Posts Tagged ‘Pete Goddard’

Labour history uncut: Labour says “no but, yeah but, no but” to a Popular Front

10/06/2014, 09:19:27 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

1937 might have seen the death of efforts to forge Labour, the Communists and Independent Labour Party into a leftist Unity Front, but the idea of Labour joining forces with other political groups had not gone away.

In fact, on the more moderate end of things, there was still plenty of support for a Liberal alliance, which the Lib-Labs called a Popular Front, because Lib-Labs sounded like a brand of penny sweet.

The electoral potential from a new dose of Lib-Labbery was demonstrated in campaigns such as the Fulham West by-election of April 1938 where Labour’s Edith Summerskill reaped the benefits of a Popular Front.

An ardent feminist and anti-fascist, Summerskill was pretty much the living embodiment of a scary lefty for the likes of the Daily Mail. Nevertheless, thanks to the support of Liberal activists, and absence of a Liberal candidate, she secured a 7.3% swing to overturn the Tory majority.

Edith Summerskill’s ability to levitate always drew a crowd on the campaign trail

Edith Summerskill’s ability to levitate always drew a crowd on the campaign trail

Summerskill subsequently took her seat in the House of Commons under her maiden name. This was scandalous behaviour for the time as it made it confusing for the gentlemen of the Commons to know whether or not they were allowed to goose her in the canteen.


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Labour history uncut: The unions purge the left

15/05/2014, 06:50:21 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

The Communists’ attempts to affiliate to the Labour party might have been resoundingly rejected at the 1936 Labour conference, but they didn’t give up that easily.

The Socialist League faction within the Labour party, led by ex-Communist J.T.Murphy, and funded by Stafford Cripps, convened three-way negotiations with the disaffiliated Independent Labour Party, and the Communist party to discuss a “united front.”

Few people were aware that Socialist League leader JT Murphy was a free-floating, disembodied head

Few people were aware that Socialist League leader JT Murphy was a free-floating, disembodied head

For People’s Front of Judea aficionados, it’s important to note the difference between a “united front” and the idea of a “popular front,” that was also gaining support at this time.

A “popular front” meant a broad coalition of Labour, Liberals and assorted leftish types, in the style of Leon Blum’s socialist-led French government or the Spanish republican government. Some by-elections at this time had seen successful co-operation between Liberals and Labour in this manner.

In contrast, the “united front” featured only organisations pure of heart, class-conscious and electorally irrelevant. This meant the ILP, the Socialist League and the Communist Party, who all wanted to join forces with the Labour party, mostly because of the ‘electorally irrelevant’ in the previous sentence.


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Labour history uncut: The Communists come knocking

06/04/2014, 05:35:57 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

In November 1935, a letter flopped onto the Labour party doormat.  It was from Harry Pollitt, boss of the Communist Party of Great Britain, wondering if the time was right for a left-wing super team-up.

In the application to affiliate his party to Labour, Pollitt stated the Communists were prepared to work, “honestly and sincerely,” as part of Labour, “not as a manoeuvre or for any concealed aims.”

NPG Ax136094; Harry Pollitt by Howard Coster

Harry Pollitt – Communist leader and G-man

He was half right – he certainly wasn’t concealing his aims. The following week Pollitt made a speech saying that the Communists wanted to join the Labour party to “transform it into a real broad federal organisation in spite of the intentions of the most reactionary Labour leaders.”

“The most reactionary Labour leaders,” turned out to be basically all of them. The NEC responded to Pollitt curtly with a missive that included the twin sentiments of “off” and “sod”, not necessarily in that order.  

Pollitt wasn’t so easily discouraged though and set a target of forcing a vote on affiliation at Labour’s conference in October 1936.

He had some grounds for optimism. While Labour’s leaders were implacably opposed to mucking in with commies, the grassroots were not so sure.

Fascism was on the march on the continent and Labour’s response was hardly a model of vigour.


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Labour history uncut: “And a mouse shall lead them”

11/03/2014, 10:21:26 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

In 1935 Labour hit on a new idea: a try-before-you-buy scheme for the leadership.

Just days before the November general election, Clement Attlee had been elected interim boss. Because nothing says “we’re ready to lead the country,” than having a temp at the helm.

The electorate agreed. With a disappointing 154 seats secured, it looked like Clement Attlee had no hope of going temp to perm and was about to become another victim of Britain’s insecure labour market.

Especially as now there was rather more choice on offer. The election, though uninspiring overall, had seen the return of several leading Labour politicians to the Commons, including Herbert Morrison, Hugh Dalton and John Clynes.

