unofficial labour party history
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Observing the LRC's by-election successes and the calibre of some of those in the LRC, the Liberals were panicked into an electoral pact with Ramsay MacDonald, who was at that stage the secretary of the LRC. With the LRC reluctant to advocate Socialist policies, for fear of alienating the unions, there was actually little to choose between the two parties. However, in many industrial areas, the Liberals had failed to find working-class candidates, and it was here that the Liberals allowed Labour to run against the Conservatives unopposed. Labour were therefore able to focus upon their heartlands, leaving much of rural England as a contest between Liberals and Conservatives.

The LRC put up 50 candidates in the 1906 election, out of which 29 were returned as MPs. Having shocked Britain and genuinely frightened many in the upper-class, they elected Hardie as their first chairman and MacDonald as secretary, this time of the parliamentary party. It was only shortly afterwards, in February 1906, that the LRC conference took the the name 'The Labour Party.'

The Parliamentary party had a difficult time in the next ten years. Radical thunder was stolen by Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George who introduced pensions, unemployment benefits and free school meals. In addition to this, Keir Hardie's leadership of the PLP looked shaky.

This was underlined by the maverick ILP member Victor Grayson, who stood unofficially in the 1907 Colne Valley by- election and won in defiance of the leadership. This appeared to back his view of the timidity of Labour MPs and the futility of Parliament. Rejecting the Labour whip, Grayson had a brief spell of fame for drawing attention to Liberal disregard and contempt for the unemployed; as reflected in the benefits system.

Whilst these difficulties were confronting Labour in Parliament, branches were being formed across the country, membership rocketed and a central organisation evolved. Various forms of socialism were gaining strength. Syndicalism was in its hey- day. Tom Mann was scorning parliamentary politics in favour of direct industrial action to gain control of the economy.

As waves of strikes shook Britain, the Tonypandy riots saw troops back on the streets in 1910 after a period of late Victorian tranquillity. The actions of Winston Churchill in sending in the troops led Hardie to complain that the Parliamentary Labour Party had almost 'ceased to count.' You can see his response to the voters here.(216Kb)

Suffragettes were also becoming militant, posing a difficulty for Labour, as not all working class men yet had the vote. As individuals, many Party members, such as George Lansbury and Keir Hardie tried to help Sylvia Pankhurst, but collectively, the Labour Party had trouble in supporting a cause that was widely ridiculed in the press at that time.

In 1909 the Osborne Judgement banned to use of union funds for political purposes, weakening its ability to fight the two elections of 1910. This was reversed in 1913 - with the proviso that political funds had to be kept seperate and not used for anything else. This was to have the effect of multiplying Labour's income overnight.


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