Eric Pickles won power to fly the banner of economic Thatcherism in the city of Bradford. The down side of this success, from his own point of view at least, was the encouragement it gave the racist right in the Conservative party.
Despite personal leanings toward multiculturalism, Pickles found himself in a quandary. He had been forced to keep company with right-wing racist factions during the Honeyford affair in order to reinforce his position in the Tory group. In power at City Hall, he now relied on every last true blue councillor to carry out his model programme. Inevitably many felt that the time had come to make populist anti-immigrant feeling part of the Tory profile in Bradford once again.
The attempt by the Yorkshire Monday Club, in the person of Anthony Murphy, to drag the race issue centre stage created a brief but intense period of uncertainty for the Tory regime. Crassly racist leaflets, a bizarre physical conjugation of young boy and middle-aged councillor, and lies told to suppress the truth, all threatened to explode the whole Pickles project.
Anthony Murphy was a prominent young Tory. 24 years old, moon faced with round rimmed spectacles, this ambitious clean-cut Catholic worked as an office manager for Yorkshire Post Newspapers whilst still living at home on Bradford Road, Clayton, with mum, dad and brother Paul.
Yet Murphy was enjoying a brisk career within the Conservative party. He had worked his way up to become chairman of Clayton ward Tories and secretary of Bradford West Young Conservatives. He served as chairman of the Yorkshire area Conservative Political Centre - a regional Tory think tank and finally won through to become treasurer of Bradford South Tory constituency association. Equally important, his political colours were all along nailed to the mast by virtue of his chairmanship of the Yorkshire Monday Club.
In May 1988 Anthony Murphy stood as Tory candidate for Wyke in the council elections. 2 seats were being contested. Murphy's Tory running mate was ex-RAF officer Ronald Warren, a good friend and staunch right-winger. Both men failed to defeat their heavyweight Labour opponents; Marilyn Beeley and John Ryan. Warren eventually found success in the first of the 2 Odsal by-elections in autumn 1988, when the Tories exploited anti-Gypsy sentiments to give Pickles a majority on Bradford council.
On Saturday, January 20th 1989, Anthony Murphy and Frank Kelly were joined by Alan Simes in handing out photocopied leaflets to city centre shoppers. Headed "Civil War in Bradford", the leaflets demanded an end to immigration and used cuttings from the T & A, Spectator and Independent to raise the fear that the Asian community would pursue their concerns through violent means.
Frank Kelly, Murphy's elderly sidekick, was a familiar face from the Honeyford days. Now posing himself as "acting secretary" of the Yorkshire Monday Club, he was a regular correspondent in the letters pages of the T & A and Yorkshire Post. Kelly's thoughtful, eccentric, grandfatherly demeanour masked a man of bitter racist attitudes who put forward repatriation as the ultimate solution to the "immigrant problem". He was a loner, a maverick, not unafraid to mount one-man demos and petitions in support of the Drummond headmaster and against the Iranian death sentence on Salman Rushdie. On the "Civil War" leaflet he had scrawled "Please help Bradford" and signed in his own spidery hand. Kelly claimed to be a Tory party member but declined to identify the precise association that entertained that membership.
Alan Simes was the youngest of the 3 "Civil War" leafleters. But for Pickles he was the most immediately worrying. Whilst still a spotty teenager, Simes had become engaged to Wibsey Tory councillor Mrs. Enid Manogue. 47 year old Mrs. Manogue was married to a senior council officer, but left both him and her 3 children to join Simes in a Queensbury lovenest. This bold departure from the strong family virtues normally espoused amongst Tory ranks naturally created a minor scandal.
The "Civil War" leaflets were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for ritual perusal under legislation against incitement to racial hatred. The CPS lawyers decided that the leaflets provided insufficient grounds for a case against Murphy and his assistants. This came as no surprise to the Asian community who have seen very few such prosecutions. But the Tory party were still deeply apprehensive. Pickles had been assiduously wooing the vital Asian electorate through friends like Dayal Sharma, secretary of the Institute of Asian Businessmen.
Not only might future election prospects suffer severe damage, but even in the immediate term Eric Pickles' grasp on power was under question. 6 of the more realistic Bradford South Tory councillors threatened to resign their party whip unless Murphy was removed as constituency treasurer.
Pickles quickly realised that a big political banana skin now littered the road ahead. He therefore condemned the "Civil War" leaflets and said that the Conservative group on Bradford council retained its "commitment to racial equality". Prudently Pickles also began to blow a convenient smoke-screen of vague untruths round the whole affair.
