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BRITISH POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT SINCE 1900 SOCIAL CLASS, SOCIALISM AND THE RISE OF THE LABOUR PARTY Traditionalism, conservatism and class collaboration account for the failure of the Labour Movement to form a viable political party before 1914. Do you agree?
The Development of British Socialism, 1900-1918: D. Tanner
- 'Labour' politics was influenced by:
- The protective and conservative aims of the trade unions.
- The Liberal origins of many Labour leaders.
- The naive ethical socialism espoused by many within the party.
- Pre-existing social structures which limited horizons and aims.
- The integration of British labour into the nation state.
- Arguably, Labour had ideas of its own before 1914.
- It remained a union pressure group into the 1920s.
- Its new ideas in the 1930s owed much to Liberalism.
- The party was less susceptible to Marxist ideas that its European equivalents.
- Labour's democratic socialism emerged from their perception of the economic and social realities of the day - not some abstract concept of 'liberalism'1.
- Labour demands prior to 1914 focused on improving working conditions and reducing unemployment. The minimum wage, 48hr week, and 8hr day were important but sectional policies which marked Labour as a party without the thinking necessary for broad electoral appeal2.
- Macdonald argued that the transition to State ownership of industry was aided by capitalist competition and its tendency to create large, efficient companies - which could then be nationalised. The First Labour Party, 1906-1914: K. D. Brown
- Ideology and composition:
- Labour nominated only 15 candidates at the 1900 election, and only two were returned - Keir Hardie and Richard Bell. They represented the two main strands of the Labour party3.
- Hardie - chairman of the ILP and a leading socialist thinker and speaker.
- Bell - unionist leader, not socialist but interested in representing the aspirations of the working class.
- The former defeated a Liberal opponent, whilst the latter was elected with Liberal assistance.
- 30 Labour MPs were elected in 1906.
- 22 were supported by unions and 8 by the ILP.
- The average age of members was 46, and most had entered politics on the radical wing of the Liberal party4. Impact of Lib/Labs on the Labour party? Problems associated with having to share the 'progressive' vote?
- Labour lost 4 by-elections between 1912-14, three of them the result of rebounding Liberal 1 The Development of British Socialism, 1900-1918: D. Tanner 2 The Development of British Socialism, 1900-1918: D. Tanner 3 The First Labour Party, 1906-1914: K.D. Brown 4 The First Labour Party, 1906-1914: K.D. Brown
- In 1914 the British Socialist Party applied for affiliation with Labour - a sign of the Left's consolidation.
- Did Labour's reliance on Union support mean its interests were too narrow to garner broad electoral support? Unions were growing in membership and influence, and their support was vital to the success of the party both at Westminster and nationally.
- Labour and the Trade Unions:
- In the 15 years before the First World War, lib-lab union politics was replaced by socialist labourism. This was despite efforts to maintain the old system and to construct conservative trade unions.
- 1908 - MFGB affiliated with the Labour Party.
- Many unions were fearful of socialism, particularly Bell's ASRS.
- Members' apathy towards the political levy limited the instance of union supported MPs in the years before 1914. The 1913 Trade Union Act resulted in significantly increased contributions being received.
- The PLP was a passive actor after 1910, as many of its aims were being advanced by the Liberal party. The People's Budget and subsequent Lords reform temporarily overshadowed the Labour party.
- The Edwardian Labour Party:
- Philip Snowden, Labour MP, said in 1914 that 'the present Labour representation in parliament (was) there mainly by the goodwill of the Liberals.'5 Keir Hardie shared these doubts, fearing that the party was ceasing to count and may soon cease to exist.
- Labour was demonstrating viability in policy making. Labour policy on trade disputes, workmen's compensation, and unemployment relief had all been adopted by the Liberals and enacted.
- The elation after the 1906 electoral advance quickly turned to despondency.
- In rural areas and in London the Labour party hardly existed as a political entity.
- London unions were already represented by the London Trades Council. The London Labour Party did not appear until 1914.
- In 1902, less than a quarter of the Nation's 2million trade union members were affiliated to the Labour Party.
- Desire to repeal Taff Vale, which required legislative action, saw union affiliated double between 1902 and 1904.
- Taff Vale was overturned by the 1906 Trade Disputes Act - a vicarious victory for Labour.
- The 1909 Osborne Judgement rendered union political levies illegal. Labours finances were seriously damaged, though this was partially repealed in 1913.
- Union affiliation peaked and fell slightly. 50% 1910-12. 38% 19146.
- Voting qualification prior to 1918 may have disenfranchised many potential Labour voters.
- Even in 1914, the grass-roots organisation of the Labour party was still patchy.
- Did Labour suffer from internal ideology/policy disagreements?
5 The First Labour Party, 1906-1914: K.D. Brown 6 The First Labour Party, 1906-1914: K.D. Brown
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