There was a huge turnout at Luton Cemetary this afternoon for James, with people present from so many different segments of his life. James' relatives spoke of him as a person, and we entered and left to some of his favourite music.
James' family asked me to do an oration, which follows:
I know many of you will have read the political obituary I wrote on of James, so I want to say a few things more but hopefully avoid repeating what I said there.
I knew James for twenty years. I never shared his taste in music – I am not sure many people did, although if you scratched under the surface his musical tastes were a lot more diverse than the punk represented by his tartan bondage trousers. I did share much of James’ politics, and we worked together on a range of campaigns, leaflets, and publications pretty much continuously for the sixteen years from 1992 to 2008.
In one way, James was not really cut out for contemporary politics. A political life – even on what might be called the radical fringe – requires compromise. It needs coalition building, warm words and a desire to avoid conflict. That was not, usually, James.
James was very lucky to have the upbringing he did. I say that because James had an appreciation of what actually matters in politics – ideas. It is ideas that matter. A conversation with James was not a trivial journey through the latest episode of X Factor or Pop Idol. It was not a conversation about the latest £50 million footballer with an unpronounceable name. It was a conversation about ideas, and how they might be applied to change our lives for the better.
It is amazing how rare that actually is today. So much of our discourse is either trivial, or looking for people to blame for our problems. James was a notch above that – and that was why, even when our own political activities had run aground in organisational terms, James still had plenty to say. He still had ideas. And that was why he was always worth listening to.
There are lots of memories I could share of James, and it is important that in time I do – with Lilith and Harry, and hopefully with a wider audience. The time James was grabbed by the police at a demonstration about hospital closures in 1993, only to be de-arrested by three nurses in uniform. He rather enjoyed the experience. His time in Class War could only go downhill after that.
One of the strongest memories I have is of us hunt sabbing in Essex. After a successful day getting in the way of posh people, we returned to our mini bus to eat our sandwiches.
It had been such a good day, it did not seem possible for anything to go wrong. And then James produced probably the one item from his plastic bag that could cause consternation to a group of animal rights activists more than anything else. A Pork pie. And then a second pork pie. And then a third. All washed down, as ever, with Coca Cola. I don’t think we ever got invited out with Essex Hunt saboteurs again, but James did not care.
He liked what he liked, and he did what he wanted to do. And that is important for all of us. That to me was James, and we are all diminished by his loss.
I was pleased to see many of the producers of the Weekly Worker present, some of whom James had known pretty much all his life. John Bridge has written an obituary of James on page three in the current issue of the Weekly Worker, which you can read on-line here.