Posts Tagged ‘Lloyd George’

Labour history uncut: a little bit of Sankey pankey with the miners

05/03/2013, 08:19:13 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

At the start of 1919 Labour sat in an unfamiliar position. Its MPs lounged comfortably on the front row of green leather benches directly opposite the government as the official opposition.

Unfortunately, the reason they were so comfortable was that there was lots of elbow room on the opposition benches. On the other side, the government with its massive majority of over 200 members were crammed in tighter than a ballerina’s buttocks

Labour had made it to become the second party of British politics, but only just. The previous December’s election had seen the Liberals implode and Labour, whilst slightly growing in numbers, robbed of almost all of its leading figures at the time when it needed them most.

Only the capable JR Clynes and tough railway union leader Jimmy Thomas had hung onto their seats. Their colleagues were predominantly older union men from the right of the party. This included the new leader, William Adamson, a man described by Roy Hattersley as “a dour and little-remembered Scottish miner.”  A bit like Jimmy Krankee then.

William Adamson models the then-fashionable "Ventriloquist’s" dummy’ look

In post-war Britain, the situation was volatile. Industrial unrest was increasing and on the 31st January there was a 48 hour strike in Glasgow over working hours. This culminated in 100,000 angry Glaswegians protesting in St George’s square, which terrified the government. Fair enough, a mass of angry Glaswegians would terrify anyone.

A bit twitchy after the Russian revolution, the government immediately reached for the folder marked ‘huge overreaction’. They mobilised 12,000 troops and, the ideal accessory for calming tense situations, six tanks.

The troops and tanks arrived and, several baton charges later, the day was christened Bloody Friday – which is really saying something when you consider the reputation of a regular Friday night in Glasgow.


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Labour history uncut: the moment Labour replaced the Liberals

26/02/2013, 04:44:11 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

Labour’s new constitution had radically reformed the party. Re-founded it, even. The party entered spring 1918 busily setting up new constituency organisations and selecting candidates.

The war may have still been going, but Britain had been more than 7 years without an election and millions of new voters had just been empowered by the recent extension of the franchise. As a result, all the parties were like a householder waiting for the builder – they knew a poll was on the way.

By April Labour had selected 115 candidates with 131 selections pending. At the start of the month there was a slight hitch when it appeared candidates might soon require a good grasp of German – the allies were forced back 60 miles in German spring offensive. But by May the tide had been turned back and everyone could pack away their Rosetta Stone CDs.

For the first time since the start of the war, thoughts across the parties began to turn to what might happen after victory.

To that end, in June 1919, Sidney Webb released his policy document “Labour and the New Social Order”. Although it didn’t exactly trouble the bestseller lists and the planned sequel, “Labour and the Chamber Of Secrets” was put on hold, it did set out a policy platform which would become the core of Labour manifestos for most of the next century.

This included Labour staples such as comprehensive free education, the establishment of separate legislatures for Scotland and Wales, generous provision of health services, nationalisation of mines, railways and electrical power, a commitment to full employment and a living wage, a major housebuilding programme and regular conflicts between the leadership and the left.

Sidney Webb teaches his newly-enfranchised wife how to vote

This was an important document for the party, but as the end of the war approached, Labour faced a decision even more important than the platform. They had to decide whether to fight the election as part of the coalition or to stand in opposition?


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Labour history uncut: Lloyd George topples Asquith as Labour sit tight in government

10/02/2013, 03:28:22 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

On the 13th November 1916 the battle of the Somme finally ended. Since its launch at the start of July, the British army had suffered 420,000 casualties to advance a grand total of 5 miles.

This rate of attrition revealed that the army’s brilliant “more men forward” approach would indeed get us to Berlin, just as long as we didn’t mind taking another 48 million casualties on the way.

A quick head count of the British population (46 million) led people to suspect the wisdom of this military strategy, despite the resolute self-confidence of generals.

Even Arthur Henderson and the Labour party, however much they tended to go weak at the knees for a man in uniform, had doubts. But as minor members of the government, there wasn’t a whole lot they could do. The sight of Labour men questioning the war effort could easily be mistaken for a lack of patriotism and they were getting enough criticism on that front already thanks to the barbs of Ramsay Macdonald and his anti-war chums.

Instead, Labour opted to stay quiet and look hopefully to prime minster Asquith for some inspiring leadership.


What they got instead in November 1916 was Asquith asking the cabinet to jot down any ideas they might have about what to do for “Herbert’s big book of war-winning notions.” As leadership goes, it wasn’t exactly “Once more unto the breach dear friends.”

Things got worse when Tory grandee Lord Landsdowne, did jot his ideas down. They weren’t exactly what Asquith was hoping for.

“[the war’s] prolongation will spell ruin for the civilised world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it.”

He put this upbeat prognosis in a letter he offered to the Times, to perhaps publish for a bit of fun alongside the horoscopes and sudoku. The Times was appalled by what they saw as the anti-British letter and refused to publish it, as they believed any decent paper would.

The Telegraph happily ran it.

Lord Landsdowne shows the sunny demeanour that inspired his famous letter


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Labour history uncut: bye bye uncle Arthur

25/12/2012, 08:00:32 AM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

“Is the parliamentary Labour party a failure?”

This was the upbeat title of a 1908 pamphlet from Ben Tillett. Presumably feeling he’d run out of capitalists to agitate against, he had turned his talents to stirring things up in his own party.

As well as being possibly the first #QTWTAIN in Labour’s political history, it was a cunning title on Tillett’s part. He had only to change the date on the front and he could re-publish it and still find an audience every year from then until, approximately, today.

Tillett’s central moan was that Labour was not doing enough to combat unemployment on account of the fact that its leaders were just re-purposed Liberals.

This was an outrageous accusation. Just because the majority of Labour’s MPs were either former Liberals or ex-union officials with strong Lib Lab sympathies, and just because Arthur Henderson, the new leader of the Labour party was a former Liberal agent and just because the party had actually agreed not to contest elections where a Liberal was standing and… ok, he had a point.

The Arthur Henderson paint-by-numbers kit proved surprisingly popular

There was quite a lot of common ground with the Liberals, but Labour inaction on unemployment was not policy – the truth was that party just didn’t have the votes in parliament to enforce its will.

They had tried. Labour had introduced the “right to work” bill in 1907 establishing every man’s right to employment. If work was not available the bill proposed that it was the responsibility of society to maintain the unemployed.


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