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Influenced towards socialism by a cobbler for whom he did odd jobs as a boy, Clayden became secretary of a Socialist Sunday School and joined the Young Communist League in 1922, remaining a life-long Communist.
A member of the National Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (later USDAW), he was also President of the London Co-operative Society. He was a key figure in the creation of the left unity coalition, the 1960 Campaign Committee, which took control of the Society in 1962 despite a vicious smear campaign. Clayden died aged 90.