London Calling: The Foundations of the British Labour Party

1900. The Labour Party is founded.

The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) is formed in London following a socialist conference.

The 129 delegates pass Keir Hardie’s motion to create a distinct group to represent working-class people in Parliament.

It consisted of separate groupings such as the I.L.P, the marxist S.D.F and the Fabian Society. In total, delegates came from 65 trade unions, 3 socialist societies and between them represented of 550,000 organised workers.

Elected to the Executive Committee were trade unionists; Frederick Rogers (Vellum Book Binders); Thomas Greenall (Miners); Richard Bell (Railways); Peter Curran (Gas); Allan Gee (Textile); Alec Wilkie (Shipwrights) and John Hodge (Steel)

The I.L.P was represented by Hardie and James Parker. James McDonald and Harry Quelch from the S.D.F and Edward Pease from the Fabians.

During a debate, the delegates from the Marxist SDF wanted the group to commit to being a ‘class war’ body.

Frederick Rogers – of the Vellum Bookbinders – rejected this approach

‘it would place the Labour movement in the position of the boy who cried for the moon. Nothing could be more unfortunate for the conference than to label across its front ‘class war’’

The conference also rejected the motion that candidates should come exclusively from the working class and that representatives could be ‘entirely free on all purely political questions’.

Instead, Hardie won his motion to establish a moderate tone:

‘a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of Labour and equally ready to associate themselves with any party in opposing measures having the opposite tendency’

Hardie explained later that:

‘the object of the conference was not to discuss first principles but to endeavour to ascertain whether organisations respecting different ideals could find an immediate and practical common ground’

For the position of secretary, Fred Brocklehurst was nominated but turned down the position saying ‘his work in Manchester prevented him’

Instead, Ramsay Macdonald was elected unanimously as the new secretary.

Later, the S.D.F would claim that there had been a mix up in voting and they had assumed that they had been voting for James Macdonald (who was working for the London Trades Council).

The S.D.F would, a week later, denounce the ‘treachery to socialism in the course of the conference proceedings’ as Hardie secured key positions on the committee for his sympathisers.

Macdonald later wrote that the rejection of the Marxist proposals was a ‘well deserved rebuke to those who suppose that the Labour Movement is a Movement of trades and not of opinions…no worship of Labour and no desire to be out and out democratic, must ever obscure the fact that the Labour Movement is a Movement of opinions first and last’

In the aftermath, Hardie wrote a letter reflecting that

‘The conference here was most successful and promises well for future work. One thing struck me very forcibly – the determination of nine-tenths of the trade unionists present to have a strictly independent party’

Of the 129 delegates who attended, twenty-six of them went on to become MPs.

Of them, Ramsay Macdonald become Labour’s first Prime Minister, Philip Snowden its first Chancellor and Clynes as its second Home Secretary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s