Idris and Phyllis Rose
Idris Rose first unsuccessfully stood as a Communist candidate for the Urban District Council in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, in 1946 but some years later was to successfully join the council as an elected member on his fifteenth attempt. A significant step on the way to this success came in 1947, when his 13-strong branch of the Communist Party began production of their regular newsletter “The Trowbridge Leader”. Over the years, this proved to be a critical tool in connecting with local voters.
But Idris was by no means just a community campaigner; a building worker by trade, Idris was for many years the secretary of the local National Federation of Building Trades Operatives, which in the days before extensive mergers united a range of unions in loose collaboration on the bargaining front.
Despite being labelled by the local hostile newspaper a “red menace “ and “Moscow missionary”, Rose had, by 1958, built his vote up to a very respectable 1,154. As his support in the town grew, worryingly for it, the local paper advised readers of their duty to combat Communism by “crushing once and for all any hope Mr Rose and his small flock of fellow-travellers hold that a Communist will one day sit inside Trowbridge Council Chamber”.
Triumphantly, Idris was finally elected a Communist councillor for Trowbridge
But Rose won support for his tenacity on the smallest and most local of questions – tenants’ or pedestrians’ rights for example; or his campaign for allotment holders’ not to loose slices of land taken from them by Southern Electric so as to build a power sub-station. Nothing was too difficult or too small for him to take up.
In May of 1962, he was re-elected but with an astonishing additional six hundred votes and came second of all candidates on the multi-member poll. Disappointingly, even the Labour councillors collaborated with reactionaries to keep Idris off important council committees, such as Housing and Finance. New standing orders were agreed that truncated his right to speak as the sole member of a minority group. This raised the question of sending a second Communist into the chamber to support Idris, an idea that began to take root and form.
Idris’ biggest supporter, his wife Phyllis, very nearly joined him in the council chamber in 1966 when she missed election by a mere 51 votes. Phyllis was herself no mean political campaigner, being a leading figure in the local Co-operative movement. Happily, the following year she was in fact elected, making them one of the few husband-and-wife teams of Communist councillors in British political history (Paxton and Lee Chadwick would appear to be the only other such team.) The victory was particularly sweet since the UDC had introduced an altered ward system, breaking up the heavily working class area that gave the Roses their support.
But Trowbridge UDC, like all such councils was abolished in 1974, and the Roses seats went along with that. The 1972 Act that allowed for this made the election of many Communist councillors such as the Roses much more difficult.
Sources: Undated cutting from the Communist Party weekly, `Comment’ c. 1967; Wiltshire Times January 24th 1962 ; additional information from Michael Walker