Frank Allaun 1913-2002

Frank Allaun, Labour MP for Salford East 1955-83, died in December 2002, aged 89.

Frank was a modest, gentle, man of absolute integrity, who, perhaps unusually for a politician, was entirely lacking in guile or cynicism. He was a man of the left who never wavered in his convictions, and was frequently a thorn in the side of Labour leaders and Ministers. However, those who disagreed with him on points of policy or even fundamental principle (and there were many) never doubted his shining sincerity, nor his determination, nor the unfailingly courteous and softly-spoken way in which he conducted himself and his politics.

Frank Julian Allaun was born in Manchester in 1913, the son of Jewish immigrants. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and worked as an engineer and a shop assistant before qualifying extra-murally as a chartered accountant. After spells as a WEA tutor, and organiser of foreign tours, he became a journalist on the Manchester Evening News and the Daily Herald. He came to politics through the Peace Movement. At the age of 19, Frank was the secretary of the Manchester Anti-War Council, a body composed of pacifists, socialists, communists and Jewish comrades alarmed at the growing power of Hitler, Mussolini and Moseley. Frank qualified for membership on every count, and was a member of the Communist Party until December 1944.

He fought Manchester Moss Side for Labour in 1951, and was elected for Salford East in 1955. In his maiden speech he focussed very heavily on poor housing conditions in Manchester and Salford and, in this, established the twin themes for which he is fondly remembered – as a champion of social housing and an opponent of defence expenditure and warmongering. In both of these he took a simplistic line, but one which had great popularity: “The choice is between bathrooms and bombers, between houses and H-bombs. If they were given the choice there is little doubt what most people would plump for.” There were those, down the years, professionals in the housing field, who claimed that Frank was a little unworldly on the complexities of housing finance issues but that he was very good on defence, and equally those in the defence-world who saw Frank as naïve about disarmament (” no defence, east of Salford” was Wilson’s description of his stance) but magnificent in his concern about housing. And, of course, many who thought both of these things.

He had a brief experience of Government, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Colonial Secretary, Tony Greenwood, when the Wilson Government came to power in 1964. It only lasted a few months. He was temperamentally unequipped for compromise, especially on the big issues of the day in relation to war and peace, and he resigned in order to be able to attack without restraint the American bombing of North Vietnam. He was elected to the National Executive Committee in 1967 and retained his place on the NEC until he retired from Parliament in 1983. He was Chair of the Party in 1979 and presided over the tumultuous events, which characterised the Party Conference that year, in the aftermath of the general election defeat.

He was passionate about Labour Party democracy and used his Chairman’s address to that Conference to “strongly deplore attempts to downgrade or belittle the delegate Conference, and to suggest that it is merely for the expressions of opinion”. He famously said “We not a debating society. We are a supreme policy-making body of the Labour Party, and we will remain so.”

In retirement, after 1983, he remained very active for many years in his local Labour Party and nationally through Labour Action for Peace, of which he was President from 1965 to 2001.

He was an inspiration to more than one generation of activists in this Party and in others, and today we salute his memory.

Alan Howarth, PLP