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The Man Who Can’t Be Bought and the Election That Never Was

The Man Who Can’t Be Bought and the Election That Never Was
Given the opportunity to choose from the plethora of artifacts and literary material in the George Garrett archive, of which, I’ve been enthusiastically involved in, for the best part of eighteen months. Without hesitation I chose the party political flier promoting George Garrett as an Independent candidate, contesting the Brunswick Ward in South Liverpool in the Municipal Elections of Thursday 1st November 1928.
The reasoning behind this choice for my blog, is to try and understand George Garrett the politician. It’s a well-known fact George had tinkered with politics, in a party political context, through his engagement and active involvement in the establishment of the Communist Party in Liverpool, in the early 1920’s, along with his long standing ‘comrades’ messrs Bessie and Jack Braddock, who later on in life became stalwarts in the Labour Party, and shifted their politics so far to the right they were now bordering on the cusp of the Conservative and Unionist Party! Nevertheless, Garrett remained lifelong friends, with them both.

Additionally, Garrett played a leading and significant role in the formation of the National Unemployed Workers Movement and the Seamen’s Vigilante Committee. Garrett’s commitment towards this cause was unswerving; he was one of the main protagonists and leaders of the first Hunger March to London in 1922, and, of course, his introduction to radical politics was borne out of the 1911 Transport Workers Strike, when he attended the mass demonstration outside Liverpool’s St George’s Hall. During this strike the Police charged the congested ranks of a mixture 100 000 strikers and supporting demonstrators, with the fifteen year old Garrett caught up in the mayhem, resulting in the loss of several teeth and a smashed broken nose, as a result of the Police baton charge. This incident alone was to lay the foundation for the birth of Garrett’s political awakening. He had remained faithful to his ideological principles, which he attributes to his ‘discovery’ in New York of the Industrial Workers of the World, more commonly referred to, as, ‘The Wobblies’, just after World War I. This narrative would navigate Garrett throughout the rest of his life, as a Merchant Seaman, political activist, advocate, writer and playwright.
In 1923, in the main, due to his reputable leadership involvement in the Hunger March of the previous year, Garrett was isolated and ostracised from any work commitment’s he felt might come his way. He embarked upon what was to be his third and final voyage to New York. Without doing a disservice to his fellow unemployed and his growing family, whom he’d left behind in Liverpool, he was now seeking solace in the perfecting and refining of his writing skills. Nevertheless, during his time in New York, the pen became mightier than the political message, through the development of  his creative and innovative writing skills, as a working class writer. For several reasons his time in New York came to an end in 1926 when he returned to Liverpool at the back end of the 1926 General Strike, to a much more maligned City than the one he had left behind three years earlier. In his eyes, nothing had changed. If anything the roots of Empire and Imperialism had become more embedded in the psyche of the British working class, than ever before. The masked ranks of organised labour had failed in their efforts to change the direction of British society through the General Strike; it had, In fact, the complete opposite effect. The Conservative government targeted both the employed and unemployed, whose living standards were driven even into the abyss, through a further reduction in both wages and welfare benefits, and a significant rise in unemployment. This would impact upon Garrett, both in the short and the long term. He had only five months work over the next ten years. How did he survive during this period? We know that in the 1930’s Garrett began to hone his short stories, of which thirteen were published between 1934 and 1939, some under the pseudonym ‘Matt Low’ (possibly to avoid detection by the Unemployed Assistance Board (UAB), in The Adelphi, New Writing and Left Review magazines.
While it may owe something to his notoriety as a militant activist, during this period we have to remember, Garrett has returned to Liverpool after spending almost four years in the New York. Why has he decided to embark upon a political journey into party politics at the age of Thirty Two? Was he involved in any other political struggles, whilst perfecting his writing skills in New York, and this motivated him to act in accordance with his strong political beliefs? Was it his conclusion when returning to Liverpool from New York in 1926 that the quality of life for working people was worse than it was than before he left? Did he recognise a correlation between his politics and the work he was undertaking on behalf of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, through the articles he was scribing for their magazine, by trying to reduce conflicts between Catholics and Protestants? Was it his duty to represent the people of the Brunswick Ward, one he knew so well, through his advocacy work of providing advice, guidance and support to those who needed it most, namely the unemployed, due to the possible chance of winning the seat? Garrett’s message was clear, concise and to the point. He stood on a platform of trust and belief, ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Bought’, ‘The Man Who Led the Unemployed’, ‘The Fighting Candidate’ and ‘The Seamen’s Champion.’ The incumbent was the Independent Catholic candidate, MJA Kelly, and his opponents were Moorhead for The Labour Party and George Garrett - Independent. All told, three candidates would be standing for election at the Liverpool Municipal Elections on Thursday 1stNovember 1928.
