decisions and ownership of wealth, and the direction of industrial production to the needs of people and not to a handful of stock exchange speculators who benefit the most. Such Socialism is needed. It is a system of society which will become more attractive.
“We are moving into an era of people's Socialism, not people's capitalism. It is necessary, and although we have perhaps not said it very well in recent years, what we are trying to do is to build a plateau—not for the underwriters of the BP claim, but for millions of ordinary people. I refer to a plateau of decency and reasonable living standards, on which people can develop their personal talents, personalities and more satisfactory lives.
“Today is 5 November. On this day throughout the world millions of women will spend four hours collecting water and fuel—an economic activity that is not recorded anywhere in world statistics. How ironic that people are forced to that back-breaking labour in a world of yuppies, sunrise industries, space travel and enormous technological development. What sort of system are Conservative hon. Members defending when, in times of recession, only 70 per cent. or less of human productive resources are in use and, in boom times, it is only 80 per cent.? 19 October marked the end of people's capitalism and the beginning of a popular people's Socialism.”
Source: Socialist Appeal (Britain)