at the beginning of last year I wrote to a friend, a magistrate and fellow councillor with whom I had for some years worked closely on Ward Committee business and in the local elections. I indicated that, since the next meeting of the Ward Committee was invited to submit resolutions to the Annual General Meeting of the local Labour Party Executive, I intended to put down a motion urging the Parliamentary Party to work for the early implementation of the Wolfenden Committee’s recommendations on homosexual offences. I was hopeful that I might again enjoy his support and knowing both his religion and his taste in journalism, I could not at that time see any good reason why this should be withheld.
Some days later I visited his home to test the reaction. We talked for an hour or so about anything and almost everything other than the content of my letter, until his wife had to leave the room to attend to the children. He then told me (in hushed tones) that of course he hadn’t been able to refer to the matter in front of the wife but that he considered my intended action to be most unwise, since homosexuality was totally unsuitable for discussion by the sort of people who attended the Ward Committee. When I pointed out that this was the only way to bring the matter before the Executive, he added that he didn’t consider it suitable for the people who attended the Executive either. I said that since I felt it was time that the movement as a whole was giving some consideration to this problem, perhaps he would suggest where I should start, other than in the Ward Committee, but I appealed in vain.
I came away somewhat disheartened but a little wiser, having discarded my rather naive assumption that, in any given person, prejudice was to be found in inverse proportion to intelligence. I consoled myself with the thought that if there was to be a fight, it is as well to know the territory on which the battle is to take place. It looked, in this instance, that it was to be in darkest John Gordon country.
The committee met in late January and I put the motion. Our magistrate friend made the main plank of his case his objection to any discussion of homosexuality in a mixed company. I pointed to the absurdity of this; to the many times it had already been discussed in mixed company; to the fact that the Wolfenden Committee was itself a mixed body; to the many prominent women who had lent their names to the demand for reform. No use! I suggested that his difficulties could perhaps be overcome if consideration of the motion was deferred to a later meeting with an agenda circulated in advance, so that nobody should be drawn into a discussion which they would rather have avoided. The single objector, however, persisted. No vote was taken, but the Chairman (another member of the Bench) ruled that there seemed to be a majority against the item going on the agenda. It was an odd way of closing the proceedings, but the hour was late and it was clear to me that there was no prospect of further progress on that occasion.
The next meeting was a month later and I objected to the Chairman’s ruling which was not substantiated by a vote and which rendered the committee as a whole guilty of an irresponsible piece of evasion. It so happened that the sole objector on the previous occasion was not present, having succumbed to the superior attraction of an evening football match, and the change in climate was quite remarkable. The meeting was well attended, by present standards, and the committee agreed to a discussion which took place at considerable length and concluded with the motion being carried unanimously. It was decided that I should move the resolution at the Annual Meeting of the Executive and one of the women members volunteered to second it.
The secretary of the Executive could hardly have opened the envelope containing the written resolution before tales of consternation and dismay began to trickle out of the Labour Party offices. I visited the Chairman of the Executive to find out how much time would be allowed for moving and seconding and to try to sense what kind of conspiracy, if any, was afoot. He referred to the amount of criticism which had been voiced in the previous year about the lifelessness of the Executive and Ward meetings and said he thought it would be an excellent thing to have this resolution which “would give us plenty to go
Some time later, the woman who was to second the resolution indicated that she would like to be excused this task. It was not that she had altered her opinion about its rightness, she said, nor had anyone attempted to persuade her to change her mind—it was just that she no longer felt capable of facing the ordeal.