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Help save the Gay Hussar and give co-ops a bost

Gay HussarIs it madness to want to save a 60-year-old restaurant, the Gay Hussar in London’s Soho, because of fond memories of goulash, fierce argument and good humour – and to want others to have similar experiences? The late Tom Driberg tried famously to persuade Mick Jagger to stand as a Labour candidate there; Victor Sassie, longtime maître d’, whose claims to Hungarian parentage were diluted by his less trumpted familial links to Barrow-in-Furness, witnessed libidinous former foreign secretary, George Brown, fall outside in the gutter. Even in my time, Tribune dinners were attended by among others, Michael Foot, Barbara Castle, Kenneth Clarke and the late Lord Rothermere, who, having been kissed by journalist Nick Cohen, took himself and Foot off for a nightcap at the Ritz.

A group of us, call us devotees, have formed a co-operative to buy the restaurant, having invested time and money in the place – the latter often courtesy of our employers – over many years.

We think we are in good company.

At the back end of 1994, I met Tyrone O’Sullivan, the now legendary south Wales miners’ leader, who had a plan to save his colliery from closure. He took me to the pit face under the Rhigos Mountain, and outlined his plan – to get the workforce to invest their redundancy payments in what became known as the Tower employees buy-out (TEBO) – a glorious co-operative venture which virtually everyone apart from Tyrone said could not be done. But it was done, brilliantly successfully, and still to this day, as new plans are made now the deep-mined coal has finally run out.

The Gay Hussar restaurant in Soho is not really comparable to a mine in south Wales, save that its larger owners want to divest themselves of it and a group of us, mindful of its rich history and the loyalty of staff and customers alike, fancy that it too has a future as a diners and staff co-operative venture. A helpful endorsement from a Guardian editorial spurred a group of us under the tutelage of experienced co-operator, John Goodman, to form the Goulash Co-operative. The directors of this venture also include this newspaper’s award-winning cartoonist Martin Rowson, and a former editors club, which includes Bill Hagerty, Julia Langdon (ex Guardian political staff), Chris Kaufman and me. Our honorary president is that scourge of the Murdoch media empire, Tom Watson MP, who has been known to have enjoyed one or two dinners at the Gay Hussar over the years.

We are urgently selling shares in the co-operative in order to be able to submit our sealed bid by this Thursday. And since the Gay Hussar has not only been a canteen for Tribune over the years, but the Guardian as well, we hope that some of the Guardian’s staff and readers who agree with us that the restaurant’s rich reputation for rebels and Rabelaisians is worth encouraging further, will consider taking shares or parts of shares. You can read more about doing that here.

In recent weeks there has been an attempt – predictably by some in the Murdoch media and in the Tory party – to batter the co-operative movement and mutuals, so as to link the Reverend Flowers’ predicament to the Labour leadership. Never mind that the Co-operative Bank really began to founder once it had dropped its tried and tested ways and opted for the bad habits manifested so painfully and globally by the Anglo American banking system. The Goulash Co-operative, should we be successful in our bid on Thursday, will not be employing the Reverend Flowers as a consultant, but we do have plenty of ideas for making the Gay Hussar every bit as successful as other similar ventures.

Our bid must have some merits, for not only have many of the usual suspects taken out shares, but so has former Conservative party chairman, Lord Ashcroft. So we wish him more success in plotting against David Cameron in the upstairs rooms of the Gay Hussar, than some of us ever had against Tony Blair. And lest it be forgotten that while Tyrone and the Tower miners were launching their successful buy-out bid, Messrs Blair and Mandelson were pedalling the nonsense that Labour’s historic commitment to common ownership meant “nationalising the corner shop”.

So if we are successful, could this be a model – as the Guardian suggests – that could be adopted elsewhere by Ed Miliband and the Labour party? Well, we could always encourage those nascent energy co-operatives couldn’t we – or get Lambeth council to desist from selling off its housing co-operatives to developers?

One Comment

  1. nicholas fogg says:

    Hope you’ve beeb successful. I was there last Thursday and was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph about it, although the story doesn’t seem to have appeared.
    Is it too late to subscribe?

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