28th April 2020
Peter Jackson, who died on 19 February in Panama, born on 14 October 1928 in Sheffield, was a member of the Society for the Study of Labour History from 1961 until at least 1968. At the time of joining, Peter was studying at the University of Liverpool in the Department of Social Science, which is where he registered for a PhD, eventually completed as’ Some aspects of John Stuart Mill’s social thought’. It was examined by John Saville at the University of Hull in 1973.
Peter, as a consequence of failing School Certificate mathematics at his Sheffield Grammar School, never imagined he would be able to go to a university. But the idea was put into his head by the tutor of an adult education class in current affairs. He had been posted to a Norfolk air force base as an aircraft hand, general duty,. He was then able to take advantage of a government scheme for ex-servicemen and went to the University of Durham with the idea of becoming a social worker. Liverpool followed, then the University of Leicester to take a teaching diploma, specialising in adult education, before registering as a mature student at Hull and eventually becoming a lecturer in Sociology.
Peter’s left-wing politics developed while still at school. He first joined the Commonwealth Party before the end of the Second World War and developed his views from reading the Manchester Guardian and left journals. The relationship with his father was fractious. His parents voted Conservative. Father, disappointed with Peter’s school performance, took away all his politics books and the materials for a National Council of Labour Colleges course in Economics for which he had enrolled. This produced a passion for books and life-long activity as a collector. John Reece at Leicester encouraged him to join the Labour Party and become an activist. He met his first wife, Christine Thomas, at Birmingham in 1961 on a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament march: her Welsh parents were Communist Party members. At Hull, his lecturing post provided the freedom to cultivate the Derbyshire High Peak Labour candidacy. He became the first Labour member for this constituency at the election of March 1966.
Peter maintained a left-wing position during his notable four-year parliamentary career. One illustration was his vote against the passage of the Prices and Incomes Act 1967, the only Labour member to do so. This undoubtedly earned the displeasure of Harold Wilson, of whom Peter was no fan. The second notable feature of his career was action in parliament as whip for private members’ bills. He was asked to whip on a second and third bill because of his successful performance on the first, resulting in the sobriquet ‘Rent a Whip’. Two bills expressed Peter’s strong pro-feminist commitment. The first, introduced by David Steel, produced the Abortion Act 1967; the third became the Divorce Reform Act 1969. He was whip in between for a bill concerning homosexuality, the Sexual Offences Act 1967. The strong commitment to feminism sprang from reading Eric Frome, The Art of Loving, and was also expressed by Peter’s open marriage to Christine and encouragement of her study at the University of Sheffield. He attempted to get a blue plaque mounted in London for the feminist and free-spirited Stella Brown.
The choice of Peter’s Labour candidacy in the High Peak constituency sprang from early visits to and love of the Peak District. He had environmental interests and formed a co-operative to convert a derelict mill at Edale. An attempt to obtain funds in the 1960s from the Nationwide Building Society was unsuccessful, but in parliament he was able to persuade the Conservative MP, John Smith, to take it on through the Landmark Trust. The occupants of the mill became known to the locals as residents of ‘The Kremlin’! Peter was a long-standing member of the National Trust Council until 1990. He became a Derbyshire County Council Councillor in 1972 and a Peak Park Planning Board member until 1980. An attempt by the County Council Labour Group to expel him in 1976 went to the High Court. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, accepted the claim that he was a nominee of the Council on the Planning Board, not a representative; the council was acting illegally in trying to remove him.
He was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and campaigned to boycott the purchase of South African goods. While at Liverpool he was arrested for handing out boycott leaflets before a John Lewis store, then during police custody. A charge was brought against the police, who lied in court. Peter moved to Lesotho from 1980 with his second wife (Liz Henderson) and stayed until 1984. His first marriage had broken up over a relationship with Eric Robinson. Both were arrested and incarcerated, though found not guilty, for entering South Africa unlawfully. They succeeded in entering on another occasion, despite Peter being banned. The African Defence Force entered in Lesotho at Maseru where they were in 1982 and killed 38 African National Congress refugees and another five people. Liz subsequently raised funds to support people affected by this raid and Peter was instrumental in securing a Sheffield City Council scholarship to enable Tito Mboweni, currently South African Minister of Finance, to study for an MA in Development Economics at the University of East Anglia.
Peter was a one time Vice President and a member of the Electoral Reform Society for some 30 years. He was therefore committed to proportional representation, though opposed to the alternative vote; and after leaving Lesotho, went to South Africa to monitor the 1994 election, as well as elections in Bosnia Herzegovina and Hungary. He was chosen as Labour candidate for the European election of June 1979 in Birmingham North, but failed to win the seat: his view has been anti-Europe.
Peter was a regular visitor to Cairns with Liz to visit her son Paul and other family members. He campaigned there on abortion and joined its Green Party, having left the Labour Party when Tony Blair took over as leader. He also became a Green Party member on return to England, but rejoined Labour with the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. Peter is survived by his second wife and younger members of the family in Australia and Canada.
© 2020 John Halstead