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Love Lane Lives - the boys & girls from the whitestuff

Love Lane Lives

The history of sugar in Liverpool and the effects of the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Love Lane

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The AMTRAK view of Mr Cube on the eve of his 60th birthday party

Written by Ron Noon at 15:42 on Monday, July 27th 2009

My wife and I are having a great holiday over in North America. We travelled down from Vancouver with our friends Mally and Sue Jones on AMTRAK on Friday and arrived in Sacramento on Saturday morning about 6.30am. The weather is scorching and we’ve had a great time but the journey is not finished. We will be picking up the train again in a couple of hours to journey across to Salt Lake City, arriving there in the early hours of Tuesday. On Wednesday my other addiction (Everton Football Club) will be serviced by tickets for the MLS All Stars against EFC. My friend Mally is a red and he said he is wearing his no 9 shirt. I don’t even know who their number 9 is!

Anyway all this holidaying leaves little time for Mr Cube and my wife has given me a final GAIL warning to stay off this machine. (This is being typed in the Vagabond Inn Sacramento and my wife is still at breakfast so I better be quick!) Anyway in a special beyond the Lane blog here are some final thoughts on the significance of Mr Cube’s 60th birthday.

August Cochin wrote that “The story of a lump of sugar is a whole lesson in political economy, in politics and also in morality”. I suggest that his 60th birthday party is a great opportunity to examine the “once favoured child of Tate & Lyle” and to reflect on some of the lessons in political economy, in politics, and also in morality, that he championed in his youth.

On July 28th 1949 Mr Cube first appeared in the Evening Standard but in subsequent months it was his campaigning on behalf of free enterprise sugar and Tate & Lyle that drove Peter Mandelson’s grandfather, Herbert Morrison, Deputy leader (!) of the old Labour Party to apoplexy and arguably was responsible for a landslide majority of 186 registered in 1945 being cut to 6 in January 1950. I think that his imminent birthday party (Tate’s claim they retired him ten years ago!) is a good opportunity to reflect on how this sugar cube champion of capitalism and free enterprise is emblematic of the New Labour zeitgiest! 

Two years before Bobby St John Cooper’s invention of Mr Cube Fernando Ortez suggested that sugar was “capitalism’s favoured child” and this simple taken for granted everyday commodity is a unique exemplar of capitalist commodity production’s dominant theme, of want not need, wealth not health! There is no biological need for an empty calorie in such concentrated chemical composition either as granules or cubes, and until the era of Christopher Columbus and his second trip to the Antillee islands of the New World where he transferred sugar cane from the islands off the coast of Africa, world and human history had largely been sugar free! Now in its seventh century of global expansion, it makes the products of Bill Gates, especially now that non-food uses as bio-fuel, are opening up, seem pre-pubescent.

My bitter sweet story is not about the era of sugar and slaves and imperial rivalries dictated by the lure of “white gold” and Europe’s insatiable appetite for sweetness, but about the last 60 years and particularly 1949 and 1950, classic years of austerity and food rationing, when British housewives were all too keenly aware of the missing sweets and treats of life. Sugar was both fact and metaphor for so much that was promised but missing from that grey era of interminable queues and “rations points consciousness”.

Mr Cube is a symbol of electoral embarrassment for the British Labour Party and forty five years after that astounding 1950 election result and the abandonment of Labour’s plans for nationalising sugar, a Tony Blair led Labour Party was posturing not towards its traditional union allies, but towards business friends including Tate & Lyle. Herbert Morrison would turn in his grave, but the zeitgeist in 1995 two years before Tate & Lyle made its first political donation to the Labour Party was of a New and contemptuous of Old Labour party, busy exorcising the demon of nationalisation threats, which conceived Mr Cube.

It appears supremely ironic that an alliance was subsequently forged with arguably its greatest ever business foe, resulting in the first corporate donation from Tate & Lyle to the Labour party, just before the 1997 General Election. This was more than just a pecuniary measure of the transformation of the Labour Party in Albert E Sloane’s lifetime. Neil Shaw the company chairman would tell the Committee of Standards in Public Life “how he began his love affair with Blair” and how “he introduced Tony as a speaker at a meeting of Prince Charles’ Business in the Community, in early 1995”. Shaw who would later be replaced by ace American union buster, Larry Pillard, noted “that his company had not always been a friend to Tate & Lyle, but that all this would change when the party’s new leader got rid of Clause IV”!

With echoes of Phillip Snowden and Montagu Norman, they embraced each other “like kindred lizards”. Blair even suggested that he ‘might use Mr Cube to help him destroy his party’s commitment to public ownership”. Was there ever really a prospect of this cartoon slayer of socialists being sub-contracted to Peter Mandelson, or appearing on the party’s headed notepaper as the symbol of a clauseless IV, free enterprise loving New Labour?” I’ve got a train to catch.