Posts Tagged ‘Pete Goddard’

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 plays itself into government and then throws away its wicket

03/05/2013, 06:01:44 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

Labour took office in 1924 and there was a lot to do.

Unemployment was stuck above 10%, public debt was out of control and the economy barely seemed to have a pulse.

So the first order of business? Working out what to wear when meeting the king.

Regal tradition dictated that government ministers wore court dress in their regular audiences with the monarch. On the other hand, for some reason, Labour supporters had never really taken to the regency dandy look.

In the absence of a Trotsky and Susannah to advise Labour what not to wear, the new cabinet engaged in delicate negotiations first with itself, and then the palace on the weighty matters of wardrobe.

George V did everything he could to support Britain’s gold braid industry

The problem was indicative of Labour’s broader challenge: how to achieve respectability in office (and help win over the millions of voters who still viewed Labour as communists in flat caps) without sacrificing the radicalism that distinguished the party.


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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: Return of the Mac

11/04/2013, 04:24:23 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

After the general election in November 1922, Labour had a lot to feel good about. It broke three figures for the first time with 142 MPs – 27 more than the total for Lloyd George and Asquith’s Liberal factions put together and firmly established itself as the second party of British politics. Not the first party, true, but one step at a time eh?

Even better, the wave of Labour gains had seen the return of many of the party’s big beasts who had been swept away in Lloyd George’s landslide of 1918.

Returnees included acerbic left wing orator Phillip Snowden, Poplar’s most popular socialist George Lansbury and, the battling pacifist Ramsay Macdonald himself.

The character of this new parliamentary Labour party was quite different to its predecessors. Two, not entirely unconnected, changes marked the 1922 intake: increased representation for the left and the arrival of a number of middle class Labour MPs (including one Clement Attlee, so don’t mock).

The rise of the left was best illustrated by the increased influence of the Independent Labour Party (ILP). In 1918, 3 MPs had been sponsored by this socialist society. By 1922 this had grown to 32.

Although the centre and centre-right bloc of trade union sponsored MPs was still the largest at 85, for the first time the left had a broad caucus to challenge the right.

The ILP mob was sufficiently large that it even had its own left-wing. This was led by the so-called red Clydesiders, part of the contingent of 30 notably left-wing Scottish MPs. The name may sound like a playground torture (“Sir, that bully just gave me a red Clydesider), but these were committed and uncompromising socialists who weren’t averse to the idea of a workers revolution.

Leading lights included the former school teacher Jimmy Maxton (admiring biographer: Gordon Brown, who clearly failed to absorb every lesson this teacher had to offer) and self-made businessman John Wheatley.

With school teacher Jimmy Maxton in the house, inattentive Labour colleagues lived in fear of the well-aimed blackboard eraser


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Labour history uncut: Labour takes a New approach to fighting elections

04/04/2013, 06:02:04 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

“Thanks for winning the last election for us,” said the Tories to Lloyd George, “now bugger off.”

After cheerfully  defenestrating their Liberal coalition partner,  they installed Andrew Bonar Law in October 1922 as the new prime minister. Law immediately fired the starting gun on the  general election, setting the 15th November as the date for the poll.

The Birmingham Gazette demonstrates the range of visuals that made their picture desk the envy of the world

Unfortunately, he forgot to mention this to his own party’s campaign machine, which was taken by surprise when the poll was announced.

Wrong-footed, they hurriedly selected candidates, grabbed a handful of key words from “Attacking Labour for Dummies” and rushed a selection of posters to the printers with the instruction “Anything with words ‘tax’, ‘socialism’, ‘debt’ and ‘spending’ is fine”.


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Labour history uncut: Now that’s what I call austerity

26/03/2013, 11:03:49 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

The defeat of the miners’ in June 1921 marked the end of the threat of massive industrial action. It opened the way for the government to indulge itself. With recession biting, tax revenues falling and debt rising, they doubled down on plan A – to cut, cut and cut again.

That’s Tory-Liberal coalitions for you

Now the miners had been seen off, the coalition turned to the housing problem. They decided there wasn’t one.

Existing homes were deemed already fit for heroes, and what is a “slum” anyway – just another word for ‘bijou housing with earthy charm,’ right? The massive housebuilding programme started in 1919 was abruptly stopped.

Oddly enough, as capital spending by the government was slashed, the recession just seemed to get deeper. Unemployment soared to top two million workless.

Hmm. Cuts applied, recession follows. What could the problem be?

“Squandermania,” according to the Daily Mail.  This was much like “Beatlemania”, but instead of teenage girls screaming, it was Tories and the right wing press. Tales abounded of a wasteful public sector where staff lounged on golden sofas, snacking on government-funded caviar and sipping state champagne.

The owner of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere went even further. He founded a new political party who, apparently keen to sound like a posse of vigilante litter pickers, were called the Anti-Waste League. They even won three by-elections in 1921.

In February 1922, eager to close off the threat from this 1920s UKIP, the coalition unveiled the Geddes axe. This was not, unfortunately for everyone, a cute photo of a baby playing heavy metal guitar, but a powerful implement for hacking at the economy.

Sir Eric Geddes was the head of a committee of businessmen who had been tasked with securing government efficiencies. Efficiencies, in this case, being a long word for cuts.

Eric Geddes: “The pound in your pocket has not been devalued. You just don’t have as many of them. Sorry.”

The Geddes axe was swung with relish across all of public sector – in today’s money £100bn was cut.


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Labour history uncut: the tale of not-so-Black Friday

21/03/2013, 04:24:09 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

Within the Labour movement there are stories recounted through the ages that chill the blood. The tale of the 15th April 1921 or Black Friday (cue flash of lightning and crash of thunder) is one such legend.

On this dark day, the plucky, benighted miners were betrayed. The other unions stood silently by. The Labour party was cravenly silent and it was a disaster for the labour movement.

But was it really that simple?

For those taking part at the time, it certainly didn’t seem so.

Miners in Birmingham begin to suspect the guy in white has just taken a wrong turn off the golf course

Since the first world war, the government had run most of the mining industry, and had been doing very well out of it too. But by February 1921 price of coal had fallen sharply. With shipments of coal now coming in from Germany as part of reparations, the price was dropping faster than morale on the western front just after General Haig asked, “who fancies a stroll across the fields on this fine Somme morning?”

It looked like either redundancies or wage cuts were necessary. Or both.

Learning that mining was indeed dirty work, the government decided to act. They rushed through a bill to hand back the mines to their old private sector owners. Let them be the bad guys.


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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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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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