James Cattermole, political organiser: born Coventry 11 December 1910; Secretary, Birmingham City Labour Party 1945-47, Assistant Regional Organiser, London 1947-52, Regional Organiser, East Midlands 1952-72; Director, Labour Committee for Europe 1972-98; married 1936 Phyllis Taylor (two sons; marriage dissolved), 1956 Joan Mitchell (one son, one daughter); died London 11 January 2007.
Europe and the Labour Party were the two great themes of Jim Cattermole's long life. He probably did more than anybody to keep these subjects alive through the twilight years of the late 1970s and 1980s when the party was suicidally left-wing and anti-Europe.
He was born into the Midlands industrial belt, working-class and trade-union to the core. His father was a leather worker and Jim was bright and won an entrance to King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham, but the family were too poor to support him there, his father often out of work owing to employers' prejudice against his trade-union activities. Jim started work at 16 as a messenger boy in Birmingham and went on to join a smelting firm.
Nineteen forty-five saw the beginnings of his serious political career. He became a Labour Party agent; it was the year of Labour's great electoral victory; and it brought him into a close and lifelong partnership with Denis Howell, later to be famous as a sports minister, genuine friend of the Queen Mother and Minister for "Drought". Both Howell and Cattermole were "made in Birmingham" to the very bone.
Cattermole became a regional organiser and was responsible for starting the careers of several famous Labour Party politicians - Roy Jenkins and Roy Hattersley among them, both on the Labour Party's right wing and intensely pro-Europe. Cattermole's relationship with Jenkins remained close: Jenkins had offered him a share in his flat when post-war accommodation was particularly difficult, and, though Cattermole refused to follow him into the SDP, Jenkins chaired a celebratory dinner for him in the House of Commons in 1999 to say "thank you" for all his pro-Europe campaigning, a dinner which half a dozen ex-European Commissioners attended.
In 1952 Cattermole took over as Regional Organiser for the East Midlands, a post he held for 20 years. Retirement only offered him another big opening. Almost all the pro-Europe members of the Labour Party were departing with Jenkins to make up the SDP. Cattermole, with Denis Howell, refused to accept this. They formed the Labour Committee for Europe, with Cattermole as Director and Howell as President.
It was Cattermole who co-ordinated the campaign for a "yes" vote in the referendum on membership of the Common Market that was held in 1975, and which won a huge victory. In the Labour Party itself however Europe seemed almost a lost cause, but Cattermole and Howell remained tireless in its support. I was privileged to be co-opted to edit their quarterly Europe Left; without Cattermole's total knowledge of the Labour Party, the trade unions and the European Parliament, it would have been impossible. Though neither Cattermole nor Howell considered themselves "New Labour", it was much of their work that ensured Labour's eventual electoral victories.
Jim Cattermole went on working as energetically as ever for the European Movement until he was 93. A slight stroke brought a pause, but, as his son Nick says, he became a brilliant babysitter for his granddaughters, reading the newspaper, a glass of red wine in his hand, as the little girls played happily around him.
He was always hospitable and delighted to gather friends into lunch and dinner parties at the National Liberal Club, a home from home while he served on the Club Committee, and the Wine Committee - preferring the red wine, of course.
Jim Cattermole was a discerning and very energetic talent spotter for recruits to the Parliamentary Labour Party, writes Tam Dalyell.
He also had an impish side to his nature. He thought that young MPs should be put through their paces. In 1964, he arranged an invitation for me to go to the Labour Club at Nottingham University for a meeting chaired by his distinguished wife Professor Joan Mitchell. As Secretary of the Labour Party Standing Conference on the Sciences, my task was to speak about the white heat of the technological revolution. All went well until the second question. A man got up from the back and asked seriatim the six most awkward and difficult questions that could be put to one of Harold Wilson's young parliamentary supporters. I sat down and asked the chairwoman, Professor Mitchell, "Who on earth was that?" She replied: "Oh, don't you know? That's our new vice-chancellor, Fred Dainton." (Later to be Lord Dainton and Professor of Chemistry at Oxford; author of the most important government report on science policy of the decade.)
A few weeks later, I discovered that Cattermole had arranged for Dainton to do this "because he thought that it would be good for [me] to be interrogated". He was right.Reuse content