John Peck spent his childhood in Lancashire, where his feeling for the injustice of poverty led him to read Emile Burns and take a subscription to the Daily Worker. He became a pilot in the RAF in 1940 and saw active service in India, where he began to study Marxism seriously. His service saw him fly on bombing raids in Europe and he won several commendations.
Peck joined the Communist Party whilst on home leave in October 1944. He stood as a Communist candidate in Scunthorpe in March 1946, where he was now working. His use of election material showing him in RAF uniform replete with campaign ribbons was a device that he first adopted then; he would go on to use it in subsequent years, when it was a source of disquiet amongst some fellow Party members.
Pic: John Peck in 1950, a picture used for his election addresses.
By 1948, Peck had become a full-time Party worker for the East Midlands District Committee, then based in the bookshop and offices in Nottingham’s Lace Market.
He first stood in the Bulwell ward in 1955, where he would subsequently also live, becoming heavily involved with the tenants’ association and even the British Legion. The doggedness with which John Peck campaigning in Nottingham in these years is reflected by the character Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) observing a factory-gate meeting addressed by John Peck.
He became an inveterate campaigner on local issues, such as road crossings, transport, welfare and housing issues; but this did not sit well with his political responsibilities across Nottingham and, at points, the wider East Midlands district. Differences with other full-timers arose from a particular personal style of work, especially over the degree of trade union orientated activity.
A dispute over whether he or Fred Westacott (see separate entry) in the early 1970s saw the Communist Party EC move Harry Bourne (see separate entry) from the (west) Midlands District to the East Midlands on a temporary basis. In the end, this resulted in the district committee electing Westacott over Peck and the former remained in office for over a decade.
In this period, Peck became increasingly the centre of opposition to the district leadership – and more isolated within the majority of the Party in the East Midlands. But, with the advent of ‘Euro-Communism’ within the party, Peck found support from without the district. This arose even though Peck saw his electoral approach to Communist politics as thoroughly `Gramscian’, while most Euro-Communists were not attracted to the idea of an independent electoral role for the British party.
Peck had long complained about what he saw as paper support for his campaign in Bulwell by the East Midlands Party and sought support from outside the district to have his detractors dealt with. In the very early 1980s, Peck became the Party’s National Election Agent, even though he had been rejected for the DC in his own district. As the CPGB Executive Committee then launched a war on supporters of the Morning Star, John Peck found himself now in a position of being the leading advocate in the East Midlands, in a district with little time for the revisionist drift.
He enthusiastically supported expulsions and exclusions, which led to significant numbers of supporters for the re-founded CPB in the East Midlands. Then Peck was placed on the recommended list for the EC at congress, just as the CPGB was falling apart.
After 30-odd years of dogged electoral campaigning and more than forty various electoral contests, in local council and parliamentary wards, by the early 1980s it was clear that John Peck’s personal vote had brought him within reach of seriously being elected. This was finally accomplished when he was finally elected as a Communist councillor in Bulwell, Nottingham in May 1987.
Due to the vagaries of electoral politics in what had once been a solid Labour area, Peck held the casting vote on a hung NottinghamCity Council, which had 27 Labour and 27 Tory councillors. He supported the subsequent Labour administration, serving on the Housing and Environment, and Policy and Resources committees.
By the May 1990 council elections, Peck’s annoyance at the lack of support for a strategy involving electoral contests amongst the now Euro-Communist dominated CPGB led him to resign from it to join the Greens. In 1991 and 1995, he was subsequently re-elected as a Green councilor.
Source: John Peck “Persistence: The Story of a British Communist” (2001) and GS personal knowledge