“Oh mad, silly Grayson!”
Editorial within the socialist journal The Clarion, August 1907
Within the aftermath of the overall election of February 1974, the temper in Marsden socialist membership in west Yorkshire was grim. David Clark, the younger Labour MP for Colne Valley, wherein the previous mill city of Marsden sits, had misplaced his seat. Clark gamely tried to raise his activists’ spirits with a rousing speech. However one aged stalwart remained unmoved: “Previous Harry was sitting on the bar nursing a pint,” recollects Clark, who’s now 80 and a Labour peer. “He mentioned: ‘All due respect to grasp Dave, however we’ve solely ever had one true socialist MP round right here. And that was Victor Grayson.’”
Clark had heard this identify many occasions earlier than, all the time pronounced with a particular reverence and a wistful sense of what may need been. With extra time on his palms, he started to look into the story of the predecessor who impressed a lot affection and emotion. What he found, and recorded in a just lately up to date biography, stays one of the outstanding tales within the historical past of British politics and one in every of its greatest unsolved mysteries. For a short interval at first of the final century, whereas nonetheless in his twenties, Victor Grayson grew to become probably the most well-known socialist in England and a possible Labour chief. Then, 100 years in the past this September, he vanished with out hint. As Clark places it: “Someday in 1920, he walked out of his condominium accompanied by two males and was by no means conclusively seen once more. What occurred has fascinated me for half a century.”
Grayson made his identify within the Colne Valley by-election of 1907. On the age of 26, recent out of theological faculty in Manchester, he grew to become the primary avowedly socialist candidate to win a seat in parliament. It was a sensational victory. The Labour get together, seven years previous and led by Keir Hardie, had made its first main breakthroughs on the earlier yr’s normal election. However this had been achieved by changing into, in impact, a junior companion to the Liberals, who stood apart in chosen constituencies. Feeling their means, Labour’s first nice leaders – Hardie, Philip Snowden and Ramsay MacDonald – have been sticking to a gentle programme of incremental reform to working situations. Grayson’s precocious radicalism flamed throughout this horizon like a purple comet. Colne Valley constituency, a mill-owners’ fiefdom, was a Liberal bastion that was believed to be unconquerable. Ignoring the reservations of the Labour management, Grayson took on the native political institution, advocating revolutionary socialism and feminine suffrage. In his manifesto, he informed the textile employees of the valley: “I don’t imagine that we’re divinely destined to be drudges … the time for our emancipation has come.” Unbelievably, he received.
The outcome was nationwide information. On the night of Grayson’s victory, a particular correspondent for the Day by day Categorical wrote: “The Purple Flag waves over Colne Valley at present. The fever of Socialism has contaminated hundreds of employees.” Nevertheless it was the style and magnificence of Grayson’s marketing campaign, as a lot as his politics, that made him, within the phrases of one in every of his supporters, “the darling of the socialist motion”. Good-looking, genial and eloquent, Grayson appeared to be blessed with each political reward. An Irish priest who adopted Grayson’s marketing campaign wrote: “By no means have I seen individuals so moved; least of all these Yorkshire individuals, whose essential curiosity I all the time considered ‘t’brass’ – by no means have I seen crowds so swept by the Holy Spirit.”
The evangelical zeal was supplemented with quicksilver repartee and jokes: “Any nice orator wants humour and heat,” says Clark. “A lot of Grayson’s model was about making individuals chortle. There was a well-known event when he stopped midway by a speech and mentioned to the ladies on this working-class viewers, ‘Girls, what do you consider my hair at present?’” At dizzying tempo, such playfulness may give solution to withering denunciations. Grayson might be humorous or he might be excoriating, as when telling one Yorkshire rally: “We depend it not solely unjust, however undignified, for able-bodied individuals to eat luxurious meals [and] put on extravagant garments, stay in lots of and princely homes, all produced by others who grovel on the margin of existence.”
‘Traitors to your class’
In keeping with Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, Grayson was a shining gentle in an virtually forgotten Labour custom. “He was a type of political preacher,” says Cruddas. “He got here from the pulpit custom and embodied a radical humanism that staked all the pieces on an ethical critique of early-20th-century capitalism. There was nothing doctrinaire or pseudo-scientific about his socialism, in distinction to among the Marxist currents round on the time. It was a battle about dignity and ethics. However, after all, it grew to become very unhappy, what occurred.”
Grayson was an inspirational determine, however he was additionally flawed and weak. An adopted little one, there have been persistent rumours that he was the illegitimate son of an aristocrat, which can have fuelled an insecurity that led to a rising alcohol downside. In London, he acquired a popularity for effective residing which raised eyebrows within the non-conformist Pennines communities that had elected him. In parliament, he picked unwise fights with Labour colleagues. Six months after getting into the Home of Commons, Grayson was ordered from the chamber by the speaker after repeatedly disrupting a debate on temperance to speak concerning the plight of the unemployed. On the third time of asking he lastly left, telling fellow Labour MPs: “I go away the Home with pleasure. You might be traitors to your class. You’ll not arise in your class, you traitors.”
