party of one

Reader “Ajay” has a theory that aviators are uniquely unfitted for government. There are a considerable number of data points in his favour. However, here’s a possible counter-example. Ernest Millington has died; he was one of three MPs for the brief Common Wealth Party, a radical leftist group that emerged during the second world war, and held the Distinguished Flying Cross for completing no less than thirty bombing raids over Germany as a squadron leader in the crack 5 Group.

Later, after the party lost its other seats, he took the Labour whip and served on until he lost his seat in 1950. He later worked as an encyclopedia salesman, rejoined the RAF, and eventually became a teacher and a senior official in the London Borough of Newham’s education service. The stories are predictably fantastic:

He left school because his father expelled him from home after he heard him address a crowd from a street- corner soapbox on behalf of the Labour League of Youth, alongside Ted Willis, the latterly ennobled creator of Dixon of Dock Green. Homeless and penniless, the boy found a clerk’s job. He was sacked when his employer heard him evangelising for ethical socialism at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London. He joined the Labour party – and was expelled in the late 1930s for supporting the Communist party-backed anti-fascist popular front….

While still a flight lieutenant, he went to an RAF conference at which he was the only officer present below the rank of wing commander, but also the one with the most operational experience. He disagreed strongly with plans advanced at the meeting, which he maintained would result in heavy casualties. This was noted by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane, commander of 5 Group, Bomber Command. Cochrane made him a squadron leader on the spot, promoted him to wing commander a few days later and posted him, in October 1944, as commanding officer of the new 227 squadron, based at Balderton in Nottinghamshire. A remarkable 30 Lancaster sorties followed, with raids ranging across Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Romanian oilfields, and taking in the bombing of Panzer tank groups during the Battle of the Bulge at Christmas 1944….

When Chelmsford’s Conservative MP, Colonel J McNamara, was killed on his way home from Italy, a scratch group of Common Wealth supporters set about finding a candidate. Millington’s views were well known in the area, and a deputation met him in a railway station waiting room. Ten minutes was all the time he could spare, and they made him their candidate there and then…

He first arrived at the Commons with his newly awarded Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon inexpertly self-sewn on to his uniform. A Conservative MP, who was a squadron leader in the RAF police, approached. “You are improperly dressed,” he told Millington.

“If you are talking to me as an RAF officer,” Millington replied, “take your hand out of your pocket and address a senior officer as ‘Sir’. If you are addressing me as a fellow MP, mind your own business and bugger off.”..

Some people just don’t get it… The party was also far from boring, as its Wikipedia article sketches out. Leading figures included J.B. Priestley, the British Battalion of the International Brigade’s former political commissar Tom Wintringham, and the rebel Liberal MP Sir Richard Acland, at a time when he thought Hitler had some remarkably sound ideas. Despite this, the party struck a consistent left-libertarian line based on a critique of managerialism and an interest in decentralisation of government and organisational theory.

So, the provisional wing of Chris Dillow, in short. Not being bound by the pact between the major political parties, under which they didn’t contest by-elections during the wartime coalition so as not to alter the political balance, they stood at several by-elections and won, possibly to their own surprise. I was not as surprised, however, as I might have been that they took Skipton.

Eventually, the party fell apart as some of it wanted to be back in the Labour Party and others lost interest. Comically, it became involved with Plaid Cymru; less comically, a lot of ex-members helped to start Amnesty International.




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