The Liverpool Echo covers the election, quite comprehensively, with a journalist stationed in each ward reporting on the types, patterns and numbers of voters, as well as a pen picture of the ward’s standing members. In particular, they will provide a comprehensive overview if there is a ‘three way fight’ for the seat. Wards such as Edge Hill and Fairfield, where a Communist and an Independent stood, respectively. The Communist Party candidate, although only polling a total of 155 votes, is recorded as part of the overall contest.
One particular interesting facet to this election, albeit the local municipal election, was the right of women to vote on the same equal footing as men. In 1918 ‘The Representation of the People Act’ was passed, which allowed women over the age of 30, who met a property qualification, to vote. It wasn’t until 1928 with the passing into legislation of the ‘Equal Franchise Act’ that women over the age of 21, achieved the same voting rights as men. This act increased the number of women on the voting register from 8.5 million to almost 15 million women throughout the UK, who were now eligible to vote. This emphasis was reflected in the reporting by the Liverpool Echo at the polling booths throughout the city. In Garston, for example, one female voter had been waiting for the polling booths to open, it was five to eight in the morning and she was about to cast her vote, as she had done ever since women had won the franchise in 1918!
At one of the Edge Hill booths, one elderly female first time voter was in the booth for fifteen minutes deciding on whom to vote for. Upon exiting the booth she exclaimed to the voting clerk, ‘I suppose that’s all right, isn’t it? I’ve done it just like me and my old man does the football coupons on Sundays and crossed out those I want to loose and left those I want to win, on the coupon.’ Liverpool Echo comment ‘and bang goes another spoilt paper!
This is, after all, the first year when all women over the age of 21, throughout the UK, can actually cast their vote, and by all accounts, from newspaper articles of the day, the majority of people who turned out to vote were women, many of whom, ‘carried in their arms the sleeping members of the country’s future voting strength.’
Could it have been this landmark historical piece of legislation, which propelled Garrett to a position of putting himself on the front line of local politics once and for all? I doubt it. Nevertheless, we will never know. Having perused the Municipal records for the elections of Thursday 1stNovember 1928, including the Record of the Municipal Election Register 1924 – 1952, it is abundantly clear Garrett did not stand as an Independent candidate or under any other ‘ticket’ in this election. Why did he not stand? Who knows! It’s not the time to assume, presume, presuppose, glean or conclude anything from Garrett’s absence from this election. What we can deduce from the result of the only two candidates standing in this election is the votes were there to be won, by Garrett! The Brunswick Ward numbers eligible to vote was 8,447 The votes cast were as follows: Moorhead, Labour Party 3,111, MJA Kelly Independent Catholic 740.  Labour Party majority, 2,371. This was a significant Labour Party gain in Liverpool. Overall, in Liverpool, the Labour Party had gained eleven seats and the Conservatives lost overall control of Bootle. In Leeds and Birkenhead The Labour Party took overall control with clear majorities.
In conclusion, Garrett experienced and wrote about the harsh realities he had endured and had become hardened with and battle scarred, throughout his life. Voicing his opinions about the harsh realities of endemic poverty, unemployment and the evils and social ills of being the underclass. Compounded by the cause and effect of racial and religious prejudice, the real dangers of nationalism and the domestic problems within the family environment. This was Garrett’s manifesto for life. He would not be able to rid himself of the ‘shackles of endurance.’ However, during the one time when it appears he was ready for the public stage, to deliver on behalf of those who recognised him as ‘The Seamen’s Champion’, ‘The Man Who Can’t be Bought’,  ‘The Man Who Led the Unemployed’ and ‘The Fighting Candidate,’ he decided to bow out and usher himself away from the public gaze, with the utmost of respect, I’m sure, and to continue his struggle through other mediums, as in his writing – author and playwright - his acting, and his advocacy work. It was unfortunate Garrett never embarked upon a life in politics, in a party political context, as he would have been ‘The People’s Champion’, no question of doubt. However, what we can say is this was just another episode in the incredible life of George Garrett.
Ray Quarless.
Last modified onWednesday, 09 December 2015 10:33
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