Interview with Jack Johnson

Project: ‘T Dan Smith: A funny thing happened on the way to Utopia’

Brief Description: Uncut interview with Jack Johnson [one-time political associate of Smith]

Notes: interviewer is mainly Murray Martin



0 Jack describes childhood – born 1913, central Newcastle, left school at 14, stepfather worked for Vickers. His parents weren’t political, he first became involved at age 13, resisting eviction of a neighbour


7 An uncle worked in the pits and was involved in the 1926 general strike, started taking him to ILP [Independent Labour Party] meetings


12 Got his education through the Tyneside Sunday lectures. Was involved in unemployed marches (eg to the workhouse – later the General Hospital)


17 Became involved in TU – the AEU- when got a job with British Engines in 1937 – they had contracts to work on war machinery


20 He’d been involved with the ILP through selling its papers, re-established Newcastle branch in 1937. Dan Smith wasn’t involved until after the war started, in 1940, he came in through Peace Pledge Union (precursor of CND). At this time there was a socialist cafe where other left groups met, including the People’s Theatre


26 Jack was in a reserved occupation so wouldn’t be called up, but registered as a conscientious objector anyway. Only religious grounds were accepted at this time so he was taken to court and as a result was called up. He talks at length about his experiences with his army medical, eventually classed grade 4, as was Dan


38 Interviewer asks about conflict in the ILP. Towards the end of the war Labour Party had approached ILP to join it – but it had to purge itself of ‘Trots’. Senior leadership wanted seats in parliament so agreed, 5 including Dan and himself were expelled


42 the ‘Trots’ had made themselves unpopular by getting involved in strikes during the war. Gives some detail of the Apprentices Strike


49 Dan was a Trot, working with the Workers International League, Jack was not a Trot but was thrown out with Dan. The 5 decided to join the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) but Jack was also expelled from this even though he wasn’t properly a member


52 Jack then joined the Labour Party as the only way to be politically active. He was by then a civil servant, working for the Chief Chemical Inspector. His skills as organiser allowed him to become chair of his Labour Party branch, Trades Council and Co-op group despite his political record


53 Interviewer asks how he got involved in the Council. He had been highly critical of the council (tells a good anecdote about Council voting to put the head back on the Earl Grey statue – at a time when so many houses were war damaged). He was thus told to get involved instead of sniping. Got put up for a safe seat only because another candidate withdrew. Dan was already on  the Council – for an obvious reason, Jack says, ie he was in business and being on the Council was the way to get contracts


56 Jack believes Dan’s RCP group joined the LP as an entryist strategy. Dan was on Council by 1950, Jack followed in 1954 and was also on the Housing Committee


61 Slum clearance started in 1955/6, small scale at first, starting in Jack’s ward


64 The City labour party controlled the group of councilors at this time, Dan was chair and Jack vice-chair.  Interviewer asks about Dan’s view that ’10 good men’ could change anything, Jack responds that they only needed 6. They had power now and the chance to work their ideas on the City. Newcastle was the first city to have a planning department (and not just leave it to the city engineer), they had a plan that could tell people in each area when they’d be rehoused in the slum-clearance


70 Dan was able to tour the country on the basis of Newcastle’s planning scheme. Jack states that Dan often went to Clydeside through a link with another councilor who’d also been an ILP member. There might have been a scandal there but it was not exposed due to the death of that councilor.


71 Interviewer asks about their connections with builders. Council was buying up property when it could which made it unpopular with builders when there were good sites. Gives example of John Dobson Street (a dual carriageway from nowhere to nowhere, an example of the Tory piecemeal approach to development). Gives examples of Tories using Council for their own business interests – which had not been seen as corruption


78 Dan had got into PR, had a business on the Quayside. Interviewer asks about contradiction between doing PR for a Tory like Poulson and Dan’s politics, but if you are in the PR business it has to be for someone with money.


81 the above is repeated for clarity. Jack states that no contradiction – Dan had gone onto the council because he was a businessman, he was already moving into big money through his painting and decorating business before he got on the council, he’d probably forgotten all about his socialist roots


82 Jack is asked why Dan did not lead a lavish lifestyle. He is puzzled where the money went. Denies Dan went into business to fund his political schemes – the political schemes were to finance Dan


85 Asked about MI5, Jack claims they had files on all of them, turned up at their meetings, tapped phones at Socialist Cafe


89 Interviewer asks about Dan’s claim of a conspiracy against him. Jack denies this, the ‘conspirators’ were actually meeting to oppose results of Jack’s activities on the Housing Committee to get better quality high-rises built. Dan had tried to influence the committee to give work to one builder but the Tories on the committee got the plans overturned by Keith Joseph [Conservative Housing Minister]. Interviewer interjects that the flats were eventually built by Bovis, Keith Joseph’s family firm – at higher cost, Jack notes


97 Dan’s involvement in the Council was to do with business, not politics, but ok as long as doing good for the City, and he did move it forward


100 Talks about how being on council gives opportunity for corruption, tape ends at 102.33 as he was giving one example of where he’d been approached



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