Posts Tagged ‘The Labour movement in Westmorland’

Sunday review on Thursday: The Labour Movement in Westmorland by Dr David Clark, Lord Clark of Windermere

19/07/2012, 12:00:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Emily Thornberry, who cut her teeth as a Labour parliamentary candidate on the challenging terrain of Canterbury, finds that her computer seeks to autocorrect the word “unwinnable” to “unsinkable”, which she considers apt. David Clark – the long serving MP for South Shields turned Lord of Windermere – has written a history of the Labour movement in Westmorland that supports this view.

“This was only a start”, said Reginald Burnett upon his defeat as the first person to contest the parliamentary seat of Westmorland for Labour in 1924, “but they were going on until they had made Westmorland a safe Labour seat”. Sadly, notwithstanding Burnett’s confused tenses, this has not come to pass.

The hills and lakes of Westmorland are epically beautiful but hardly the Big Meeting, Durham. Still, just as the beach is beneath the paving stones, so too some of Labour’s proudest and most evocative roots have been cultivated in the most unexpected of circumstances. Everything the movement has achieved in Westmorland has been achieved in the face of indifference or hostility, which makes these achievements all the more admirable.

The year after Burnett’s defeat Frank Parrott, a headmaster at a school in Westmorland, received an unexpected visit from “two well-dressed ladies in large hats”. They indicated that they had come to collect their subscription. As he was recently appointed and an “offcomer”, this was perplexing to Parrott, who enquired to what he was supposed to subscribe. When told “the Westmorland Conservative Association” Parrott demurred to offer his subscription or his support. He was rebuked: “But you must Mr Parrott, all headmasters in Westmorland subscribe to the Conservative Association”.

This gives some sense of the entrenched conservatism that has always confronted the Labour in Westmorland. But Parrott went on to be a long-standing Labour councillor. In so doing he was following a trail blazed by Rev Herbert V Mills, who had become the first Labour member of Westmorland County Council in 1892.

Around this time Mills also established a “colony” in Westmorland whose basic purpose was to show that it was possible to rehabilitate individuals who had fallen on difficult times by introducing them to work on the land. This venture received the endorsement of John Ruskin, an early socialist, pioneer of the arts and crafts movement and resident of nearby Coniston.


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