These new options, combined with over 100 more MPs to do the choosing, meant a change at the top seemed imminent when, barely a week after the national poll, the leadership election beckoned.

After some early jockeying for position and switches of allegiance in the manner of the children’s gameshow Runaround, the field of applicants was winnowed down to three.

Herbert Morrison, Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood remained, the last two of whom had also contested the leadership one month earlier.

Of the three, Morrison was the early favourite. He was the only one on the national executive in his own right, he had a track record of electoral success, and his dad was a policeman, so he could wheel his bike wherever in Westminster he wanted.

Morrison was on the right of the party, making him a right Herbert

Morrison was on the right of the party, making him a right Herbert


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Labour history uncut: The Red Indian’s bomb fails to explode

25/02/2014, 07:39:47 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

On the 23rd of October, Stanley Baldwin fired the starting pistol for the 1935 general election.

It was just two weeks since Clement Attlee had become temporary leader. Temporary because, although George Lansbury had resigned, the split over who should lead the party remained unresolved.

Not ideal preparation for battle. But as the party readied itself for a poll on the 14th November, there was still hope for things to improve for Labour in parliament. After all, given the disaster of the 1931 election, it would have taken a Katie Hopkinsesque effort to become any less popular.

But Labour dreamed big. Hugh Dalton noted in his diary an expectation of a rise from 52 seats to 240. Others dreamed bigger –an actual Labour majority.

But in real life, not all dreams come true. If they did, we’d be too busy financing the transformation of Crystal Palace into south London’s Barcelona to write this.

A National government poster comes out unexpectedly in favour of skin cancer for children

A National government poster comes out unexpectedly in favour of skin cancer for children


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Labour history uncut: Ernie Bevin “hammers George Lansbury to death” and changes the course of party history

02/01/2014, 02:18:31 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

Labour might have spent most of 1934 duelling between the leadership and the Socialist League but it didn’t seem to cause too much harm at the ballot box. The party picked up two seats from the Conservatives in by-elections, they nicked one from the Liberals and they also beat the splitters of the ILP to win back Merthyr – a great boost to the party’s Scrabble score.

In a world without opinion polls, these by-election successes seemed to point the way to a Labour resurgence at the next election, expected sometime in late 1935.

The case for optimism was boosted in June 1935 when the ailing Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald retired, to be replaced by Tory Stanley Baldwin.

Although the Labour movement was agreed that Macdonald was Satan incarnate, the rest of the country couldn’t see the horns and pitchfork and he had remained popular as the head of the national government. With his resignation, the government’s fake moustache and glasses were removed and it suddenly looked like the Tory outfit it had been all along.

Everything was falling into place. The election would now be a clear choice between the Tories and Labour.  Yes the Liberals were lurking around too, but everyone just assumed they’d support whoever won to form a majority government because, well, Liberals right?

But beneath the surface trouble was being stirred up for the party by, oddly enough, Benito Mussolini.

Benito Mussolini gazes into the future, fails to spot the meat-hooks

Benito Mussolini gazes into the future, fails to spot the meat-hooks

Over the past two years, fascism had spread across Europe. The prospect of international conflict topped the political agenda and Mussolini’s threats to forcibly plant spaghetti trees throughout Abyssinia brought matters to a head.

This was the defining issue of the day. And on it, Labour was conflicted.


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Labour history uncut: the Socialist League is sent packing

02/12/2013, 05:55:31 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

When Stafford Cripps got up to speak to Labour students in Nottingham on the 6th January 1934, the reporters in attendance did not expect too much excitement. A brisk refresher on the Socialist League’s plan for an imminently Socialist Britain, then tea and biscuits if they were lucky.

Addressing the audience, Cripps declared,

“I do not believe in private armies, but if the Fascists started a private army it might be for the Socialist and Communist parties to do the same. When the Labour party comes to power, we must act rapidly and it will be necessary to deal with the House of Lords and the influence of the City of London. There is no doubt we shall have to overcome resistance from Buckingham palace and other places as well.”

The press sat up and took notice.

Because Cripps was airing the possibility of a Labour party private army? No. Because he was suggesting Labour join forces with Communists? No.

The Rubicon that Cripps had crossed was in voicing the great unmentionable, “Buckingham Palace.”

Outrage abounded. Within a day, Cripps had had to issue one of the finest political clarifications ever,

“There seems to have been some misconception of what I intended to convey by the term ‘Buckingham Palace’. I most certainly was not referring to the Crown…I cannot understand why anyone should have thought I was referring to the Crown.”

Indeed, the fools. Its obvious Cripps was talking about resistance to socialism from all those other people in Buckingham Palace. The servants maybe. Or the corgis.

