Peter Cadogan, free-speech campaigner and self-styled “England’s most expelled Socialist”, died on 18 November 2007 aged 86.
Curiously, for someone so dedicated to the ideal of free speech and freedom of information, it wasn’t until ten days later that any of the national press published an obituary for him. The Times noted that his dedication to protest
made him an oddity in an age when authority was vested with a trust unthinkable today. His brand of direct action, public dissent and civil disobedience paved the way for the permanent campaigning group.
The Daily Telegraph suggests that his most famous moment came during the CND march on Aldermaston in 1963, when his Committee of 100 broke away from the main march to head instead for one of the 14 hitherto secret “Regional Seats of Government”, set up under contingency plans for the event of a nuclear war. It described that publicity coup as the first of many embarrassments for the Establishment. But it also pays tribute to the breadth of Cadogan’s activities:
In his time Cadogan bemused guard dogs at a nuclear base with aniseed buns; ran on to the course at Royal Ascot with an anti-Vietnam war banner; demonstrated at the Cenotaph over the Conservative Party’s failure to support Biafra; and armed the Conservative schoolboy Harry Phibbs with anti-Soviet leaflets to smuggle into Russia.
But his challenges to the Establishment were even-handed. Michael Randle’s obituary of him in The Guardian recalls his demonstration in Moscow’s Red Square against nuclear weapons of all states, including those of the Soviet Union, and lauds his openness of mind:
Peter’s style could be abrasive, delivering often controversial judgments in terse clipped phrases that appeared to brook no dissent. But he bore no grudges against those who disagreed with him and periodically reviewed his position – stating his new convictions with equal vigour.
The Independent focuses on his increasing disillusionment with protest in his later years, and his shift to “positive and practical solutions”:
He set up the organisations “Values and Vision” and “Save London Alliance” in his home on the basis of his conviction that authentic national democracy can only emerge from local democracies. He became well known in Kilburn for saving a local park, for getting Christmas lights on the High Road, for his letters to the press and for his garden. Local kids called him “Mr Peter”.
He was also a keen student of visionary poet William Blake and founded the Blake Society in 1985. The Guardian ends with these words about his final days:
During his last few days, the actor Roger Lloyd Pack went to see him in hospital and read him a number of Blake poems, including Holy Thursday, The Garden of Love, and London. Peter had seemed to be in a coma and had not spoken for some time, but as Roger was reading he opened his eyes and struggled to sit up. Almost at the point of death, Blake’s lines of passionate indignation and joyous affirmation could still inspire and arouse him.
(Peter Cadogan, born 26 January 1921 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, died 18 November 2007 in London.)