UK's last elected communist awarded Freedom of Fife

BRITAIN'S last elected communist has achieved something Gordon Brown has not - the Freedom of Fife.

Willie Clarke, pictured in 1999. Picture: TSPL
Willie Clarke, pictured in 1999. Picture: TSPL

Willie Clarke retired last month as a Fife Councillor, meaning no communist now holds office anywhere in the UK.

The council decided to recognise Mr Clarke’s 43 years of service with the highest honour available to it.

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The Freedom of Fife has only been bestowed on two previous recipients - the Black Watch and one of the nation’s most famous musicians, Jimmy Shand.

Despite winning the keys to 10 Downing Street and being popular with most Fifers, the former prime minister is still waiting to receive the same honour.

A 2010 campaign suggested the Labour titan for the Freedom of Fife, but the bid failed as SNP and Lib Dem councillors rowed over whether it was deserved.

The award is of limited practical value to recipients although Mr Clarke, 81, will shortly enjoy the right to move livestock freely.

Asked why he thought Mr Brown hadn’t yet made the cut, Mr Clarke laughed and said “no comment”.

Describing how it felt to be granted the award - which will be presented in August - he said: “It’s a great honour. I understand how important it is.”

Willie was first elected as a communist councillor to Fife’s County Council in May 1973.

He has remained a councillor for the area in the 43 years since - as all other communist officials in the UK left office as the party fell from favour.

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He even met Mr Brown in 2013 when the ex-PM paid tribute to his years of service.

But he has beaten Mr Brown to the coveted award - handed out by council bosses to only the most deserving citizens.

Speaking at the meeting where the proposal was made, Lochs councillor Alex Campbell said: “I would have been happier had Willie been able to continue to represent the Lochs ward, but he thoroughly deserves this honour.

“He has been instrumental in many good things happening in Benarty such as the Brag organisation which has brought training and jobs to an area which suffered seriously from the run down of the coal mining industry

“The development of facilities at Lochore Meadows Country Park is another thing which he has promoted fervently, and of course more recently the construction of more houses and the new Benarty Community Centre have been things that he put forward strongly.”

“I can remember him telling about the time he came across a lady from Lochgelly who had problems with her pension and despite the fact that she was not from his ward, he followed her case through to make sure that it was properly resolved. That for me is a real councillor.

“I am so pleased that this honour is to be bestowed upon Willie for he must be one of the most respected people in the whole of Fife.”

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Mr Clarke joined the communists soon after he began working in a local mining pit at the age of 14.

His first job on the site was separating coal on the surface for 40p a shift.

After being elected to the Fife County Council for Ballingry in 1973 – at the age of 37 – a reorganisation took place.

He was then re-elected for as a member of Fife Regional Council for Benarty.

Since then he has served on the education and social work committees – as well as acting as vice chair of a sub-committee which deals with children with special needs.

After 22 years the council reorganised once more, and then in 1996 Mr Clarke became councillor for the Benarty seat of Fife Council.

He was re-elected in every vote since, and was named as chairman of Cowdenbeath Area Committee in 2007.

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He has been forced to stand as an independent since 1991 when the Communist Party of Great Britain went bust

But he has always campaigned as a communist candidate - making his views clear on his campaign literature and his policies.