From the north-east of England, Henderson grew to prominence in
the Ironfounders as an advocate of industrial arbitration. After
becoming MP for Barnard Castle in 1903, he was temporary chairman
of the PLP from 1908 to 1910 and party secretary in 1911. Although
superficially dull, a will of iron and genuine idealism lurked
underneath a veneer of sober competency.
"Arthur Henderson will stand out as the strongest and most
disinterested of the Labour leaders of 1906-36"
A strong advocate of 'independence' beyond his earlier Lib-
Labbism, he utilised strong administrative skills to build the
organisational structure of the Labour Party. He also lay behind
much of the local branch expansion in the years before the First
World War. This led to Labour being able to fight a far wider
range of seats after the First World War than ever seemed possible
It was largely thanks to his skill that the Osborne Judgement was
circumnavigated by the trade unions' strong endorsement of the
political levy by union after union in 1913.
Henderson worked as secretary of British section of the Second
International before 1914. Even as late as July 1914 he and Keir
Hardie were making efforts through the International to prevent
war. Once Europe ignited and British troops were at stake, the
position of the majority of Labour supporters changed, and
Henderson reflected this. If nothing else, this helped keep the
Labour Party united, as much of the grassroots began the war in
a state of nationalistic fervour.
For the index
or close window to return to index