Obituary: Gordon McLennan, politician

Led the Communist Party of Great Britain during some of its most difficult years

Gordon McLennan, politician.

Born: 12 May, 1924, in Glasgow.

Died: 21 May, 2011 in London, aged 87.

THE Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in the 1970s was far from the force it had been in the previous decade but it still had a sizeable membership in the industrial areas.

Gordon McLennan was elected its general secretary in 1975 and carried out the post with enormous conviction and drive. There were splits starting to appear in the membership - the diehard Soviet followers being matched by the emerging Eurocommunists.

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McLennan faced the difficult challenge of calming this internal struggle and stabilising the party. Membership was in decline but his commitment and shrewd political manoeuvrings allowed him to strike an independent note.

For example, when he visited Moscow in 1981 he took a controversial position against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and further surprised the Soviet hierarchy when he condemned his hosts for dictating policy to communists abroad. McLennan was the first British communist leader to show such public independence.

Gordon McLennan was born in Glasgow and initially worked as an engineering draughtsman,. He joined the Young Communist League at the age of 15, serving on its executive committee from 1942 until 1947 before becoming a full-time CPGB organiser in Scotland.

He was also the Glasgow City organiser and, in 1956, the Scottish secretary.

Having joined the National Executive of the party in 1957 he became national organiser that year.

On becoming general secretary he learnt that, since 1956, the party had been receiving money direct from the Soviet Union - bank notes were surreptitiously handed over to the party in secret meeting places by an embassy official. McLennanalso discovered that in the 1950s as much as 100,000 a year had been handed over but that had dwindled to around 14,000 in the 1970s. To his credit, McLennan ensured the practice was ceased by 1979.

Another major move to help finances came in the 1980 when McLennan sold the party's valuable large headquarters in London's Covent Garden, which had been bought in the 1920s with money sent over by Lenin. The party moved into smaller, more appropriate offices. The funds from the sale at least stabilised the party's finances, but the membership was restless.

McLennan advised that the party should become involved with the more active communist parties in the likes of France and Italy, but that divided members even more.

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The official voice of the party - the Morning Star newspaper - remained in the grip of Soviet loyalists and McLennan used all the tact he could muster to modernise the party.For 15 years as general secretary he faced unrest in the ranks and his patience and political acumen did much to hold the party, at least, together.

McLennan was a tireless battler on behalf of the party and was a strident speaker, whether in large halls or at street corners.

He contested numerous constituency seats: Glasgow Govan in the 1959 general election, West Lothian in a 1962 by-election, Govan again in the 1964 and 1966 general elections, St Pancras North in the 1970 and February 1974 general elections.

In his role as national organiser, he was responsible for the Young Communist League, which he ensured underwent major changes in the 1960s. McLennan, on several occasions, showed that he was no ardent left winger with entrenched opinions.

He was critical of Arthur Scargill's leadership of the 1984 miners' strike -- especially the management of the union when work was resumed. McLennan also formed a good understanding with Mikhail Gorbachev and supported his modernising views.

The year after he retired, in 1990, the Communist Party of Great Britain was wound up. Some former colleagues formed Democratic Left, which McLennan refused to join; he instead became a member of the Communist Party of Scotland, which had its headquarters in Partick.

He remained as active as ever and worked with the National Pensioners Convention, becoming a member of its national executive and chair of its branch in Lambeth.

He was a supporter of Respect, led by George Galloway in the 2005 general election.

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McLennan was admired across the political divide. He was a man of integrity whose opinions were always reasoned and pronounced with total honesty. In private he was a devoted family man who cared lovingly for his children, one of whom suffered from Down's syndrome.

He and his wife Mary, who he married in 1950, were renowned for hosting ceilidhs in their south London home, during which they sang Scottish ballads.

McLennan fought the onslaught of cancer with the same resolve he had shown throughout his life.

He is survived by Mary, their three sons and one daughter

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