David who?

Eddie Ford reviews Seventeen years of obscurity: memoirs from the back benches by David Watkins (The Book Guild Ltd 1996, pp235)

This book claims to be a “fascinating autobiographical account” of the career of David Watkins, who was Labour MP for Consett from 1966 to 1983. Apparently, Watkins “worked tirelessly for the rights of British working people” - or, at least, this is what the press release wants us to believe.

Of course, he did no such thing. In reality Watkins was a loyal, and particularly untalented, servant of the Labour Party machine, who simply cannot imagine socialism being anything other than what Labour does when it is in office.

Thus, Watkins tells us: “Socialism remains my abiding belief” (p2). He very quickly demonstrates his understanding of ‘socialism’ when he proceeds to inform us Clement Attlee was the “greatest prime minister of the 20th century” (p3). Watkins’ love for Attlee does not end there, as he goes on to state: “It is now an established historical fact that the coalition war cabinet of 1940-45, in which Attlee was deputy prime minister, conducted its business in prosecuting the war with greater efficiency when Churchill was away and Attlee presided” (Ibid).

This statement may or may not be true, but it certainly helps to clarify Watkins’ vision of ‘socialism’ - ie, an imperialist warmongering system which reflects the needs of the ruling class.

The main interest of this book lies in the realm of political psychology - the world as seen through the eyes of a Labour-centric ‘leftwing’ traditionalist. As the Labour Party is the only vehicle for socialism, all organisations to its left must be painted in dark, satanic colours. This sees Watkins warning, “Labour has always been subject to infiltration from forces unable to command electoral support” (p220). Even more sinisterly, “During the 1970s, a secretive organisation calling itself the ‘militant tendency’ made a concerted attempt to infiltrate the party and take control. Posing as ‘leftwing’, it was authoritarian and nothing whatsoever like the left as always understood in the party” (Ibid). Trembling, Watkins descends to sub-McCarthyite silliness, accusing the then Militant Tendency of giving clenched fist salutes at Labour Party meetings which “resembled the Nazi salute” and accusing its supporters of “Nazi-like bullying and abuse at branch meetings”.

Ludicrously, and unpleasantly, Watkins even hints that Militant, because of its “naive belief” in revolution, was in some way responsible for the election of the Thatcher government (a thesis repeated by the likes of Alan Bleasdale in GBH, for instance, which even suggested that Militant was in the pay of MI5).

Watkins hits rock bottom in his criticisms of Tony Benn, claiming he was “influenced by quasi-working class poseurs from the authoritarian left, many of whom were no more working class than their heroes, Lenin and Trotsky” (p222).

These unedifying memoirs serve the useful function of highlighting the venal and corrupt nature of the Labour Party, with its contempt for the working class and worship of bourgeois democracy.

Eddie Ford