by Peter Goddard and Atul Hatwal
Education. Education. Education. You don’t have to be Blairite to believe in it. Here at Uncut we support the old dictum “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” A solid understanding of the our past is important to understand where the party is today and what we need to do tomorrow.
But it occurred to us, aside from comparatively recent events, we didn’t actually know that much about Labour history. To summarise: there was a splendid fellow called Keir Hardie, a bad’un called Ramsay Macdonald, the glorious founding of the NHS, something about the pound in your pocket and then we’re all singing “things can only get better.”
Tragically we cannot look to the education system to fix our ignorance. The national curriculum devotes little time to the history of the party. Nor does it contain much in the way of jokes. And there are exams.
Labour Uncut would like to remedy these manifold problems so we are pleased to present an uncut history of the Labour party. This will be an ongoing series of articles taking us from the birth of the party and the circumstances behind it, right up to the present day. Prepare to be educated.
The Labour website declares that the Labour party was created in 1900. And who are we to disagree?
This milestone in political history was not some random event. It came about because the demographics, political climate and industrial landscape of Britain were being transformed.
First, the working classes were just beginning to realise there was more to life than forelock-tugging and starvation. Conveniently, increasing numbers of them were also being given the vote, although not the female ones, obviously, for fear that their feeble thinking should lead to a kitten being elected prime minister.
Second, there was increased interest in socialism in Britain. A number of left wing groups were springing up with various aims ranging from having a bit of a think about social progress to storming barricades and kicking off the revolution.
And finally, there was a rise in union activity as the new mass of urban workers began to flex their industrial muscle.
Unions had enjoyed increasing membership and legitimacy over the previous 50 years, but they were well aware that their position was far from secure.
A successful dock strike led by Ben Tillett had made the Conservatives nervous. As a result, they had been busy doing what Conservative governments like doing best; using the full force of the law to mount an offensive against unions.
Gas workers’ union meetings traditionally finished with a rousing rendition of “I’m a little teapot”