It was the start of the tip of a stunning however short-lived parliamentary profession. Within the election of 1910, Grayson narrowly misplaced his seat in Colne Valley and his love of whisky was changing into a significant issue. He suffered nervous breakdowns. When, in 1914, he was discovered incapable of delivering a speech to a packed corridor in Bradford, his loyal Yorkshire backers reluctantly lower their losses. As Clark writes in his biography: “A hyperlink which had lasted for ten years was severed – damaged with regrets, for the Colne Valley activists had anticipated a lot, maybe an excessive amount of, from Victor Grayson. He had … given them their best hour [but] the strain was too nice; his love of the great issues of life proved too distracting. The whisky which had acted as his stimulant grew to become his grasp.”
The primary world conflict led to a wider and extra acrimonious parting of the methods with previous allies. The overwhelming majority of Grayson’s radical supporters inside Labour have been passionately anti-war, though the get together itself was cut up. Grayson, who had railed in opposition to Prussian militarism, backed the battle, wherein he would struggle and be wounded. He grew to become a poster boy of the federal government’s recruitment marketing campaign, addressing rallies all through Britain, in addition to in Australia and New Zealand. In newspapers, he wrote fulsome appreciations of the then first lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. A military medical report recorded that he was ingesting a bottle of whisky a day whereas on the entrance. As assist for the conflict drew him into new circles of affect, he was making harmful however profitable liaisons with such unlikely bedfellows because the newspaper proprietor, fraudster and populist patriot Horatio Bottomley.
Crushed up on the Strand
In 1920, the yr he disappeared, Grayson was residing in London, occupying an costly suite of rooms in Piccadilly. Though he wrote occasional items of journalism, the revenue they generated would hardly have financed such lavish lodging. As a substitute, Clark believes, after the conflict the previous MP had turned to some type of blackmail. The pure generosity of spirit and joie de vivre had changed into one thing darker. “In political phrases, he’d misplaced virtually all the pieces. He’d alienated the unions by calling their MPs traitors and he’d outraged the socialist left by backing the conflict. I believe, when he got here again, he will need to have calculated that the one means of sustaining his life-style was by exploiting the contacts he made with highly effective institution figures.”
One of many common guests to Grayson’s condominium was a vibrant and corrupt Whitehall fixer named Maundy Gregory. A peacock determine given to ostentatious shows of wealth, Gregory was mentioned by a recent to habitually carry spherical “a wad of banknotes the scale of a newly born child’s head”. He had carved a postwar area of interest for himself illegally selling knighthoods, baronetcies and peerages on behalf of David Lloyd George’s authorities. In a public assembly of the time, Grayson summoned up among the previous fireplace: “The sale of honours,” he informed his viewers, “is a nationwide scandal. It may be traced proper all the way down to 10 Downing Road, and to a monocled dandy with workplaces in Whitehall. I do know this man and in the future I’ll identify him.” However Grayson by no means carried out the risk. “He was in all probability being paid, on the authority of Lloyd George, to close his mouth,” says Clark.
In mid-September 1920, Grayson was overwhelmed up within the Strand. Then, on the finish of the month, the younger manageress of his condominium block, Hilda Porter, noticed Grayson go away accompanied by two males with whom he had been in discussions all afternoon. Porter later mentioned his final phrases have been: “I’ll be in contact quickly.”
Was he murdered? For many years, that was the widespread assumption. However Clark now believes that Grayson was paid off for good and informed to undertake a brand new id. “Keep in mind there was no tv. It was doable even for well-known individuals to go unrecognised in a means that couldn’t occur now. I believe, in 1920, Victor had bored with his famous person standing. He had been terribly affected by the latest demise of his spouse, Ruth. Lloyd George might have gotten fed up paying him and Grayson was introduced with a proposal he couldn’t refuse.”
The speculation is supported by an intriguing piece of testimony from a former Colne Valley comrade. Within the 1930s, a veteran of the well-known by-election of 1907 claimed to have tracked Grayson all the way down to a furnishings store in London, which he mentioned he owned. Ernest Marklew had himself grow to be the Colne Valley MP in 1935. Shortly earlier than his demise, he informed a Labour colleague that, after Grayson confirmed his id, he begged Marklew to say nothing, as he had left public life. The precise particulars of the encounter, Clark thinks, have been modified to guard him.
Clark initially known as his e book about Grayson Labour’s Misplaced Chief. However, in fact, he says, the mercurial hero of Colne Valley wouldn’t have been proper for that function. “The Labour get together had opted in opposition to the revolutionary highway to socialism and so they have been working at what they needed to do – grow to be an official opposition and begin to enchantment to individuals who hadn’t made the leap to socialist pondering. Gifted as he was, Grayson wouldn’t have had the temperament to cope with that.” However there may be little question that, within the unforgiving hills of the Pennines, he achieved one thing outstanding. Cruddas believes there are classes to be taught from Grayson’s astonishing potential to attach. “The fashionable left is at risk, at occasions, of trying soulless,” he says. “A mix of doctrinaire edicts and liberal neutrality. The early Grayson got here from a special, hotter custom. His type of radical humanism is precisely what the left wants at present.”
Quickly after the triumph of 1907, when Grayson was nonetheless on the peak of his powers, a fellow socialist tried to seize the influence he was making. “The youngsters within the Colne Valley be taught to pronounce his identify,” wrote Wilfred Thompson in an early biography, “virtually earlier than they start to say ‘Father’. Some are christened after him. It’s a quite common factor to see them sitting upon the sting of the platform at his conferences, virtually earlier than they will stroll. Each Colne Valley little one is aware of ‘Vitter Gayson’.”
The reminiscences have been to stay lengthy after the person had gone.
— to www.theguardian.com