"The Monday Club has nothing to do with the Conservative party" he told Robert Schopen of the T & A. Of course, Pickles didn't get where he was by not knowing his way round the Tory party. A Monday Club spokesman spelled it out when a Leeds Other Paper journalist contacted their London office. Pickles' disclaimer had been totally misleading, said the Monday Club. Indeed, Pickles had been "talking out of the back of his head".
The Monday Club is, and has always been, very much part of the Conservative party. Membership of the Monday Club is strictly conditional on being a member of a local Conservative association - in other words, being a Tory party member.
Tory MP's, opposed to former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's policies, founded the Monday Club in 1961. In particular the Club opposed their party leader's acceptance of the end of the colonial age in Africa, acceptance crystallised in the historic "Winds of change" speech. They felt that Macmillan had betrayed Britain's pride and interests by giving up on any idea of a British Empire.
Since then the Monday Club has described itself as the "conscience of the Tory party". Senior Tory MP's like John Carlisle and Dame Jill Knight have proudly declared their association with the Monday Club. At the same time a parade of even less respectable right-wingers have passed through the Club on their way to or from extremist groups like the National Front, the British National Party, Tory Action and the League of St. George.
The Monday Club supports capital punishment and white rule in South Africa. It resists UK membership of the E.E.C.
Race, though, is the real lynch pin which holds the Monday Club together and provides a bridge between the Tory party and the far right.
A few days after Murphy, Kelly and Simes handed out their "Civil War" leaflets, the storm had grown so intense that Eric Sunderland, chairman of Bradford South Conservative association, announced an investigation into the whole affair. Following an "exhaustive" 6-day inquiry he came up with an astounding conclusion.
Sunderland alleged that copies of the "Civil War" leaflet handed to the press were different from those handed to the public. The press version bore the Conservative's Manningham Lane H.Q. as contact address for the Yorkshire Monday Club. These were the same premises often used by Dayal Sharma's Institute of Asian Businessmen. Sunderland declared that this version of the leaflet was "tantamount to a forgery"!
The T & A obliged with the headline "Race-Row leaflet was forged says top Tory", although the paper's leader writer indirectly chastised the Tories for the ridiculousness of this claim. But half the people who read the T & A would have seen the headline and assumed that, in reality, there never had been any such troublesome leaflet.
Eric Sunderland's contribution to the rapidly thickening smokescreen need have surprised no one. Sunderland was a recently retired senior Tory councillor who had even been tipped as a likely challenger to Eric Pickles' leadership. According to another senior Bradford South right-winger, Sunderland was also a Monday Club member. Certainly he had played a decisive role during the Honeyford affair, coming in as chairman of Drummond school governors. Sunderland's support for the beleaguered headmaster helped Honeyford escape Bradford with a weighty golden handshake and the credibility of his opposition to multi-racialism intact.
Neither version of the "Civil War" leaflet was a forgery. Sunderland's allegation was nothing but a clumsy attempt to save Anthony Murphy's political bacon. Detailed forensic examination of typefaces and photocopier "fingerprints" revealed that all the leaflets were typed on the same typewriter and reproduced on the same photocopier at the Manningham Lane Tory office. Murphy probably had to wait for Dayal Sharma to finish using the equipment before making a start on his own project. In any case, both alleged "forgery" and accepted "real" versions of the leaflet carried the Manningham Lane HQ telephone number as a contact for the Yorkshire Monday Club. This was a point that Sunderland had conveniently ignored.
Sunderland was wasting his time. Anthony Murphy was widely regarded as a major liability for the Tories and had to be got rid of. He readily announced his intention not to seek re-election as treasurer of Bradford South. But the process of ridding him from the Conservative body politic as a whole was to be much messier.
Anthony Murphy was a member of 2 constituency associations; Bradford West and Bradford South. Bradford West Tories had to wrestle with the fear of a 33% Asian component of their electorate and were thus the first to act. Murphy was suspended indefinitely at an Extraordinary meeting of the association's executive.
Matters in Bradford South moved more slowly because Murphy commanded considerable support there, as the Sunderland "forgery" episode demonstrated.
In fact the right in Bradford South were violently split. A fight took place in the corridors of Odsal Conservative club. Ivan Whaites, the corpulent fish and chip shop owner and councillor, reputedly dealt Murphy a thump or two, with "Jac" Beeson and the controversial Raymond Pearson acting as respective "seconds". For stories of such fractiousness to drip from a normally leak-proof party organisation was some indication of the virulence of the disagreements.
