From Survival to Success

The Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Reflections from Peter Dawe, CSM Chair 1983 - 1993

Peter Dawe, CSM Chair with John Smith MP, Leader of the Labour Party

Our current Director Louise has asked me to give my personal recollections of the period. I joined CSM by chance in 1975. I was sheltering in the reading room of Walthamstow public library when I came across a copy of the house magazine. I went home and sent a cheque immediately. The following March I attended the AGM, was elected to the Executive and was impressed with a paper put forward by John Collins outlining a programme of growth for the Movement.

It would be fair comment to say that CSM was under-performing. It was still far too dependent on Donald Soper as a public speaker at Labour and Methodist Conferences.  The younger EC members formed a working party with the aim to revive CSM from a group of 500 to 2,500. We even wished to affiliate to the Labour party, an aim fulfilled in 1986 owing much to John Collins’ skill.

A very successful press conference was held at Kingsway Hall in October 1977. The coup was to get the religious affairs correspondent of The Guardian who wrote an article ‘Souls group gets re-launch’. Wider interest had been aroused.

I later became Vice Chair in 1979 and Chair in 1983, in which role I served for ten years. John Collins did two highly effective periods as General Secretary where his local authority experience led to increased business efficiency.

In 1984 the Executive was joined by Harry Watson, a Norwich councillor, who went on to serve for many years as Vice Chair, becoming a valued family friend and confidant. He is much missed along with John Collins, Chris Herries and others.

CSM formed branches based on the Norwich and Norfolk model started by Harry. Other branches were set up including Yorkshire by Gary Hobbs, East Midlands by Bob Scarth, West of England by Chris Herries and my home patch of East London where my wife Janet served as Secretary.

I remember speaking at places as diverse as Wolverhampton, Darlington, Norwich, Sheffield as well as the Labour Party conference at Brighton where the keynote speaker was Bishop Colin Winter, Anglican bishop of Namibia who had been exiled by the apartheid regime. Colin, who also spoke with me in Birmingham, became a good friend and shared the baptism of our daughter along with our local Methodist Minister. His death in 1981 was a great loss to CSM.

The highlight of the year became the Tawney Lecture, open to press and public on the morning of the AGM, with a star cast of lecturers. The initial two lectures were given in the early 1960s and printed as pamphlets. This was revived in the 1980s. The individual lectures were published and a collected edition appeared as a book Fellowship, Freedom and Equality, edited by David Ormrod in 1990.

David had already made a great contribution to CSM in organising a summer school in 1982 at the University of Kent where he was an academic. His skills as an historian were apparent in editing our 25th anniversary publication, Facing the Future as Christians and Socialists. This was launched in the Ceremonial Suite at The County Hall, London in 1985 which Tony Benn MP and Lord Soper attended.

Although a full length summer school was not repeated, an annual long weekend autumn conference was arranged at a Christian centre around the country jointly between the EC and local Branch. These were a good midway point between AGMs and were enthusiastically attended.

The highlight of everything some of us had worked for was the Tawney Lecture given in 1993 by John Smith, Leader of the Labour Party, entitled Reclaiming the Ground as Christians and Socialists.  The lecture was also published in a book of the same name with other essays from leading Christian Socialists, edited by Chris Bryant, and launched immediately after the lecture had been given.

This double event created great media interest which led to even greater growth.  I handed over the chair to Chris Bryant later that afternoon and continued as an ordinary EC member until 1999 - a rewarding almost quarter century.

 

Peter Dawe

Peter Dawe is a Methodist local preacher, school governor and a retired teacher. He was a Labour candidate in three General Elections, Member of the Greater London Council for Leyton 1981-86 and Mayor, London Borough of Waltham Forest 1999-2000. He also was a JP for almost 16 years.

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