Lord Gallacher

Pillar of the Co-operative movement
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The Independent Online

John Gallacher, politician: born Alexandria, Dunbartonshire 7 May 1920; President, Enfield Highway Co-operative Society 1954-68; Secretary, International Co-operative Alliance 1963-67; Parliamentary Secretary, Co-operative Union 1974-83; created 1982 Baron Gallacher; President, Institute of Meat 1983-86; chief Opposition spokesman on agriculture and food, House of Lords 1989-92; married 1947 Freda Chittenden (one son); died Folkestone, Kent 4 January 2004.

John Gallacher, who became Lord Gallacher in 1982, was an uncompromising advocate of the Third Way. Long before Sir Antony Jay formulated the view, "I have seen enough of the workings of Government to know how it contaminates and deforms any institution it subsidises", Gallacher was arguing powerfully for the financial independence of the Co- operative movement to which he devoted so much of his life.

He believed passionately that only a single co-operative society, retail and wholesale, achieved without government aid, could provide the financial strength and political clout to ensure the survival of the movement.

Some half-century before the major Co-operative merger was brought about under Sir Graham Melmoth, chief executive of the Co-operative Wholesale Society until last September, Gallacher was insisting, against the flow of opinion, not only that a single society was essential but that it could be achieved without democratic deficit. In the end it did require government support, but of a non-financial kind: following discussions between David Pitt-Watson, then the Labour Party finance director, and Co-op insiders, in 2000 Tony Blair set up a Co-operative Commission under John Monks to examine the future of the movement and its relations with Labour, which was to boost the centralising tendency.

Gallacher was propelled to the House of Lords in unusual circumstances. Michael Foot had always wanted the House of Lords abolished but when opposition leader in the early 1980s, he had no choice but to ask for more Labour peers to be created. Justifying Gallacher's elevation, Foot stated that the sole purpose of the appointments was to "enable the Labour Party to carry out its unavoidable obligations in the House of Lords". To achieve this, Gallacher and his contemporaries were obliged to undertake that they would be full working peers once they were elevated.

Among his fellows was Andrew McIntosh (now Lord McIntosh of Haringey), former leader of the GLC and doughty adversary of Ken Livingstone. McIntosh, who had been the subject of Livingstone's coup to take over the GLC, said of their peerages at the time: "I do not regard this as an honour; I shall vote for the abolition of the Lords at the earliest opportunity."

According to Lord Graham of Edmonton, the former Labour chief whip in the Lords, Gallacher formed with Lords Mackie and Carter "the finest agricultural frontbench team in either house". His death leaves Labour in the Lords almost as badly placed as it was when he arrived 20 years ago: his is the sixth death of a Labour peer to be announced in the past two months. It followed the unhappy losses of Lord Walker of Doncaster, Lord Wallace of Coslany, Lord Hardy of Wath, Lord Dormand of Eastington and Roy Hughes, Lord Islwyn.

These deaths leave the Labour Party in the Lords extremely poorly placed to face the challenges of the new session where, apart from the Punch and Judy of the Commons, the major battles of the year may well be fought. Both his arrival in the Lords and his death raise questions about the upper house, which he graced for many years, embodying the idea of the working peer.

John Gallacher lived for many years in Folkestone with his wife, Freda. They had met during the Second World War when they both saw service in the RAF. A Scot, he was educated at St Patrick's High School in Dumbarton and his first job was with the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society.

A contemporary at SCWS was Tom Taylor, later Lord Taylor of Gryfe. They both started in the Independent Labour Party and moved later to Labour, although Taylor was to become a founding member of the SDP before returning to the fold.

Like many Scots in voluntary and not too painful exile, Gallacher was the subject of some well-meant barbs and once, when he was serving the International Co-operative Alliance, Taylor allegedly told him he no longer regarded him as a Scot. Gallacher commented that it seemed scant recognition for long years in exile and the love-hate relationship he continued to have with the joys and frustrations of London life.

Gallacher received his education as well as his employment from the Co-op and in 1946-48 he was one of the earliest students at the Co- operative College after its move from Manchester to Stanford Hall, Loughborough. Later Gallacher wrote: "My only certificate on arriving at Stanford Hall in 1946 was a membership card for the Independent Labour Party, which ensured entry to stage one of Co-operative book-keeping." Under the watchful eye of the Principal, Robert Marshall, he duly progressed to stages two and three "to bathe in the reflected glories of those seeking the secretarial diploma".

These qualifications were enough to open the prospect of England and after Stanford he was appointed as assistant education secretary of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society. At the time RACS was the only society with a full-time board (a curious tradition which lingered much longer in the trade-union movement, especially the railmen's union).

There was fierce competition to be more co-operative than thou among RACS and its neighbours, the London and South Suburban societies. But Gallacher's move when it came was to be to the smaller but influential Enfield Highway Co-op where he introduced many of the innovations he had pioneered at RACS. There he was succeeded by his long-term colleague Ted Graham, now Lord Graham of Edmonton.

Gallacher's next move was to the national stage - to the central federal body of the Co-op, the Co-operative Union. From here, he went to the International Co-operative Alliance, which brought together the co-operative movements of the world according to the principle of co-operation among co-operators. This experience ensured that he hit the ground running when he was appointed in 1978 to the Economic and Social Committee of the European Community as a nominee of the Retail Consortium.

His key appointment was in 1974 when he succeeded the charismatic Max Wood as secretary of the Co-operative Union Parliamentary Committee. The committee played a key role for the Co-op in the National Council of Labour, the overall body that linked the three arms of the Labour movement: the Co-op, the trade unions and the Labour Party.

His work was highly regarded by John Jacques, chairman of the Co-operative Union from 1964 to 1970 and the man who had introduced the supermarket to Britain as chief executive of Portsea Island Co-op in 1947. After Jacques was elevated to the Lords, he was able to recommend John Gallacher to Michael Foot for the "unavoidable intake". Gallacher was quick to find his feet in the Lords and served with distinction in the Whips' Office from 1985 to 1992.

Illnesses, including heart disease, cancer and later Parkinson's, cut short his career at Westminster but there, as at Enfield and in the Vale of Leithen, he left the impression of a man devoted to the good of co-operation, the practical third way, wherever it lay.

Malcolm Hurlston