Posts Tagged ‘Stafford Cripps’

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 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: A party caught in two minds

12/11/2013, 11:53:24 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

By late 1932 the recession had become a depression. Unemployment was stuck at 3 million and more austerity seemed the government’s only answer.

The communists responded through their National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM), which was like a union for the unemployed, with the slight drawback that when they went on strike, nobody could tell. The NUWM organised hunger marches to highlight the plight of the workless.

“Scotland to London, seriously? This is why we need a Scottish government.”

“Scotland to London, seriously? This is why we need a Scottish government.”

The government reacted by doing some organising of their own, arranging for 70,000 policemen to meet the hunger marchers and welcome them to London.

For its part, the Parliamentary Labour Party organised to stay in that evening with a cup of tea, peeking through the office curtains at the ensuing violence and hoping those nasty communists would just go away.

No such luck.

The deteriorating economic situation had helped membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) surge from 2,300 in 1930 to 9,000 by the end of 1932.

Meanwhile in Germany, the election in January 1933 of new chancellor with a hilarious Charlie Chaplin moustache and a less hilarious set of beliefs, led many on the left to seek common cause with the communists.

Moscow agreed, recognising an opportunity when they saw one.


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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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