Victor Grayson: The Man and the Mystery reviewed by Review 31

Review 31 has reviewed Victor Grayson: The Man and the Mystery by David Clark, published by Quartet in June:

Victor Grayson: The Man and the Mystery by David Clark The element of legend attached to Grayson’s life was enhanced by his departure from the scene. In 1920 he left his home in the company of two visitors. He seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. No body was ever found, but despite various claims that he had been seen, there was no evidence he was still alive.

Clark has carefully examined all the available evidence. One point he draws out is that Grayson seems to have been bisexual – and, of course, at that time the penalties for homosexuality were savage. He was also connected with the sale of honours. Perhaps the milieu he frequented gave him opportunities for extortion which could help him finance a new life away from politics. There is even a possibility he was murdered. But Clark inclines to think he managed to create a new identity for himself and survived until World War II. All this, however, remains speculation, and it is unlikely there will ever be definitive answers.

David (now Lord) Clark has long been fascinated by Grayson; this book is a revised and expanded version of one he published more than 30 years ago. Having served in the Commons for over 25 years, Clark knows the procedures and manoeuvres of parliament and the Labour Party well. (It was his carefully-timed retirement that enabled David Miliband to enter parliament without the tiresome necessity of a proper selection process.) So his account of Grayson’s career supplies a well-informed context.

Clark was himself MP for Colne Valley in the early 1970s. He managed to interview some of his constituents who remembered the Grayson campaign from more than 60 years earlier, and to capture memories of the remarkable events which time had not erased. Yet Clark is a product of the modern Labour Party, very different from the organisation that existed before 1914, when it embodied real hope of transforming the world. Too often he seems to perceive Grayson through modern eyes. Thus he notes, quite rightly, that Grayson was a formidable speaker. But it is his technique that impresses Clark – he calls him, slightly disparagingly, a ‘mob orator’ and notes that he knew ‘the tricks of the trade.’ But this is to put form before content. It was not just technique that excited Grayson’s hearers, but the sense that another world was possible, something now vanished from the imagination of Labour functionaries like Clark.

Anything that awakens interest in Grayson and in the socialist traditions of the labour movement is valuable, and Clark’s book is welcome.


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