John Boyd, born in London in 1934, was one of several English people who joined the Connolly Association in the 1970s and who were influenced by Desmond Greaves. An electrical/electronic engineer by profession, he lectured in Southall College of Technology. In 1992 he helped found the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism (CAEF), which sought to win British Labour and Trade Union opinion to oppose supranational EU integration. He edited the CAEF journal, “The Democrat”, for twenty-five years, created its web-site (caef.org.uk), wrote and lectured extensively on EU topics and was active on the winning “Leave” side in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
It was my friends Toni and Gerard Curran who introduced me to the Connolly Association and the “Irish Question” in the 1970s. From this introduction I came to know Desmond Greaves. During the subsequent twenty years he had a profound influence on my political life and activity. This was especially so in relation to our opposition to what we then called the “Common Market” and which became in due time the European Community and then the European Union.
In 1975, the year of the UK’s first ever referendum – on whether the British State should remain a member of the recently joined EEC or not – Desmond Greaves invited me to write a column in the Irish Democrat of which he was editor. This column was to deal with the Common Market, and Desmond advised me to “throw as much mud as possible in the hope that some of it sticks”, and later to unravel the politics involved. In about 1985 he encouraged me to write a pamphlet called The Murder of British Industry and this was published by the Connolly Association. The newspaper column and pamphlet enabled me to express my long-held interest in the reasons for the loss of manufacturing industry and employment in the area then known as West Middlesex, which covered a large slice of West London. The Southall College of Technology where I was a lecturer in electrical/electronic engineering provided numerous local industries with expertise and training. Before long many had closed down as Britain de-industrialised in face of the impact of the EEC. My writings covered the period when Britain joined the Common Market in 1973, the 1975 EEC referendum and the subsequent decades. The Irish Democrat had been one of the first, if not the first, periodical in Britain to oppose membership of the Common Market when that was originally proposed by Harold Macmillan’s Tory Government away back in 1961.
Desmond Greaves’s approach to people was to encourage and inspire confidence without dictating every detail. I was one of several English people who supported the work of the Connolly Association and became active in it. After being a CA member for some time I remember commenting to Desmond that the parallel between the “Irish Question” and the EEC was that they both involved the “National Question”, the right to self-determination of nations. His response was simply, “I know”. This in fact was the core of his politics. But this crucial penny had only “just dropped” for me, with my realisation that the all-important right of nations to self-determination, and their right to establish their own Nation States if they so wish, is crucial to understanding modern democracy and day-day politics, particularly for people in the Labour movement or who claim to be on the political Left.
Following a Connolly Association meeting in Liverpool on the Irish question and the Common Market, I recall a working evening meal of four – Desmond, Tony Coughlan, a Liverpool Connolly Association member and myself – which ranged over many subjects. This included some science topics, the current political situation in Britain and some ungrammatical English in my draft of The Murder of British Industry. For example I had written that there was “no such thing as a straight line”. “So,” says Desmond, “if you look through a powerful enough telescope, you will be looking at your own backside!”. We agreed that the universe was so large that it was beyond comprehension, as was its age, and – going the other way via the atom – that there was no end either to the infinitesimally small. Other topics that I remember discussing with him on this and other occasions included: that there is no reason for the existence of humanity, that one cannot prove that there is not a God, and that there cannot be a revolution if the people don’t support it.
Following Connolly Association meetings in the Marchmont Community Centre near Euston Station, there would often be chats and discussion with members in the nearby Indian or Chinese restaurant. Desmond used these occasions as opportunities to get to know people. While he regarded political principles and theory as important, he was often critical of leftwing leaders and theoreticians for being too high-faluting and failing to listen to and mix sufficiently with ordinary people.
He not only edited the Irish Democrat for forty years but used go round the public houses of the Irish districts with other Connolly Association members to sell the paper and listen and talk to the men and women customers. Sometimes I would drive them around in my car and end up taking Desmond back to Grays Inn Road in Holborn, where the CA’s office and bookshop were. On one of these occasions there was a right royal public junket taking place on the way back, with a big royalist crowd milling around, and to circumvent this Desmond gave traffic directions which took us in a unique roundabout way across London back to the CA office. As an older member remarked: “Don’t take any notice of Desmond’s travel instructions; they are hopeless”.
Desmond Greaves had been one of a group of scientists who advocated the use of low temperature production of steel, other materials and processes which would reduce costs, although taking longer in time. He had been a member of a coal utilisation group of research chemists during and after World War 2. I had worked for the National Coal Board for five years at the Mining Research Establishment. However, I cannot remember any discussions about coal policy there, but I do recall Desmond once mentioning that there had been a project to clean up coal and reduce smoke pollution generally, including that produced by power stations, which possibly might be relevant today.
He was a master of the English language and would correct you over any errors in articles one sent him. He commented on one of my articles for the Irish Democrat, where the word “I” appeared more than a couple of times: “Not so much of the ‘I’, more of the ‘we’.” Having had a scientific education Desmond was able to use analogies to explain difficult concepts which are liberally used in his writings.
He once stayed at my home in Ealing in the late 1980s to discuss an initiative to set up a Labour Movement-oriented anti-EU campaign. I produced a carafe of my home-made wine which he much enjoyed. On the same occasion my eldest son Kevin came in with his French horn following a rehearsal of the Ealing Youth Orchestra, a training orchestra. Desmond asked him to play the horn, which he obliged. Then my youngest son was asked to play his trumpet, which he did. Afterwards, Desmond said that Kevin was very musical. He was highly musical himself and once said that music was the subject he knew most about.
A draft discussion document for the initial meeting of the anti-EU campaign was sent to Desmond for his comments. This document was found on his desk after his death in August 1988. It was later tabled at what became the founding meeting in Liverpool of the Campaign Against Euro-federalism (CAEF), which went on to publish its regular paper titled The Democrat and many other publications criticising the EU over the next three decades. The political objective of CAEF and that of many cognate campaigning bodies was achieved in 2016 through the winning vote in the Brexit referendum to leave the EU. That victory now needs to be consolidated. That in turn requires the British Labour Movement to overcome its long-standing weakness as regards understanding the national question and put the defence and maintenance of national democracy and national independence at the front and heart of its policy programme. For that is the only way that Labour can ever lead the country, or deserve to lead it.
As an Englishman I had the honour of being one of four speakers at Desmond Greaves’s funeral in Anfield, Liverpool, in 1988. I tried to pay tribute in what I said to an intellectual genius who could have made millions for himself in a personally oriented career, but who instead devoted himself to the advancement of Ireland and the cause of international democracy. The procession which accompanied his body to the crematorium, with the Irish tricolour draped over his coffin, was so large that, ironically, there were police outriders alongside. That show of popular support was very moving and indicated the level of following and status that Desmond Greaves had achieved in so many peoples’ minds and hearts.