Make your own free website on

The imperialist war of 1914-1918 created seismic shifts in British politics. Keir Hardie died soon after the outbreak and Ramsey McDonald resigned as PLP leader. Labour were to have their first representation in Cabinet as Arthur Henderson took a place in Asquith's coalition.

It was the Independent Labour Party's grassroots who were often the most vehement in active opposition to the slaughter. The perpetrators of the 'No Conscription Fellowship,' hundreds were to imprisoned for their attempts to help people avoid the draft. Equally important were the strikes in the war industries. These often boasted members of the British Socialist Party as leaders.

The BSP was a Labour Party affiliate and an organisation that was a direct descendant of the Social Democratic Federation. These strikes sometimes escalated into huge, unofficial disputes involving thousands of workers.

Maintaining some links with the activity outside parliament, Labour was at first able to exploit this situation, as the War Emergency Workers' National Committee cemented Labour's ties with a broad constituency of people, including Sidney Webb. Lloyd George's Coalition needed Labour leaders onboard.

The amount of planning required for war was also seen as providing possible examples for future government. Essentially, the labour movement was now beginning to flex its muscles on the national stage.

Being in such a minority, and as a strictly junior partner, Henderson was eventually to resign in 1918 after Lloyd George humiliated him for suggesting that post-Revolutionary Russia would not remain fighting on the Eastern Front. At this stage in the bloodshed, the desire for peace united the party in antipathy to the fractitious Liberals.

Work started on reconstructing the Party organisation, with Sidney Webb concentrating upon developing a cohesive ideological programme including the new Clause IV. Local parties were created in every constituency which individuals were asked to join, thereby opening the door to women and non-unionised supporters.

The Labour Party was therefore in quite good shape for the Khaki Election of 1918, and duly won a record 57 seats. However, the leadership were wiped out, some for opposing the war.

Included in the 57 was the first Co-op MP who was to take the Labour whip for the following Parliament. The Co-op had seen its members suffer at the hands of the Conscription Boards during the First World War, when they were often the first to be sent away to be killed or wounded. It was because of this that political representation was felt to be needed, in what had previously been an avowedly non-political organisation.


'To secure for the producers by hand and by brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of of the common ownership of the means of production.'

For the index or close window to return to index