Among the NEC there was a collective rolling of eyes at the gaffe. Dalton was apoplectic while Bevin was disgusted. Fortunately for Cripps though, one senior member of the party continued to back him – a member who also happened to be the acting leader – Clement Attlee. Thus Cripps swapped his red flag for a red face but remained free from formal censure.

1934 – Riding out to battle the impending socialist army, Buckingham Palace wondered if it should maybe have modernised its forces

1934 – Riding out to battle the impending socialist army, Buckingham Palace wondered if it should maybe have modernised its forces


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Labour history uncut: All change! Labour gets a new set of factions

22/10/2013, 10:27:30 AM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

In the run up to the 1932 Labour party conference in Leicester, memories of the previous year’s electoral wipe-out were still raw, not to mention the festering resentment at Ramsay Macdonald’s betrayal.

Everyone was in the mood for change.

But just how that change might end up looking remained to be seen. Was the party Clark Kent striding into a phone booth, or Leslie Ash popping into the lip clinic?

One prominent change had already occurred on the left. The ILP had recently decided to disaffiliate from Labour and remain, in the words of Aneurin Bevan, “pure, but impotent.”

This meant there was no rebellious left wing to cause friction and everything at conference was going to run nice and smoothly.

Ha! Just kidding.

In fact a selection of ILP members had opted to remain with the Labour party, allowing the ILP to drift off into irrelevance without them. Their opting for impure potency meant that they were still in the party, but that didn’t mean they’d suddenly changed their socialist beliefs.

Understandably, these ex-ILP socialists under Frank Wise decided that, with the ILP gone, they ought to get organised. And perhaps find some new friends in the process.

Frank Wise – the only man in the party whose name consisted solely of adjectives

Flowers and chocolates were despatched to the somewhat sinister-sounding Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda (SSIP). This socialist pressure group was known by founder GDH Cole as the Zip – presumably because nobody wanted to get their policies caught in it.

The SSIP’s aims were, on the face of it, identical to those of the ILP leftovers. So, after the briefest of courtships, on the eve of Labour’s 1932 conference, a new faction was born- the Socialist League.


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Labour history uncut: Bye bye ILP

13/10/2013, 05:23:31 PM

by Peter Goddard and Atul Hatwal

After the October 1931 election, the Labour party survivors surveyed the smoking battlefield and counted the casualties.

Labour in Parliament had been almost entirely wiped out. Every member of the cabinet was gone, apart from the old stager George Lansbury and a young chap called Clement Attlee.

The men who had founded the Labour party had been removed wholesale from the leadership of the movement. And just for good measure, most of their most immediate successors had been culled too.

So, thanks to his unique qualification of ‘still being there’, 72 year old George Lansbury, seemed the natural, choice to take up the reins of leadership.

George Lansbury looks forward to having loads of space in the PLP common room

So imagine his surprise when, in a mark of the deep suspicion the party harboured for the emotional Lansbury, Arthur Henderson was elected unopposed as Labour leader despite not even being an MP.

Lansbury, for his part, became PLP chairman.

In practice however, the parliamentary platform meant the elderly Lansbury increasingly assumed the role of de facto leader over the even more elderly Henderson. This was partly because Henderson himself was often abroad, becoming more and more pre-occupied with international disarmament and the idea that Socialism wouldn’t be much use if Europe had been bombed to a charred ruin first.

More significantly for the party’s future was the appointment of Clement Attlee as Lansbury’s deputy chair in parliament.


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Labour history uncut: The day the Labour party nearly died

06/09/2013, 05:03:24 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

Parliament dissolved on October 7th 1931 in preparation for an election on the 27th.

It was hard to believe the national government had been formed just six weeks earlier. At that time, Ramsay Macdonald had promised his shocked Labour colleagues that there would be no coupons or pacts when the election came.

Now he slowly opened up his card to reveal… “Bluff.”

The national government resolved to stand as a single unit. Expelled from the Labour party, Macdonald, Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and the other Labour defectors readied themselves for a contest where they would fight the colleagues they had once worked so hard to support.

Ramsay Macdonald’s spoke softly and carried a big stick – for beating off angry Labour voters

Alongside them were the other members of the polyglot coalition. This national government had determined to go into the election asking for a “doctor’s mandate,” a request to be given a free hand to deal with the nation’s ills as they saw fit.

As a pitch, there were some obvious flaws.

The first was that the one significant prescription this national government had offered during the currency crisis, to try to stay on the gold standard at all costs, had proved catastrophically wrong.

But worse, now the gold standard had been abandoned, on the question of the economy, the three squabbling parties could not agree on the nation’s illness, let alone the cure.


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