My Russian teacher was surprised to learn that I had been a teenage Communist, suspended from school for selling Marxist literature there. She was amazed that anyone lucky enough to be born "in the West" should have fallen for such stuff. Surely, she said, I had known what life was like in Russia? I said not. We true believers had heard stories, but dismissed them as capitalist lies. Not just teenagers either. Many intellectuals had been fooled.
From previous conversation in lessons, she knew I was chairman of my University's Conservatives. When and why, she asked, had I changed my mind?
As I struggled to tell my story in Russian, I turned to the Internet to search for dates and names. I was horrified by what I found. Everything Google turned up was a lie. It was a lesson for all of us who rely on the likes of Wikipedia for everyday information.
This for example is from a "Detailed account of Ricky Tomlinson's involvement in trade union politics and activism" to which his Wikipedia entry links by way of citation:
1972 saw not only the first official miners' strike but also the first official building workers' strike since the 1920s. Building workers, whose separate unions merged to form the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) in 1971, staged their national stoppage for £30 for a 35-hour week, and for the abolition of lump (self-contract) labour. The 13-week strike resulted in increased union organisation and the biggest single rise ever negotiated in the building industry. Again, the key weapon in this struggle was the use of flying pickets that toured around the construction sites ensuring the strike was solid.
In 1972, I was a schoolboy about to go into the Sixth Form. I was a member of the Schools Action Union and a Maoist. I was working in my school holidays on a building site. My family had a small building company and for years from about that time my father gave me holiday work so I could earn pocket money. If I add up all the school and university holidays I spent on construction sites, I have two years experience as a labourer.
When the UCATT organiser came on site to hold a strike ballot, I was the only one who voted in favour. I wasn't a member and it didn't count. My co-workers thought it funny, especially as my Dad was the boss. The next day UCATT held another "meeting" and they all voted in favour. Even my father. The only voice of dissent was mine. I can still hear them telling me, protectively, to shut up.
That second meeting began with the arrival of coachloads of pickets. I don't know exactly how many. Given that the Internet is richly populated with lies, I must be careful not to exaggerate. I would like there to be at least one true account for historians to find. Certainly our small group of workers on a housing site in the Flintshire village of Coed Talon was heavily outnumbered by men wielding pick-axe handles and other makeshift weapons. In the site hut, my father called the local police. "How many?" asked the policeman. My father told him. "I can't help with that" he said, "I'll be there to take a statement tomorrow."
They surrounded the little site in a practised way. They closed the circle they had formed, forcing everyone into the middle with threats, curses and weapons. None of us were in any doubt of the consequences of resistance. "Comrades..." I tried to remonstrate. They told me, in no uncertain terms, to shut up. "We are going to hold yesterday's meeting again" their leader told us. It is quite likely, given that the Shrewsbury Two were from that area, that he was either Des Warren or Ricky Tomlinson. I can't vouch for it. Neither name was known then.
According to every account I can find on the Internet, the Shrewsbury Two were wrongly convicted; the victims of "a ruling class conspiracy." Nowhere will you find that they were convicted by a jury of their peers and sentenced by an independent judge in 1974 under a Socialist Government. They were imprisoned for three and two years respectively. Warren is dead, but Tomlinson continues to bathe in leftist glory. I know that the account of the picketing given by his defence at the trial was untrue. I know, because I saw it, that there was violent intimidation. I am convinced that any worker who resisted would have been beaten.
When I got back to school, I told my Marxist friend my concerns about the events. He told me that my friends on site were not proletarians. Construction workers were the lowest elements of the working class - lumpen proletariat, disorganised and liable to be used by the bosses. The organised workers on the buses were the militant vanguard of the proletariat. What I had seen was "classic Marxism - the dictatorship of the proletariat." I was lucky to have witnessed the beginnings of the Revolution in Britain.
That day, I decided to read more widely. It took a while, but my conversion had begun. I turned from the Communist Manifesto, the writings of Chairman Mao and Das Kapital to Hayek. By the time I arrived at University, a couple of years later, I was a Conservative.
Tomlinson had also undergone a political conversion. In 1972, the very year that I (possibly) met him, he had switched from fascism to socialism. I guess it provided more opportunities to indulge his thuggish nature. Our celebrity culture means that his leading role in the Royle Family (a wonderful piece of type-casting) gives him a platform for his views. I have seen him on a TV chat show, lying through his scouse teeth. I personally have no doubt that he was rightfully convicted of conspiracy to intimidate. Whether he was there or not, I saw the conspiracy in action that long-ago day. The jury members in Mold Crown Court are everywhere defamed on the Internet, as is the judicial system itself.
Three years later the "Shrewsbury Pickets"cause celebre came up again in my life. It was mentioned by Tom Litterick, then the Labour MP for Selly Oak, at my University's Debating Society. He gave the account of events which is now the "Internet truth." I stood up on "a point of information" and described my experience. It may have been the only time that unpleasant little man was ever silenced in public. A few days later, I was standing at Birmingham New Street Station, waiting to meet my girlfriend. I noticed a short man standing just behind me. I turned my head and looked down at him. It was Litterick. He recognised me from the debate and paled. I am not given to the violence of his trade union friends, but he didn't know that. He fled.
Shortly thereafter Litterick died of a heart attack. At the time, the rumour was that he died in bed with his lover, a journalist. I regret that he died in pleasure. I would have been better justice if he had died as he ran from the truth he had abused in his political career.
Ricky Tomlinson can be confident that the none-too-bright construction workers he and his comrades threatened would never write their account. He can dismiss accounts by any of the building employers as "capitalist lies." He can rely on the solid leftists in Britain's academia to swallow his story. As my Russian teacher was surprised to learn, they have swallowed worse. Thanks, however, to the accidental presence of a 15 year-old boy, there is now at least one truthful account on the Web.