Autumn 2009

Labour Heritage AGM 2009

The AGM of Labour Heritage was held at Conway Hall on Saturday 14th March and was attended by over 50 people.

The meeting had two main themes, the first being the recession of the 1930s and the role of the 1929-31 Labour Government, the second the centenary of John Burns and the 1909 Town and Country Planning Act.

1929-1931 Labour Government

The first speaker was John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington and chair of the Labour Representation Committee.
He spoke about the similarities between the 1930s and today. The defeat of the General Strike in 1926, which had parallels with the defeat of the 1984/85 miners’ strike, had led to a rightward drift within the labour movement. This was particularly the case with the trades union movement which under the leadership of Ernest Bevin, had  endorsed the  “Mond-Turner” talks which meant conciliation between trades unions and   the employers. The unions, which then  had a lot of influence within the council of the Labour Party, were happy to work with the National Government which was formed in 1931.

Labour was elected as a minority government, dependent on Liberal support in 1929. Its election pledge  was to reduce unemployment, which had been rising steadily under the Tories. But it had no idea on how to run the economy. Ramsay MacDonald was a declared socialist, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, was a 19th century Liberal at heart. They were not prepared for the economic crisis and were judged as grossly incompetent when they lost at the 1931 election.
John emphasised that the 1930s slump did not automatically radicalise the population. Many workers voted Tory during these years and Labour was not to be returned to government until 1945. However Labour did make gains in local government such as winning the London County Council.

Foreign policy

Radicalisation came from issues of foreign policy – the rise of fascism and threat of war in Europe. As a result of these the Communist Party of Great Britain increased its membership from 3,000 in 1929 to 29,000 in 1939. Minority groups such as Jews were politically mobilised against fascism and many joined in the battle against the Mosleyites at Cable Street, preventing the fascists from marching through the East End.  John mentioned the parallels today with the radicalisation of Muslims against the war in Iraq. To be left wing became respectable with sections of the intelligentsia who joined the Left Book Club in large numbers. Many workers joined the International Brigades which went to fight against the fascists in Spain. But  within the Labour Party the left was marginalised after the departure of the Independent Labour Party in 1932. In the 1930s the Labour Party did not even support the Hunger Marches, including the Jarrow march which was led by a Labour MP.
The Socialist League, led by Stafford Cripps often faced strong opposition within the Party and its members expelled.
The Labour Party did not embrace Keynesianism as an alternative to orthodox free market economics.
John deplored the continued actions of the current government in going ahead with privatisations and welfare reform, even in the face of a recession and banking crisis.
He said that the government had allowed the Bank of England to set interest rates as one of its first acts, thus abandoning any hope of regulating the monetary system which had got us into the present crisis. The 1983 election manifesto had advocated strict regulation of the banking system but this had been written off by Gerald Kaufman as “the longest suicide note in history”.  But the left in the Party was rebuilding with the Labour

Representation Committee and Left Economics Advisory Council.

The second speaker was John Grigg, who is on the committee of Labour Heritage. He began with the 1929 election campaign which had been lost by the Tories. Their slogan of “Safety First” did not appeal, neither did their election  song “Stanley Boy” This was printed in 10 million leaflets  and on 10,000 gramophone records – sung to the tune of ‘Sonny Boy’

England for the free,
Stanley Boy!
You’re the man for me,
Stanley Boy!
You’ve no way of knowing,
But I’ve a way of showing,
What you mean to me,
Stanley Boy!

 Stanley Baldwin the Tory leader also had a “broccoli moment” – claiming that the exports of broccoli from Cornwall to the continent were helping to revive British trade.
Labour attacked the Tories on their record of high unemployment. It called for the raising of the school leaving age to 15, taxation of the well-off and autonomous assemblies for Scotland and Wales, support for the League of Nations and trade with Russia. Hours in the mining industry were to be reduced from 8 to 7.5. But there was little talk of nationalisation. Labour won with a minority of votes and did not have an overall majority in Parliament. It needed Liberal support to survive. Labour won 287 seats, the Conservatives 260 and the Liberals 59. 
The government set up committees including one called the Economic Advisory Council consisting of businessmen, trade unions, and economists, including Maynard Keynes.  Although little was achieved this was the seed from which grew – many decades later – the Department of Economic Affairs

Wall Street crash

The Wall Street crash occurred on 23rd October 1929, months after the election of the minority Labour Government. It was as a result of speculation in shares which had taken place in the US in the 1920s. A familiar story. Banks in the US  had been lending to fund this share buying frenzy Despite efforts from the big banks that bought shares in large qualities at above market prices the falls continued until brokers, losing confidence, started to demand cash from investors to repay loans. Even more selling followed
People could not repay loans, and those who could saw their savings disappear.  Homeowners and landlords became bankrupt.  Local banks had lent money to customers to buy stock and banks began to fail.  By 1931 3,000 banks across America had failed.  People withdrew money from banks.  Rumours spread that some banks, which in reality were sound, were in trouble and runs on those banks caused more failures.
Consumer demand dropped so, for example, fewer cars and domestic appliances were bought and the big manufacturers laid off workers causing even less consumer demand.
The crisis hit Europe as US bank loans to Germany dried up and it became clear that loans from UK banks to Germany would not be repaid.
By 1931 unemployment in the UK had risen to 2.7 million – an embarrassment for a government which had been elected on a programme of combating unemployment.
David Marquand in his biography of Ramsay MacDonald writes that British socialism was an ethical doctrine rather than an economic one. The assumption was that capitalism caused poverty and unemployment and that a publicly owned economy would combat it, but little thought had been given to how a publicly owned economy would achieve this.  In any event, Labour’s policy manifesto contained no nationalisation proposals, apart from the coal industry – and even if it had, they were a minority government, dependent upon Liberal support and there was no way they would have got nationalisation measures through parliament.

Labour and the crisis

Labour in spite of its protestations that the alternative to capitalist crisis was socialism,  had no practical measures to propose - it steered clear of protectionism as its policy had been to support free trade and Snowden the Chancellor of the Exchequer opposed any proposals for abandoning the gold standard, devaluing sterling or implementing a programme of public works to increase demand in the economy.
The budget deficit  was giving Snowden nightmares.  He warned that it would damage business confidence in sterling, leading to the most disastrous consequences. Increases in taxation would make matters even worse. The only solution, he said, was to cut expenditure, above all on unemployment which was the cause of the budget deficit. 
In parliament, the Conservatives tabled a motion of censure on the government for its ‘policy of continuous addition to the public expenditure.’
Snowden  spoke in the debate urging economy and was cheered by the opposition while Labour members sat in sullen silence.  The Conservatives supported a Liberal amendment and an extra £20 million was agreed for the unemployment insurance fund on condition that an independent committee be set up to advise on how best to achieve reductions in national expenditure .  This was the” May Committee” under the chairmanship of Sir George May, ex chairman of the Prudential Assurance Company. 
Increasingly with the cupboard bare and the government looking more and more incompetent it was landing itself  in the hands of the banks. Bankers’  proposals dominated  the report of the “May Committee “ in the Spring of 1931. What they wanted was a balanced budget – they accepted some increased taxation but in the main they wanted cuts – in wages for some public sector workers and a 20% cut in unemployment benefit. These cuts were opposed by 50% of the Labour cabinet and it looked as if the government was going to have to resign and go into opposition.
MacDonald asked Keynes for his views. Keynes on August 5th, replied in some detail saying Britain should go off the Gold Standard – in other words, floating and allowing the pound to devalue, instead of guaranteeing its exchange rate.
This was heresy to the Treasury and the City. Britain was a great trading nation. World trade was done in Sterling. Governments held reserves in London.  World confidence depended upon the value of Sterling being unshakeable and that depended upon tying it to the price of gold.

Ramsay MacDonald and the formation of a National Government

David Marquand in his biography of MacDonald discusses at length Macdonald’s early attitude towards the possibility of a national government.
Macdonald’s behaviour in late 1930, in Marquand’s opinion, lends little support to the view that Macdonald had been planning for years the fall of the Labour government and its replacement with a National Coalition with himself remaining as Prime Minister, which is a legend that has taken deep root in the Labour Party.
It was  the leaders of the opposition parties – Baldwin and Samuels  who wanted MacDonald to lead a national government in this “time of emergency.” Finally loans from US banks dried up and the government was faced with a crunch decision. Within the Labour Government there was an 11-9 majority against the cuts. Critically the TUC were not prepared to cut unemployment benefit.
The TUC delegation, fired by Walter Citrine, declared they could not acquiesce in ‘new burdens on the unemployed.’ Nor could they agree to other cuts that included cuts in the pay of teachers and policemen.
He suggested a special tax on fixed-interest securities and suspension of revenue payments into the sinking funds and a restructuring of the War Loan Gilt Edged stock.  The meeting broke up without the flicker of an agreement.  Also earlier, the cabinet had decided against a chunk of the unemployment saving.
MacDonald offered his resignation to the King and was turned down.
On the basis of the plan of the opposition leaders he stayed on and led a National Government with Tory and Liberal support. Arthur Henderson was elected as leader of the Labour Party and  those MPs who joined the National Government including MacDonald were expelled from the Party. The cuts were carried though but were not enough to stop the run on the pound. Finally sterling was taken off the Gold Standard and devalued by 25% - a measure which the City of London had previously said was impossible.
In 1931 a General Election was called and the National Government won by a landslide. MacDonald who had been in the Labour Party since its foundation drifted away from political life and died. In 1935 Baldwin led the Tories to win a general election in spite of some recovery by Labour.

John Burns

The final speaker was Alan Spence, member of the Labour Heritage Committee. Alan had been an activist in the AEU and when retired completed a degree in architecture at London University. He spoke on John Burns and his role in the Housing and Town Country Planning Act of 1909. This Act which initiated the New Towns programme has its centenary this year. John Burns had been an MP since the 1890s, with Labour and Liberal Support. The concept of new towns  had its roots in the ideas of Robert Owen and his ideals of community and co-operation. Burns was involved in the setting up of Letchworth Garden City, along with William Morris and a couple of architects. Letchworth Garden City owned its own land and the proceeds could be ploughed back into the infrastructure. He was also involved with the establishment of Hampstead Garden City.  In 1910 he attended an international conference, including 1500 delegates from all other the world.
Alan also spoke of the role of John Burns in the trades union movement as one of the leaders of the dock strike of 1889 and in campaigning for trades union funds to be free from employers suing for damages.
Members of the audience from Battersea pointed out that John  Burns had also been involved with the building of the Latchmere Estate in Battersea back in 1903. The estate still exists with good housing.

The AGM elected new officers for the year and had reports on Labour Heritage activities throughout the year, including events in Essex and West London. Two bulletins had been produced with material from different parts of the country such as Cornwall.

More on the 1929-1931 Labour Government

Ramsay MacDonald and National Labour

In August 1931, when Ramsay MacDonald formed his National Government with the Conservatives and Liberals, it was noticeable that, apart from MacDonald himself, Snowden (the Chancellor) and  Thomas (Dominions), few of the Labour MPs who supported him were from a working class background.   In September 1931, in the vote of confidence on the new National Government, out of more than 280 Labour MPs, only 12 voted in the Government lobby and a further 5 abstained (including  Strauss (Lambeth North).   MacDonald and his supporters were expelled from the Labour Party.

The Election of 1931

MacDonald's National Labour Party fielded 21 candidates.   Of his supporters in the outgoing House, Frank Markham (Rochester Chatham) did not contest the election and Philip Snowden was elevated  to the Lords.   Three  of the MPs who had supported MacDonald were defeated:   Church (London University); The  Sir Frank Jowitt (Combined English Universities) and Derwent Hall-Caine  who was defeated at Liverpool (Everton) in a three cornered contest against Labour and the Conservatives (who won the seat).   The 13 National Labour MPs elected represented only a tiny proportion of the more than 550 MPs elected as supporters of the National Government. 
The three National Labour MPs who had not sat in the previous House  were Abraham Flint at Ilkeston where his majority was 2, Francis Palmer at Tottenham South and Sir John Worthington in the Forest of Dean.

The period  1931-1935

During this period the  Craigie Aitchison was appointed Lord Justice Clerk.   In  November 1933 the by-election at Kilmarnock was won by another National Labour member, Kenneth Lindsay with a majority of 2,653 against Labour, ILP and SNP opponents.   The only other by-election contested by National Labour before the 1935 general election was at Lambeth North in October 1934 where Labour gained the seat from the Liberals with 11,287 votes, the Liberals secured 4,968 and Frank Markham for National Labour  was third with 2,923.   Ramsay MacDonald retired as Prime Minister in June 1935, but continued in the Cabinet as Lord President of the Council.   The election of November 1935 was fought by  National Labour as a component of the National Government under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin.

The Election of November 1935

National Labour stood in 20 constituencies, but only 8 candidates were successful.   Five of their sitting MPs were defeated: most spectacularly Ramsay MacDonald himself by  Emanuel Shinwell at Seaham by a majority of 20,498; Malcolm MacDonald by 1,139 votes at Bassetlaw; Sir George Gillett by 2,808 votes at Finsbury;   Francis Palmer by 4,613 votes at Tottenham South and Sir John Worthington  by 4,431 in the Forest of Dean.   Abraham Flint did not seek re-election at Ilkeston and a National candidate, selected in his place, was defeated by Labour.  Halford Knight did not contest Nottingham South and was replaced by Frank Markham.   The sole gain by National Labour was at Leicester West where, with Conservative support,  Harold Nicolson gained the seat from the Liberals with a majority of 87 over the Labour candidate.  Two of the unsuccessful National Labour candidates were subsequently elected as Conservative MPs.   Frederick Burden (1905-87) was unsuccessful at South Shields in 1935 but became a Tory MP in 1950.   Leslie Thomas (1906-71) (son of Jimmy Thomas) was unsuccessful at Leek but became a Tory MP in  1953.   Another unsuccessful National Labour candidate in 1935 was the Reverend  Herbert Dunnico (1876-1953) who was Labour MP for Consett  1922-31.   He fought the 1931 election as a Labour candidate but subsequently supported MacDonald  and contested Wednesbury  in 1935.

National Labour in decline 1935-1939

During this period, National Labour contested five by-elections.   In January 1936, Ramsay MacDonald was returned for the Combined Scottish Universities (when he died in 1937 his seat was taken by Sir John Anderson who stood as a National candidate).   Malcolm MacDonald was returned  for Ross and Cromarty at a by-election in February 1936.   When  Thomas resigned his  Derby seat,  Church stood for National Labour in the by-election held in July 1936, but he was defeated by Philip Noel-Baker for Labour by 2,753 votes.    Lovat-Fraser the MP for Lichfield died and  in the by-election held in May 1938 the Labour candidate (Cecil Poole) gained the seat  with a majority of 826 over the National Labour candidate  Beresford Craddock (1898-1976)  who was to become a Tory MP in 1950.   At the start of the war Sir Samuel Rosbotham the National Labour MP for Ormskirk resigned and his place was taken, unopposed, by Commander  King-Hall.

National Labour in the War Time Coalition Government and the end of the Party

When Churchill formed his Coalition Government in 1940  Malcolm MacDonald was retained in the Government as Minister of Health and  Harold Nicolson was appointed for a while as junior Minister at the Ministry of Information.   The Party seemed to have no future, so, in 1943, after discussion between Earl De La Warr the Chairman and its MPs, it was decided that the Party should be disbanded and that its remaining  MPs should sit as National members .

The 1945 election and the former National Labour MPs

Of the 7 National (formerly National Labour) MPs at the dissolution only one was returned at the election.   Kenneth Lindsay left Kilmarnock and was elected  for the Combined English Universities as an Independent.  Three of the MPs retired- Sir Ernest Bennett, Richard Denman, and Malcolm MacDonald.   The other three were defeated: Stephen King-Hall standing as a National Independent by Harold Wilson at Ormskirk;   Harold Nicolson and Frank Markham standing as National candidates  at Leicester West and Nottingham South.   Former National Labour candidates were also unsuccessful:  Church stood as an Independent National candidate at Tottenham South and Beresford Craddock again contested Lichfield, this time as a National candidate.

The fortunes of former National Labour supporters

The most outstandingly successful was Frank Jowitt.   He had a glittering career after returning to Labour and re-entering the House in 1939.   He held ministerial office throughout Churchill's coalition Government and was then Attlee's Lord Chancellor from 1945-51. Three of the former candidates became Tory MPs, Frederick Burden serving until 1983.   Harold Nicolson was not so lucky.   He joined the Labour Party and contested the Croydon North by-election in March 1948 where, although he increased the Labour vote, he was heavily defeated and then returned to his literary activities.


Various editions of Dod's Parliamentary Companion;  David Marquand's biography of Ramsay MacDonald and Craig's election results 1918-70

Terence Chapman

What happened in 1931

The economic crisis which brought down the Labour Government in August 1931 was the result of speculation by the UK bankers, which led to a run on gold reserves and of which the government was apparently unaware. The 1929/31 government and its Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden had carried out an economic policy which met with the approval of the bankers in the UK and US and had maintained the Gold Standard at all costs,
An article in the Bankers magazine published by the American Association of Bankers declared full confidence in Snowden. And the May Committee and illustrated the hostility of the bankers in 1929 to any form of nationalisation or government control.
“A few months ago the threats of extremists in the Labour or Socialistic Party to bring about the nationalisation of banking excited real anxiety as to the possibilities of an agitation calculated to bring impair our banking and credit system, but it is now assumed that Ministers with all the responsibilities of office may be trusted to see that the Committee is composed of capable and worthy members and that the inquiry is carried out on lines which shall leave no doubt that National and not Party interests are desired.”

In a letter to the electors of Seaham urging them to vote for the Labour candidate and against the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, in the general election of October 1931
Beatrice Webb wrote
“The crisis was, in reality, a very simple matter. A few dozen financial firms in the City of London have long done a profitable business by taking care of the money of foreign bankers and traders, and paying them interest on these temporary current balances – just as  the Post Office Savings Bank does with your own savings. These financial firms, however, unlike the Post Office Savings Bank, had been tempted by their eagerness for profit to lend the money entrusted to them to various bankers and manufacturers in Germany and Austria at high rates of interest. All these transactions were kept secret, so that neither the Government or the Bank of England, nor  even any one of these financial firms themselves knew how much was the total for which the City of London had made itself responsible.
When the owners of this money asked for its return, the financial firms who had undertaken to repay it on demand, found that they could not get back from Germany and Austria the sums they had lent and therefore they were driven to draw gold from the Bank of England in order to meet their obligations.”
“In order to keep a sufficient stock of gold the Bank of England itself borrowed no less than fifty million pounds from American bankers; but even this did not stop the drain.”
This was when the government was called in to help out amidst scare stories of a run on gold. American bankers offered to step in only if the government balanced the budget – by cutting unemployment relief as the opposition Liberal and Tory parties had been demanding. Beatrice Webb was not alone in believing that the reason why the American banks were imposing this condition was
“Because the capitalists of the United States are to-day confronted with something like ten millions of unemployed workers , to whom they are sternly refusing any State maintenance; and they were desperately anxious to discredit among their own people, the British system of Unemployment Insurance.
The drain on gold reserves in August 1931 had nothing to do with the level of unemployment benefit and the inability of the government to balance the budget. It was used to pressurise the government. Once Labour had been defeated the Gold Standard was abandoned. It has also been suggested that loans from American banks were not necessary and that a domestic loan could have been obtained on better conditions.

More on Ramsay MacDonald

MacDonald launched his “National Government” with no consultation with the rest of the Labour Cabinet who had tendered their resignations. In the ensuing General Election he spearheaded a vicious anti-Labour campaign aimed at “smashing the Labour Party”. Sidney Webb, himself a member of the 1929-1931 Labour Cabinet  ponders his motivation. In a controversial article written in the Political quarterly” in 1932 he tries to set the record straight on “What happened in 1931?”. He asks “Why did Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, after thirty years upbuilding of the British Labour Party, decide to do his best to smash it, going over with a couple of his principal colleagues, and a mere handful of his Party to a Coalition of Conservatives and Liberals”. MacDonald was not a Blair figure who joined the Party by chance. However the Webbs believed that he had become estranged from the Labour Party including his cabinet colleagues over a long period of time. He did not socialise with them, preferring aristocratic company. He suggests that the formation of a National Government had been in his mind well before the night of August 24th when MacDonald was called to the Palace with the leaders of the Conservatives and Liberals. This interpretation of events was hotly challenged by MacDonald’s son. But the growing alienation of MacDonald from the Party that he led had been noted by Beatrice Webb many years before.
In 1925 the entry in one of her diaries reads
“JRM is an egotist, a poseur, and snob, and worst of all, he does not believe in the creed we have always preached – he is not a socialist and has not been one for twenty years, he is a mild radical with individual leanings and aristocratic tastes.”
At the time of the 1924 Labour Government the dangers of the trappings of office for Labour MPs and she warned about social climbers. She says “I do not want the PLP to become the plaything of London Society..”. But leaders such as JRM continued to be more at home in the castles of the rich than amongst his own colleagues, still less among the ranks of the labour movement. She also thought that JRM was keen to get rid of his opposition – not the Tories or Liberals but the ILP!
The election campaign waged in October 1931 saw the whole of the political establishment in the UK gunning for Labour – false claims were made that a Labour Government would expropriate Post Office Savings Accounts to pay for the unemployed. But in spite of this the Party’s vote went down only by one million votes from 1929 – 8 to 7 million. However the electoral system ensured that the loss of seats was catastrophic – Labour lost 215 seats.
Webb concluded that the Party had not been “smashed” and that it had been consolidated and purified. It was still only a quarter of a century old and “its growth in that time to nearly one-third of the nation is little short of marvellous”. But lessons had to be learnt – the hazards of taking office as a minority government. The strength of the British capitalist class when united. The need to gain majority support from the working class before a radical programme could be carried out. Perhaps even the “inevitability of gradualness” was under question as the world capitalist system had plunged into crisis.
In the meantime the rest of the world watched astonished at the political drama of 1931 and saw JRM and his fellow ministers who followed him into a national government, decisively ditched by the labour movement.

From the diaries and letters of Beatrice and Sidney Webb.
“What happened in 1931” by Sidney Webb, Political quarterly 1932.
Bankers’ insurance managers’  and agents’ magazine- article entitled “A banking inquiry” in November 1929.

Barbara Humphries

 The Labour Party and the Community in the 1930s and 1940s. 
   I first delivered leaflets when I was ten in 1945 in the Heston ward of the then Heston & Isleworth Constituency in Middlesex.  The Ward was a safe Conservative seat with only a few council houses yet the Labour Party had over 400 members and ran a thriving social programme of monthly 'socials' in the village hall, a summer coach trip to the seaside, whist drives, a Christmas children's party and a pantomime outing. The membership was a mixture of professional people and trade unionists who worked on the railways or in the local factories.  The Ward had a Women's Section and for a couple of years a Labour League of Youth.
 In the 1930s and 1940s many local Labour Parties, like the Heston Ward Labour Party, ran thriving social programmes that attracted members and support, and I recently came across the following report in the Brentford & Chiswick Times of an event in Brentford in 1933 that illustrates how the party managed to mix social activity with politics.

The Labour Party annual social evening & dance

 This  was an  annual event of the Brentford & Chiswick Labour Party at  the Baths Hall, Clifden Road

There was a bright and cheery atmosphere thanks to the band of helpers who worked all day to prepare for the event.  Gaily coloured streamers hung from the walls in party colours and at the back of the stage was the banner which was carried by the local contingent to the big demonstration in Hyde Park last Sunday.
300 people were present and a concert programme started the evening. ‘Tich Hall’, Brentford’s own comedian, raised laughs as did Mr Beardsell who did a most amusing female impersonation act. 
Other acts included Kitty Rodger & Branden – two charming singing sisters, Eddy Brown on the fiddle, W. Fowler on the concertina.  Mr Rowntree played pianoforte solos with a pleasing touch and there was a lively selection by the Burlington Banjoists.  A close student of bird life must be Mr Harold West, who cleverly imitated the notes of many of the feathered varieties, including the canary and the nightingale.
After refreshments, there was dancing to music played by the Savoy Syncopaters.
The Chairman of the party – Charlie Van Ryne – in a brief address, said he was pleased to see such enthusiasm. ‘At last the meetings at the corner of Ealing Road had borne fruit. At the last General Election, the Labour Party was told by some of the daily papers that it was a demoralised party. The attendance at this social is a fitting answer.  The present National Government is the worst government this country has ever seen. It is obvious that nothing can be expected under the capitalist system. As long as the machine is master of the man, the man must be subservient to the machine and it is the human element that suffers.  The day will eventually come when man will take over control of the machines for the benefit of mankind.
‘We have been told that the Labour Party does not love its country.  The Socialist is the finest type of patriot. He loves his country so much that he wants to own it.  Ruling does not belong to one class at all; it is the job of citizenship. I don’t know whether we are protesting against the activity or the inactivity of the government – I think we are protesting against both.
‘Socialists have laid  down for years that if a man or woman fell out of work through no fault of their own, it is the duty of society to see they do not suffer.
‘I believe there is a new tide coming in and I hope it will not be a tide of people who are merely tired of the Tory government and ready for Socialism.  I want them to be convinced people of the working classes who realise that there is no hope until a new system is introduced.
‘Welcome to all of you here tonight and I invite any of you who are not already members to join the Labour Party at once and give your earnest support to the party’s cause.’
Florence Davy
Florence Davy, who was active in Labour Heritage from its foundation and whose life was featured in Labour Heritage Women’s Research Bulletin No. 2 (1987), died at the age of 96 on 17th July, 2009, at Cenarth, Pembroke Ferry, West Wales.  Born in Hackney on 13th February, 1913, the daughter of George Charles Sills, a postman, and his wife Alice, her earliest memory was of a Zeppelin raid, which killed an aunt.  Though not personally a victim, she witnessed a great deal of hardship and deprivation as a child and spoke for the Labour Party while still a pupil at Cassland Road School.
At 18 years of age, she became a member of the Party and helped to form Hackney Labour League of Youth.  In 1934, she appeared in the Pageant of Labour at the Crystal Palace and at 24 years of age, in 1937, she was elected to Hackney Borough council.  She joined the Co-operative Party in the same year.  While working at the London Telephone Service she became a member of the Union of Post Office Workers and served on the London District Committee, as an organiser and on a National Tribunal.
During World War II, Florence campaigned on the Council for deep bombproof shelters and, in 1945, she worked for a Labour victory in the General Election.  However, as she had married and had given birth to a daughter, Pauline, in 1943, she ceased to be a Councillor in 1946.
She now trained as a teacher and taught in Cassland Road and other Hackney schools after qualifying in 1949.  She became an active member of the East London Teachers’ Association (NUT) and she served as a delegate to Bethnal Green and Stepney Trades Council.  She remained active in the Labour Party, nonetheless, and took part in demonstrations against the Suez expedition and in CND marches to Aldermaston.  After undergoing training as an election agent, she was a key worker in Stoke Newington in the 1964 General Election.
In 1963, Florence was elected to the London Co-operative Society’s Education Committee and subsequently to the Management Committee (serving a period as Vice-Chair) until retirement in 1980.
Unfortunately, Florence’s marriage broke up and she later married Jim Davy, a pacifist, a participant in Labour Party activities, and a member of Holy Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir.  They moved to Theydon Bois in the 1970s and became active in Epping Local Labour Party, where Florence was elected to the chair.
They retained their Hackney connections, however, and contributed to the rehabilitation of Sutton House, a historic mansion taken over by the Friends of Historic Hackney.  They were also deeply interested in the history of London and of the Labour movement, on which they collected many books.  Florence was a member of Labour Heritage’s Committee for a number of years, and participated in many of our activities.

Jim died in 2002 and Florence moved, towards the end of 2008, to a residential home in Wales, because of physical infirmity.  However, she retained her interest and  political commitment to within days of her death.  Her funeral took place Park Gwyn Crematorium, Narberth, on Friday, 24th July.  She is survived by her daughter Pauline and husband, David, and two granddaughters.

Stan Newens

Ian Grimwood

Labour Heritage member Ian Grimwood died suddenly on April 13th aged 63. He was deeply rooted in his home town of Ipswich and in the labour movement.
He had been a Labour member of Ipswich Borough Council (1972-74 and 1986-2006) and of Suffolk County Council (1973-77) and was Mayor of Ipswich from 1994-1995. He was also a director of the East of England Co-operative Society, and a member of the Co-operative Party, the Fabian Society, and the Transport and General Workers Union/UNITE; and he was a devoted supporter of Ipswich Town Football Club.
After studying at the University of Essex in his early thirties, he maintained a keen interest in political history, both local and national. Prior to his death he was working on a biography of Dick Stopes, MP for Ipswich 1938-57. An article written by him was published in the Spring 2009 edition of the Labour Heritage Bulletin. By then his publications included – “Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst”, “The aftermath of Munich”, “Ipswich and its mayors”, “Linking events through the ages”, and “A little chit of a fellow: a biography of the Rt.Hon.Leslie Hae-Belisha”.
Sadly he did not live to see the publication in May of this year of his essay  -“The rise of the Labour Party in Ipswich”. This appears in the Labour Heritage volume “Labour in the East”.
He was a prime mover in this project and his co-authors have dedicated the book to his memory as a valued friend and colleague.

John Gyford

Book reviews

Review of The Newer Eve: Women, Feminists and the Labour Party

By Christine Collette, Palgrave Macmillan,
2009. ISBN13:978-0-230-22214-4

‘Who knows the gifts that you shall give
Daughter of the Newer Eve?’

Do women have some ‘special gifts’ to offer the socialist struggle? Mrs K.M. Shailes’ stirring words to the 1945 National Conference of Labour Women express this belief  and inspire Christine Collette’s title.
The word ‘and’ is significant in the title – ie the introduction suggests that a study of women ‘in’  the Labour party would be a very different history because ’as part and parcel of the Party there were less able to act autonomously as women.’
Instead, Christine Collette’s focus is a fascinating and neglected aspect of labour history – that of the independent women’s groups, affiliated to the Labour Party, which existed continuously from 1906 to 1993. I was left with enormous respect for these dedicated, mainly forgotten women whose achievements paved the way for later gains.
With this focus, she explores how women’s special contribution could be put into practice through the Labour Party; and how Labour women were both influenced by and contributed to feminist theory and practice.

Women’s groups

Three women’s organisations are described and evaluated:  the Women’s Labour League (WLL) 1906-1918, the Standing Joint Committee of Working Women’s Organisations(SJC) 1916-1953, and the National Joint Committee of Working Women’s Organisations (NJC) 1953-93. Many members of these were also Labour Party members and activists, (particularly the SJC),  but the organisations themselves were distinct from the party.
Interleaved with the detailed historical material on the WLL and SJC are five  ‘stand alone’ autobiographical accounts and biographies of a variety of women, and I found this brought the material to life. Some of these pieces, for example Irene Wagner’s moving account, first appeared in Labour Heritage Women’s Research Committee Bulletins. I think the densely packed NJC section could have benefited from a similar structure,  although the reader is rewarded at the end of it with a lighter-hearted section on Christine’s own experience as a parliamentary candidate in Witney.

Women’s Labour League (WLL),1906-1918

 Mary Fenton MacPherson of the Railway Women’s Guild is credited as first promoting the idea of a women’s Labour organisation attached to the Labour Representation Committee, modelled on the guild as a nationwide group run by women for women.  Despite initially receiving resounding indifference, it was not long till there was a resolution at the LRC’s 1905 conference that wherever an LRC parliamentary candidate was standing, a local women’s organisation should be formed.  Further work eventually led to the founding of the WLL on 9th March 1906 at a meeting in the home of Margaret MacDonald (wife of Ramsay MacDonald) who became the first WLL President. Local branches rapidly grew, reaching 250 in by 1907, and 770 by 1908.
WLL’s objects were ‘to work for independent Labour representation in connection with the Labour Party’ and  ‘direct representation of women in parliament and on local bodies.’  It proved to be a delicate balance to negotiate affiliation with the Labour Party ie to preserve autonomy and  to work with the Party.  However, a change of LP constitution to enable WLL affiliation was eventually agreed at the 1908 Party Conference, with Keir Hardie speaking in favour.
It was interesting to read of the strategies evolved within the WLL to reach women in areas where they had traditionally been exclude from politics eg in rural colliery districts. A quotation from Newcastle activist Lisbeth Simm advocates that each member ‘by persistent persuasion, visitation, leaflets and personal talks’ would recruit one other member each year. She suggested nursing mothers  could be reached ‘by means of a cup of tea and talk about the care of babies.’
There were links with suffrage groups, and many WLL members also belonged to NUWSS (the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) -  but WLL did not need to duplicate their campaign. Christine points out for example that the WLL was successfully ensuring the election of women to parish, district, county and borough councils. 
WLL’s biggest single campaign was to achieve free school meals provision.  The 1906 Education Act  enabled local authorities to provide meals, but it was not compulsory and rarely acted on.  A wealth of petitions and market place gatherings organised by WLL local branches sought to persuade local councils of the need. Women elected to local Poor Law Boards of Guardians were significant in shifting the philosophy of attributing poverty to individual failure, to a more radical philosophy which acknowledged that poverty was due to environment and social conditions.

Standing Joint Industrial Women’s Committee (SJC) 1916-1953

The first world war ‘shattered the known landmarks of the political ground in Europe. WLL condemned the triumph of militarism: ‘Every soldier slain left a woman desolate’ and had pacifist members, however within a few months its Executive had accepted ‘that there is no ground on which we can adopt a policy of opposition to the war.’ 
There was a great shift in women’s employment pattern during the war; by 1915 women were increasingly being employed in industry, including many trades previously restricted to men, and large numbers joined trade unions. In 1916, the SJC was founded to address the concerns of industrial women; it  comprised representation from the WLL, the Co-operative Women’s Guild and several women’s trade  unions.  By 1918, it had also achieved recognition as a national women’s advisory committee to the Labour Party – thus achieving a longstanding aim of WWL to have women’s representation within the Labour movement.  SJC evolved as a natural successor to WLL, which voluntarily wound itself up in 1918. 
In the inter-war years, the SJC encouraged women, who now had the vote, to identify with the Labour Party. Women’s membership of the party grew year by year – forming half the membership by 1939.
SJC retained its independent status, and was active in achieving improved working conditions during this period and in forging international links with trade unionists and socialists.

National Joint Council of Working
women’s Organizations (NJC)

It was the huge impact of another war which again led to a re-evaluation of what form of organisation ‘by women for women’ was needed. Although SJC continued to be active during 1939-45, it lost some of its status at the close of war, partly a result of the growth of activity elsewhere – eg in trade union organisation. Also there was a growing strength of women organising within the Labour party and a growth of women’s sections.
The NJC, emerged in 1953, from a revised constitution and renaming of the SJC, and retained Labour Party affiliation. Then followed an interweaving of labour women’s concerns and what was termed the ‘second wave feminism’ – including for example the abortion rights campaigns and the women’s peace movement. Christine Collette argues that ‘it is now generally accepted that the continuity of feminism was underrated …and [there was] a gradual development from currents of feminist thought throughout the 1950s & 1960s.’ There was mounting feminist pressure for change within the Labour Party too.
The NJC ended its existence in 1993, when the new Women’s Committee of the LP National Executive considered women’s representation in the party. In 1997, an unprecedented number of Labour women MPs were elected: great hopes attended this Labour victory. The book’s conclusion raises questions reflecting back on these twelve years.

I recommend this readable and informative book, a concise 189 pages; but at £45 a copy, I’d suggest getting your local library to buy it.   

Linda Shampan

Wreckers or Builders? A History of Labour Members of the European Parliament 1979-99

by Anita Pollack

Publication: 2 October 2009. Place advance orders with Turpin Distribution Services (+44 (0) 1767 604 951) for free delivery to anywhere in Europe. Book costs 27 euro (£20 in UK) when ordered from Turpin. Quote ISBN 978-0-9556202-9-4

From the Foreword by NEIL KINNOCK:

"At last we have a history of Labour MEPs in the first twenty years of the directly elected Parliament... a well-researched record – warts and all – of the period when Labour in the European Parliament grew from 17 to 62 Members and Labour’s policy on the EU changed from withdrawal to committed support for membership and reforms...
From the leadership of Barbara Castle to the Labour Government of Tony Blair, fascinating stories emerge of a Labour group which mixed members who were hell-bent on fundamentalist anti-Europeanism with mainstream European social democrats; of a long Labour march from the devastating defeat of 1979, through the advances of the 80s and early 90s, to the landslide victory of 1997; and of a growing Labour contribution to the joint efforts of the Socialist group to promote progressive policies..."

Review of  MARCHING TO THE FAULT LINE: The 1984 Miners’ Strike and the Death of Industrial Britain  by Francis Beckett and David Hencke
[Constable, London 2009]    
[ISBN 978-1-84529-614-8]

A quarter of a century after the miners’ strike of 1984-85, the full results of the conflict have emerged and much inside information has come to light.  A serious history and full assessment is therefore to be welcomed.  This, Francis Beckett and David Hencke have sought to provide in their book, Marching to the Fault Line.

The costs that they estimate are truly horrendous.  Those incurred at the time they estimate at over £5 billion.  However, the effective destruction of the coal industry has resulted in an annual importation of 40 to 50 million tons of coal which could have been produced in this country.  Huge reserves of coal have been sealed off and the burden on Britain’s serious trade deficit is ongoing.  The clean coal combustion programme – at the time, the most advanced in the world – was abandoned.  Meanwhile, the number of jobs in the industry fell from 170,000 to 3,000 with devastating effects on mining communities and mining families.
The evidence cited by the authors underlines the fact that Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservative government expected and prepared for a showdown with the National Union of Miners.  When the closure of Cortonwood Colliery was announced in March 1984 – actually, by mistake and contrary to previous National Coal Board promises – Sir Ian Macgregor, who had been installed by the Tory government to head the NCB, was about to announce closures expected to produce 20,000 redundancies.
A stoppage in opposition to this was inevitable, but Macgregor went to the Courts and Thatcher introduced aggressive police action to try to prevent the strike spreading.  Nottinghamshire was the week link in the NUM’s plan for a national shutdown, just as it was in 1926 when the non-militant Spencer union was formed.

National ballot

The NUM Rule Book (rule 43) required a national ballot to be held before a national strike could be held, but the NUM EC under Arthur Scargill’s leadership decided to seek to achieve a cessation of production by mass picketing.  This was countered by a Government decision to bring in massive numbers of police armed with dogs and full riot gear, plus a contingent of mounted officers.
This led to violent clashes which came to a head at Orgreave Colliery in May 1984, when there were cavalry-style charges by the police and hundreds of arrests and injuries.  Arthur Scargill was himself knocked down and taken to hospital.
The overwhelming brute force mustered by the police not surprisingly prevailed, and it was accompanied by a media campaign designed to put all the blame on the miners.  The BBC even reversed the order of events filmed at Orgreave to make it appear that the police just responded when attacked by the miners, although the opposite was the case.
When it became clear that the police were being deployed in such numbers that the pickets could not win, the Labour Party and the TUC tried to intervene to seek a compromise, but Arthur Scargill insisted that the closure programme had to be withdrawn before he would talk.  He still believed that the miners could win.
Beckett and Hencke suggest that Mick McGahey, the leading communist, and other key left-wingers, were unhappy with NUM tactics but were not properly consulted by the President.  The authors chronicle a number of attempts that were made to open negotiations with a view to seeking a compromise.  Stan Orme, MP, the Shadow Industry Minister, tried.  Bill Keys, General Secretary of SOGAT, established contacts with Willie Whitelaw, MP.  Len Murray, General Secretary of the TUC, and his successor, Norman Willis, plus a range of trade union leaders – many on the left – undertook a variety of initiatives designed to create the opportunity for a settlement.

Was defeat inevitable?

It was not, however, just Arthur Scargill’s refusal to recognise that victory was not within the miners’ grasp which prevented a deal.  Margaret Thatcher and her immediate circle were determined to inflict a decisive defeat on the NUM and the trade union movement as a whole, whatever the cost.
Seumas Milne who, earlier, wrote a splendid account of the strike, The Enemy Within, (Verso 1994), attacked Marching to the Fault Line in a Guardian review (21.3.2009) on the grounds that “their overwhelmingly cartoonish and contemptuous treatment of the NUM leaders’ role undermined the credibility of their book”.
It is, however, difficult to refrain from all criticism of Arthur Scargill’s leadership, whether or not exception is taken to some aspects of its expression.  He was, without doubt, a dedicated leader, an inspiring orator, and a man of great courage, but leaders should be capable of recognising when it is politic to make a strategic withdrawal to preserve their forces.
There can be no avoidance of the fact that the Conservative Government was hell bent on destroying the power of trade unions.  Similarly, it was clear that the press and the media in general were out to demonise the miners’ President.  Even in 1990, the Daily Mirror embarked on a campaign to suggest that Arthur Scargill and others had pocketed large sums of money donated for support of the strikers.  Roy Greenslade, editor of the Daily Mirror at that time, wrote an article in the Guardian (27.5.2002) in which he stated there was no foundation for the Mirror’s allegations and apologised profusely to Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield.
Taking all this into account, we still need to ask ourselves whether abject defeat for that is what it was – could have been avoided.

This book deals with all these issues and provides an extremely informative account of the strike.  For those of us who were wholly committed to the miners’ cause and continue to regard it as a tragic defeat for our movement, there are aspects of the authors’ approach which grate.  I do not accept the finality of the suggestion made in the opening lines that Britain after the strike is fundamentally different from what it was before.  This is, however, an important study and I would advise anyone seriously interested in the history of the British Labour Movement to read it and ponder at length over the course of the struggle and its consequences.  Our movement should never forget what occurred, and seek to learn from it.

Stan Newens

400th birthday of Gerrard Winstanley
This year marks the 400th birthday of Gerrard Winstanley, the 17th century Christian radical who led the Diggers on St George's Hill and Little Heath, Cobham.
To mark this event a plaque is to be put up in St Andrew's parish church, Cobham where Winstanley served as a Churchwarden and Overseer of the Poor. The plaque was unveiled during the morning of Saturday 12th September as part of Cobham Heritage Day. On the next day, Sunday 13th September, Professor Chris Rowland, Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scriptutre at The Queens College Oxford and a well known speaker and writer on Radical Christianity, preached at the morning service  on a theme related to Winstanley and his message for us today.  David Taylor
The Working Class Movement Library has opened a  permanent   display and exhibition area which is open to the public without charge.

The library  is one of the most important collections in Britain  on the history of working class struggles for political and social change and progress. It was founded by Ruth and Edmund  Frow in their own home in Old Trafford in  the mid 1950s and now fills 40 rooms in a former Edwardian nurses home on The Crescent,  Salford. The collection includes books, newspapers, banners, posters, photographs and much else besides. There  are important  collections on Peterloo, the Chartists including the plug riots in 1842 in Stalybridge,  the suffragettes and suffragists,  the General Strike, the Spanish  Civil War, the Miners Strike and other key historical episodes. 
The library was recently  used recent by well-known historian Tristram Hunt for his forthcoming  biography on Frederick Engels.
The library  has now opened a display and exhibition area which is open to the public without booking Wednesday to Friday 1pm-5pm. Just ring the bell!. For other times , please book  in advance on 0161-736-3601. The displays comprise  unique items from the library’s extensive collection.
An exhibition, opened by Tony Benn in January 2009, looks at the long campaign for Old Age Pensions. These were first paid in January 1909 and often attributed to the generosity of the Chancellor, David Lloyd George. The exhibition uncovers  the largely  forgotten campaign  by trade unions over many years  for a state pension as an alternative to the workhouse. It includes original documents, photographs and text.
The library is located at 51 Crescent Salford M5. email: website:

Friends of the library include broadcaster Stuart Macconie, writer Jimmy McGovern, actor Christopher Eccleston, actresses Maxine Peake and Noreen Kershaw and playwrights Alan Plater and Arnold wesker.

The library is a charitable trust and has received a grant from Heritage Lottery Fund to complete  the cataloguing and  do educational work with local schools in Salford.