GREAT YELDHAM Reading Room 1967,
9 p.m. Tuesday, May 9th, 1967 Counting of votes had just been completed. I became aware of a buzz of excitement from the comrades who were my counting agents, and realised that we had made it—I was elected Communist councillor for Halstead Rural District.
Visions of the next three years flashed through my mind—how to cope with my new work, my job, running my home, my plans to go to teacher training college, to increase my family or not?
The Returning Officer declared the result: elected Labour, 232; myself, 142; not elected "Independents", 134 and 123. The defeat of the former was a great victory. He is a Tory farmer, a councillor for 21 years, the last four of these as Chairman of the RDC, and had been unopposed for eighteen years.
I was also elected to Great Yeldham Parish Council with 146 votes, sixth of seven successful candidates from a total of twelve nominations. The top vote here was 224 and the bottom one 132.
How was it that I, a comparative newcomer to the village (we moved here from London seven years ago) had gained this seat at only my second attempt? I feel it would be helpful to deal with the previous election in some detail, as this will give the background against which our campaign was fought.Prior to 1964 two Tories, standing as Independents, had been returned unopposed for eighteen years. Halstead Communist Party decided that there must be a contest, and it was agreed that I should stand for both councils.
On the evening before nominations closed. Labour's young prospective Parliamentary candidate for Saffron Waldon approached us personally and asked us to stand, so that at least there would be a poll. He was delighted to learn that I was standing, and said he would try hard to find another candidate so that electors could register an anti-Tory vote. This he managed to do literally at the last minute.The branch decided to put out an election address—a very simple, duplicated affair consisting of one foolscap sheet turned on its side, and folded down the middle, with our message on the inside. We made five brief points council rents, public transport, Halstead Hospital, council meetings and an offer to take up problems for constituents, and added a "potted biography".
There was a difference of opinion in the branch about saying that I was in fact a member of the Communist Party ("Candidates do not normally stand on party tickets in the rural district", etc.) but after discussion it was agreed it was essential that this should be quite clearly stated or' half of the value of contesting would be lost.
The fact that we put out an election address at all made history in Great Yeldham, and reports were that the electors were very appreciative. "It shows she cares", was the comment that came back to me. At the eleventh hour both Tory and Labour produced statements, neither of which contained any positive proposals.
In fact Labour's referred mainly to the work of their candidate's late husband, who had been an Essex county councillor.There were 539 on the register of electors. I did no canvassing. The result was: elected Labour, 195; Tory (chairman), 174; not elected Tory, 141: and myself, 73. (I polled 86 for the parish council, coming ninth, out of 12 candidates for seven seats.)
The Communist Party considered these results very gratifying, especially in view of the fact that my full-time work as a secretary took me out of the village all day.
After this election Halstead branch of the Communist Party took the decision to contest again in 1967. It might here be useful to mention that although we are called Halstead branch in fact we have only one member, an old-age pensioner, living in Halstead, and a further six of us in three widely scattered villages.
In the intervening three years we had made a number of valuable contacts through organising a rents campaign in 1964-65, letters to the press, committee work on the Cottage Garden Society.
(Although our garden is the most realistic jungle for miles around I justify my membership by taking prizes in the annual show for home-made jam, cakes, etc.!)
In January 1965 our son, David, was born and through attending clinic at Yeldham I got to know other mothers.
Motherhood also meant that for some 21 months I was not gainfully employed, and was therefore possibly seen about the village, and able to talk to people, a little more than hitherto. (My trade union work is done in Braintree C & AWU branch, twelve miles away, so I have no local contacts on that account.)
In December of last year rent increases of up to 38 per cent for the entire rural district were decided upon by Halstead RDC, this in an area
where agriculture and semi-skilled engineering are the main occupations, in the middle of "the freeze" and when there was a considerable amount of short-time working in the area. The tenants were incensed, and formed themselves into a tenants' association with a Great Yeldham branch. I gave all the support I could, and was well received by them in my turn. As the local elections drew near the association announced that it would be putting up two candidates in Yeldham.
We approached them about the possibility of withdrawing and transferring their members' support to the Labour candidate and myself, pointing out all the implications of a split vote. They
decided that their candidates should stand down provided the association received an assurance from us both thatwe would do everything possible for the tenants. (They told me that in my
case this was only a formality, as my support to them from their inception, my attendance at their public meetings, letters to the press, etc. proved my sincerity.)
Our election campaign was concentrated into one week. My address, with policy basically the same as in 1964, went out to an increased electorate of
636. We decided to canvass. I was rather surprised, when we began, to find I was being very warmly received, and immediately made up my mind to canvass every house in the village.
There was considerable support from the women, unity with local Labour Party members and, I have since learned, canvassing on my behalf in the local factory and Catholic Church!
One point worth mentioning is the fact that a number of people said they were going to use only one of their two votes, and this would be for me. I urged them to vote for the Labour candidate as well, as it was important to keep the Tories off the council.
A few days prior to polling, the tenants' association distributed their newsletter in which they called on members to vote for the two working-class candidates. There is no doubt that this was an important contributory factor in my election to the RDC.
After the election, I was warmly congratulated by many villagers, and got the feeling that they felt it was "our victory" over the Tories. The stir caused by my victory has been quite widespread in East Anglia, and has resulted in a lot of good publicity for our Party.
It was covered by the East Anglian Daily Times, Ipswich Evening Star and the Essex Chronicle. Anglia Television sent a photographer along, and gave a decent newscast over a (very bad!) picture of me. I have been interviewed by the Evening Standard, one of the women's magazines will shortly be spending a day with me ona full-length feature and photographs, and The Scotsman has asked for an interview because of my strong Scottish connections.. (My paternal grandfather, Malcolm Macfarlane, was a foundation member of the Party.)
Since my election I have been approached by several electors to take up cases for them, and I have arranged to have permanently displayed outside the reading room (village hall) my notice that I shall be available for interview on the first Monday evening in each month.
I would like to say that nothing I have yet done in my life (with the possible exception of giving birth to my son) has given me quite the same sense of achievement as this. An extremely important factor was the strong teamwork of my own branch, that of Sudbury, and of Harry Fawcett, our Communist Party district secretary.
And now the work really begins. . . .
Source Comment 24th Jun 1967