My grandfather was, for the greater part of his life, a communist. To few people might you have more aptly asked, with ample self-satisfaction at the delicious double meaning of the question, “excuse me, but what is the Left for?” for the last twenty years of his life this bolshie Jewish pensioner chaired a monthly discussion group, bearing the fantastically bourgeois name of The Anjou Luncheon Club—in essence little more than an opportunity for him and his lifelong comrades to bang their fists on the table in front of some hapless guest speaker. These meetings could scarcely have furnished a more stereotypical picture of the aimless and desultory “Old Left” in modern Britain. Taking place in The Gay Hussar, a Hungarian restaurant in London’s Soho district renowned as a haunt of major figures in the British Left since the Sixties, each session seethed with frustration. After decades of disappointment, the assembled octogenarians were fundamentally distrustful of every politician under the sun, many of whom were unflatteringly depicted in satirical portraits adorning the Gay Hussar’s suitably reddened walls. Privileged by visits from what often seemed disproportionately significant public figures (including then- Chancellor Gordon Brown and his advisor ed Balls, now Shadow Chancellor), Anjou sparked with internal divisions and disagreements more than half a century old.
“You were a revisionist in ’56…” intones one gray haired battle-axe, a tremulous weathered finger jabbing violently across the room and veering dangerously close to a thin vase of table flowers, “and you’re a revisionist now!”*
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