Posts Tagged ‘Ben Tillet’

Labour history uncut: no strikes please, we’re Labour

01/01/2013, 09:06:01 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

New year, new leader. That was Labour’s motto at the start of 1911 as it set about electing its fourth leader in four years. This time, the lucky front-runner (also middle runner, and back runner – he was standing unopposed) was Ramsay Macdonald.

An able organiser and pragmatic strategist, he also had a background with the socialist Independent Labour party (ILP), so the left approved. For now.

Macdonald was to be supported by Arthur Henderson who would take over his old job as party secretary and de facto deputy where he could help look after the low politics of Westminster.

If it wasn’t quite the dream ticket, it was certainly closer than the dog-eared bus tickets of previous leaderships.

On the 6th of February 1911, the new leadership team were confirmed in their roles and hit the ground running. The dynamic duo set to work tackling the number one priority facing the country: MPs’ pay.

More than unemployment or Irish home rule, a government-funded salary for members of parliament was the burning issue of the day. Well, it was for Labour MPs anyway, and not in an “expenses” way either.

Before 1911, MPs had to be supported by their party, by a union or, for the Tories, whichever chunk of Shropshire they managed to inherit. For Labour, thanks to the Osborne judgement which prohibited unions from funding the party, finding a way to maintain the £200 per year stipend was increasingly difficult.

So Ramsay Macdonald used MPs’ wages as his chief demand for continued support of the Liberal government. In 1911 provision for a state-funded payment of £400 per year was agreed and inserted into the parliament act limiting the Lords powers. This was a victory for Macdonald, although it can’t have been that hard to convince Liberal MPs to vote for more money for MPs.

Critics suggested this document was a fair summation of the parliamentary Labour party’s socialism

Macdonald was a hero to the parliamentary party. Doubling their wages and freeing union resources to spend on party campaigns meant he commanded a united and supportive parliamentary party.

Unfortunately, outside the gilded corridors of Westminster, pay rises for everyone was not the order of the day.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour history uncut: 358 days with George Barnes

27/12/2012, 10:33:51 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

After the January 1910 election, Labour had, if anything, moved slightly backwards. But that was as nothing compared to the disaster the Liberals had experienced.

They had asked the country “who governs this nation: the peers or the people?” The voters of Britain had responded saying, “democracy is nice but ooh, feel that lovely soft ermine and listen to those posh voices. Can we phone a friend?”

This 1910 election poster foolishly pits the Liberals against a coalition of Santas

From 1906, when the Liberals enjoyed a landslide of 397 seats with a majority of more than 130 over all the other parties combined, they had slumped to just 274 seats – smaller than the Tories.

Parliament was hung (not “like a horse” but “like a legislative body where no clear majority exists on any side”) and the Liberal government was now a coalition, with the Liberals reliant on the support of the Irish nationalists to retain a majority in the House of Commons. If they could keep Labour on side too, so much the better.

The inconclusive nature of the election result meant another poll was surely around the corner.

That made for a tough year for Labour, waiting for this inevitable election. It was particularly hard for one George Barnes. He was the man in the hot seat as the new leader of the Labour party, a job that came with few perks and a dress code that included a pair of trousers with “kick here” embroidered on the seat.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour history uncut: Labour conference turns on Keir Hardie

13/12/2012, 01:50:02 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

The Labour party in 1906 had experienced some success, notably with the repeal of Taff Vale. However, the parliamentary party was divided between the limited, immediate goals of the union faction and the more visionary, nation-changing, red-flag-singing socialist contingent.

To focus on the practical and attainable, or attempt the wholesale overthrow of the capitalist system? That was the question.

“Or”, said Keir Hardie, “how about we forget that stuff and concentrate on women’s suffrage?”

Hardie was a committed believer in votes for women in general, and of the Pankhursts and their campaigning organisation (the women’s social and political union or WSPU) in particular.

Either that or he was pretending to be a “new man” to impress the chicks.

The suffragettes’ jack in the box was that year’s Christmas best seller

Hardie’s fixation managed to annoy both the union types and the socialists.

For the union brothers, personified by leadership contest runner-up David Shackleton, the issue of votes for women was a complete distraction. Workers were starving, unemployment was rampant and union rights under threat. Compared to these problems, female suffrage was little more than drawing room conversation for women in fancy frocks – a political After Eight mint.

For the socialist comrades, normally staunch supporters of the impeccably socialist Hardie, the WSPU were a) not radical enough and b) sounded like a sneeze (WSPU. Bless you).


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon