Victor Grayson: The Man and the Mystery by David Clark - review by Kenneth O Morgan

Kenneth O Morgan

Last Seen in an Electric Canoe

Victor Grayson: The Man and the Mystery

By

Quartet Books 324pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

The fiery meteor that was Victor Grayson blazed briefly across the socialist firmament in Edwardian England. He was a flamboyant rebel, a handsome, spellbinding orator who rose up from nowhere, winning a famous by-election in Colne Valley in July 1907 at the age of twenty-five. He embodies the native American notion of ‘the legend that walks’, or in this case perhaps staggers. For years after his death, his memory was cherished in socialist circles, especially in the industrial North: Victor Grayson Hardie Feather, the Bradford-born general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, was, for example, named in his honour. Some still revere him as ‘Labour’s lost leader’. And yet his political career was from the first disastrous and destructive. He proved to be a wilful, uncooperative comrade who rejected the discipline of the whip and introduced seeds of division into both the new Labour Party and its socialist affiliate, the Independent Labour Party (ILP). His life degenerated into alcoholism, gambling and nervous collapse. When he left for Australia during the First World War (which he strongly backed) it was almost a relief. 

The man of scandal then turned into a man of mystery. He returned from Australia after the war and became involved in Maundy Gregory’s seedy world of corruption and private espionage. Then, in July 1920, still not forty, he walked out of his comfortable property in central London

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter