Posts Tagged ‘William Adamson’

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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