The dispute was a bitter one between those loyal to Murphy, including Sunderland and Pearson, and pragmatists like Whaites and Beeson who saw the need for his removal. The loyalists saw Murphy as a good and popular treasurer who had merely exercised a right of free speech over an issue of widespread popular concern. The pragmatists were not so much Tory "wets", but radicals who gave top priority to the interests of Eric Pickles and his radical right experiment in Bradford.
Ivan Whaites threatened to oppose Sunderland for the chairmanship, while Raymond Pearson declared his intention to run against "Jac" Beeson for the deputy chairman's office.
Reading the murky intrigues of Bradford South Conservatives is by no means an exact science, but it seems likely that Whaites, though historically an out and out right-winger, had developed enough political acumen since his elevation to Bradford council, to realise the stupidity of Murphy's actions and was angry with Sunderland for not condemning him out right.
Pearson, on the other hand, opposed "Jac" Beeson in support of Murphy.
In the event both were persuaded to drop their challenges at the last minute.
Beeson and his antagonist Pearson are important figures on the Conservative scene in Bradford. Beeson, himself a former Monday Clubber, was a committee member of the Yorkshire area Conservative Political Centre when Anthony Murphy was it's chairman. Beeson was also a former chairman of Bradford University's Federation of Conservative Students - the notorious organisation which was disbanded by Norman Tebbit. FCS conferences had become more regular outings for well-heeled hooligans than England football away games. The FCS also organised package holidays to Nicaraguan contra camps and some FCS members advocated the legalisation of hard drugs. Even more seriously, the FCS was a key nurturing bed for radical right politics. Former London FCS chairman John Whittington went on to become one of Thatcher's political secretaries. Chancellor Nigel Lawson was to benefit from the advice of Mark Call, a former Scottish chairman of the FCS. Former national FCS chairman Mark McGregor became co-director of the privatisation pressure group PULSE. "Jac" Beeson became PULSE's regional representative for Yorkshire.
Despite his nationwide connections and "rising star" status within the Bradford Tory hierarchy, "Jac" was regarded as a bit of an imposition by many of his home village party members in Queensbury. He was put up in the face of local Tory opposition to fight the safe Queensbury seat following Irene Cookland's retirement. Party workers from outside the area had to be bussed in to campaign for Beeson. In the end his majority was cut from Cookland's 900 to his own paltry 150.
One of the few Queensbury Tories to join the Beeson campaign was long-time buddy Alan Simes. Indeed Beeson was reputedly so close to Simes that he accommodated Simes and "Kylie" Manogue in his own home after she had fled her husband and before the couple could find a dream home of their own.
Possibly destined to fight the Tory corner in the Bradford South Parliamentary contest, Beeson adopted a casually proletarian yet stylish name "Jac" for electoral purposes. He had been dogged by dismal, if unsurprising, failure in Great Horton ward elections under his real name - Julian.
Beeson's prospective opponent in the Bradford South deputy chairmanship race, Raymond Pearson, was already well known for his links with extreme racist groups long before he started sticking up for Anthony Murphy. He had been a council candidate for the notorious British Campaign to Stop Immigration in 1971. BCSI was a Bradford based group led by former Tory councillor James Merrick. BCSI accused immigrants of "bringing leprosy, typhoid and increased V.D." to the city. They demanded closure of Asian community centres and a start to repatriation.
Between 1971 and 1975 BCSI fielded dozens of district and county election candidates.
James Merrick stood for the BCSI in Bradford North before, like many other BCSI activists, moving on to join the National Front. Raymond Pearson stood as an "Independent Powellite" candidate for Bradford South in the same 1974 elections. He later blazed a lively trail as a Calderdale Tory councillor, even leading the Tory group there for 8 brief days.
He was adopted as Calderdale parliamentary Tory candidate, but had to withdraw after allegations of electoral irregularities. These arose because he had served a 3 month jail spell for receiving stolen goods in 1969, and then stood as a BCSI candidate at a time when he would have been disbarred from taking office under the 1972 Local Government Act.
More recently he achieved prominence on the strength of anti-gay pronouncements and won kudos for exposing the child molesting activities of the Halifax Social Services' Director.
Clearly Eric Pickles had to drum his party into line or see his plans for Bradford enmeshed in the racist's factional web. The occasion he chose was the next council meeting, one month after Murphy and co. handed out the "Civil War" leaflets.
Labour had brought a motion attacking the leaflet and condemning right-wing infiltration of the Tory party. In response Pickles proclaimed firmly that Murphy had been EXPELLED from the party, not just indefinitely suspended as Valerie Binney, Bradford's Tory agent, had announced on behalf of Bradford West constituency association.
