My wife and I booked into the Wortley Hall Hotel because it was close to the venue for our friends’ wedding reception where we were spending Saturday evening. Only on checking into the beautiful, 250 yearold Grade II listed building just south of Barnsley did we realise that we had stumbled across one of the most significant venues in the history of the post-war British trades union and labour movement.
Labour’s Education and Recreational Holiday Home was founded in 1951 by Vin Williams, a miner turned union agitator whose dedication to the communist cause even extended to his inflicting on his son the forename Lenin (Len for short). It was officially opened in 1953 by Vin’s comrade Frank Soskice, who was the son of a Russian revolutionary.
Vin Williams has a wing of the hotel dedicated to him, as do other scions of the British Labour movement including Tom Mann and George Lansbury. No doubt these names infuse visiting comrades with the spirit of the ghosts of the British Labour movement. I myself spent a fitful night in the Abe Moffat Suite dreaming through some of the nightmare scenarios of Britain’s post-war industrial past, as if living in an episode of Life on Mars.
When I woke up, the nightmares did not go away. As I made my way through the red carpeted and red walled corridors to the GMB breakfast room, it dawned on me that this place was not just a monument to the past. From the pictures on the walls, you can only draw the conclusion that this socialist education centre has no shame about their links with any number of discredited communist dictatorships.
The portrait of Karl Marx which hangs on the landing carries the caption of his name in Russian alphabet characters (probably a gift from the Soviets). Alf Hague, a leading light at Wortley Hall, led a trip to the “promised land” of the Soviet Union, where they toured hospitals and schools in the Moscow region, stayed in a Railwayman’s Holiday home in Sochi on the Balck Sea, and visited Stalin’s childhood home in Gori, a Soviet shrine at which they were happy to pay homage. Soon after this visit, in 1956, Kruschev would be denouncing Stalin.
A plaque in one corridor remembers the visit of Huan Hsiang, the Charge d’Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, which took place in November 1955, soon after the Korean War had ended, and at a time when the People’s Republic were attempting to invade Taiwan.
The communist sympathies of the trades union backers of the Worker’s Stately Home did not stop in the 1950s. The official History of Labour’s Home, written by John Cornwell, quotes Gordon Vassall, a London firefighter, who attended the Fire Brigades Union National School during the early 1980s and was shocked by how left wing the handpicked lecturers were:
“The undercurrent theme of the National School was to spread the gospel of socialism, although different groups of students had different views of what was the right path: hard line CP (Communist Party) or the direction of the Euro Communists, or one of the more far left groups like the SWP or Militant. Yet the students were always encouraged to vote Labour in elections…”
The hard left stance of the Hall continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Non-striking miners were banned from the premises and refused access to facilities in 1984-5. Communist Party member Ann Musey was elected to the post of Vice-President in 1994.
Twenty-first century socialist heroes celebrated on the Hall’s walls include Evo Morales, the left wing Bolivian president. In the AEU lounge, I found a flyer from the Morning Star newspaper advertising a “Challenges for the Future” Conference with Robert Griffith (Communist Party General Secretary), Richard Bagley (Morning Star Editor), Megan Dobney (TUC) and Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour). If you are still looking for evidence that the hard left is alive and kicking, you can go and see them debate this Saturday, June 8, in St Andrews Church, Hanover Way, Sheffield.
Its easy for Conservatives to forget – as we face down the latest enemy within (militant Islamism) – that the old enemy within (militant socialism) is still propagating its dangerous hard left ideology inside our country. Socialism was slain by Thatcherism in the ‘80s. But we must continue to fight and win the battle of ideas in each and every generation.