Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Thomas’

Labour history uncut: “We’re bunkered!” The red scare election of ‘24

20/05/2013, 07:17:07 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

It was October 8th 1924 and Ramsay Macdonald was in high spirits. He noted in his diary,

“So the chapter ends after a great day when at the close we stood higher in the House of Commons than ever…We had knocked them all over the ring and they were ashamed of themselves”

Or to put it another way, “Good news everybody – our government has fallen,”

Parliament had voted for an inquiry into whether Labour pressure had caused the prosecution of the communist Workers Weekly editor, John Campbell, to be dropped. Macdonald had taken this to be a motion of censure, chucked himself out of office and called a new election for the 29th October.

He needn’t have, but there had been an election in each of the previous 2 years, so there was a certain symmetry to it at least.

Readers began to suspect a little bias in Shoot! comic

After a brief government characterised by caution and a gradual approach to social reform, Labour got its reward – accusations of communism and a campaign dominated by a virulent red scare.

The Times declared Labour’s commitment to establish a national network of electricity generating stations “a project dear to Lenin.” So think about that next time you’re boiling a kettle, you commie.

Conservative leaflets warned parents to be on their guard against “plausible men and women who invite their children to join Sunday school and clubs.” This was because such activities were, needless to say, a cover for children “to be baptised into the communistic faith.” Presumably the implausible men and women were absolutely fine.


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Labour history uncut: Labour gets ready for government

28/04/2013, 11:05:37 AM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

On December 9th 1923, the day after the general election, it became clear that civilisation was teetering on the brink of destruction.

Well, that’s what the British establishment seemed to think as the prospect of a Labour government was suddenly a real possibility.

Although the Tories were the largest party with 258 seats, crucially they did not command a majority in the House of Commons and the third place Liberals did not seem willing to sustain them in office.

In the wings, there was Labour, the understudy government breathlessly wondering if tonight was to be their night to take the lead role.

But despite the parliamentary arithmetic, Labour’s turn in the limelight seemed far from certain.

The critics at the Times weren’t happy. The Thunderer called for a coalition between the Liberals and Conservatives in the national interest. The national interest being anyone but Labour.

Some in the Lords favoured a more innovative approach.  The large Labour vote obviously meant democracy was broken, so the logical next step was to create a government of “national trustees”.

This would involve simply jettisoning the whole bothersome democratic process and appointing a government of officials certified as independent, fair-minded and not-Labour.

They even had a man in mind to run it all – Reginald McKenna. Home secretary under Asquith until 1916, McKenna was definitely a decent and trust-worthy chap, as evidenced by his two career choices so far: politician and banker.

Reginald McKenna exuded Englishness with his stiff upper everything

Others were more resigned to the impending cataclysm. Over at the English Review, apparently edited by a proto-Melanie Phillips, their view on a possible Labour government was that “the sun of England seems menaced by final eclipse,” which would at least explain the weather that year.

Winston Churchill chipped in too. At this point a defeated Liberal, he declared in his usual understated manner that a Labour government would be “a national misfortune such as has usually befallen a great state only on the morrow of defeat in war.”


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Labour history uncut: Britain teeters on the brink of martial law

15/03/2013, 12:58:30 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

By August 1919 one thing was clear about Lloyd George’s coalition: it might have had a Liberal figurehead on the prow, but the Conservatives were steering the boat.

Labour were the official opposition in Parliament, but with such a large coalition majority there was little they could actually do in the House of Commons beyond squeaking the odd, small and ineffectual “no.”

Lloyd George couldn’t help wondering, with his preference for a bigger hat and longer cane, if Churchill was trying to compensate for something

The government had been given the biggest mandate in living memory eight months earlier. That huge public support calibrated Labour’s approach. Splenetic opposition to the government’s platform would have placed Labour firmly on the wrong side of public opinion. Instead, respectable, reasoned disagreement seemed to be the outer limit of what was electorally practicable.

But politics, in common with both nature and a first year student, abhors a vacuum. The unions shifted into the space the party would not inhabit – the voice of visceral resistance to a government seemingly determined to roll back the clock for organised labour.

In August 1919 Lloyd George’s team had ignored the Sankey commission on mining, snubbing the union. Now they turned the anti-union spotlight on the boys in blue.

The Police Act of 1919 banned policemen from joining their union, replacing it with the Police Federation. “It’s almost exactly like a union,” they explained, ignoring the tiny detail that the Federation was not allowed to go on strike.


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