Many Bradford South officials were taken by surprise, as they had been working on the assumption that Bradford West's decision did not compel them to do likewise. Pickles left them with no room to manoeuvre. He had checked chapter and verse of the Conservative model constitution that governed both constituency associations. Suspension from one did indeed mean automatic suspension from all other "model" associations. Bradford South deputy chairman Jac Beeson spotted Murphy entering the public gallery after Pickles had made his announcement. He dashed up the staircase to update his constituency treasurer on the fate that had befallen him.
Murphy was shocked and disbelieving, but a few weeks later Bradford South were forced to confirm Murphy's expulsion at an Annual General Meeting, much delayed by the battles which had rent the association apart.
Meanwhile, at the council meeting Pickles continued to minimise the pressure on his group as much as he could with a variety of interesting techniques.
First he spent most of the council debate discussing the literary qualities of "The Satanic Verses", rather than the Yorkshire Monday Club's "Civil War" leaflet.
He was particularly concerned to douse the flames under the bubbling emotional saucepan that was councillor Enid Manogue. Undoubtedly she had threatened Pickles with a premature finale to his performance as council leader if the good name of her beloved was besmirched. Thus, to ensure that this passionate woman would still heed the Tory whip, Pickles lied. He insisted that master Simes had taken part in distributing the leaflets without actually having read them. He even went so far as to propose that, in fact, the boy had no understanding of what he was doing at all!
Later he gathered reporters in his office after the council meeting and leaked details of the forthcoming rate rise. Next day's T & A carried a huge "5%", and not Anthony Murphy's smiling features as would otherwise have been the case.
In fact, Pickles' deliberate attempt to mislead the council was soon exposed on two counts.
Murphy and Kelly said that Simes had helped them highlight key points on the "Civil War" leaflet in bright yellow felt tipped pen, the night before they were distributed. Therefore he must have read them. Then Simes himself spilled the beans by writing to the T & A and publicly defending "Anthony" for exercising his "right to freedom of speech".
Even in exile from the party, Anthony Murphy supplied a sharp pain to Pickles' stout neck. Murphy organised a meeting of the Yorkshire Monday Club in Queensbury, where Tory MP Teddy Taylor provided the main speech. One of the people in attendance that evening was Jac Beeson.
Murphy then organised another Monday Club meeting at Ilkley, in April 1989. Guest speaker Enoch Powell addressed a gathering of 150 people. The audience sat respectfully through a Powellite discourse on the future for a Tory government, before rousing themselves to enthusiasm when racial questions were raised at question time.
That meeting attracted various eccentric far right factionalists, including members of John Tyndall's neo-nazi British National Party. One particularly bizarre creature had come up from London in order to canvass support for the Monday Club's governing council elections. He described black people in this country as "leeches, slugs and cockroaches, sucking off the blood of the country without sharing the Tuetonic traditions of the British nation".
The meeting also produced evidence of Murphy's attempts to build links between the Monday Club and other far right groupings. Leaflets for the "English Solidarity Movement", led by arch racist Lady Jane Birdwood, were made available to the audience. Birdwood is an ex Monday Clubber with links to the National Front and the British National Party.
The old Bradford neo-nazi Jim Merrick raised his head above the parapet for the first time in years as a result of Murphy's activities. He wrote to the T & A making remarks about the legality of Sikh's carrying ceremonial swords in public.
Murphy's own career was set on a parallel course to that charted by Merrick. Both had been kicked out of the Tory party and projected in the direction of the extreme right.
Murphy turned up at a British National Party rally in Dewsbury, and arrived just too late at another near Bradford. Clearly Murphy was not about to keep a low profile in order to ensure rapid forgiveness and a return to the Tory fold. Yet at the same time he talked about gaining re-entry to the Tory party by Christmas. If this was to happen it was obviously to be on his own terms.
During this period Murphy was privately expressing sympathy with the British National Party and outrage that they were not allowed to conduct their meetings in council premises. Indeed, Eddy Morrison - the B.N.P.'s regional development officer, expressed admiration for the Yorkshire Monday Club, saying that the B.N.P. itself could never have gotten away with anything so inflammatory as the "Civil War" leaflet.
Pickles' vulnerability during his initial period in power on Bradford city council was not so much to the attacks of Labour, who generally performed feebly before Pickles practised wit and cunning intrigues. It was from his own party members that the threats came.
The right obviously did not appreciate just how precarious was the Conservative balance on the electoral tightrope, or as is more likely, they just didn't care.
See Epilogue "Currying Favours"