Posts Tagged ‘Keir Hardie’

Labour Rebels Want to Create Party within a Party, and Corbyn’s Response

July 31, 2016

Mike’s put up two pieces reporting and commenting on the plan of unnamed Labour rebels to set up a separate party within the Labour party against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

It was reported in the Mirror and Torygraph that senior Labour rebels were so convinced that Corbyn would win the leadership, they want to create virtually a second party, with its own shadow cabinet and leader. They would also issue a legal challenge to get control of the Labour party’s name and assets, and would petition John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, to nominate them as the official opposition.

Mike comments that the idea seems ‘hopelessly naive’. He makes the point that if they did carry out their plans, they would disrupt opposition to the Tories, and convince the majority of Labour members and supporters that they are really ‘Red Tories’ – Conservatives in disguise. Any attempt to gain the party’s name and assets would fail without the support of the majority of members. Mike also notes that they are also making a huge assumption that the majority of their rebel MPs would stay with them, when one of them, Sarah Champion, has already recanted and re-joined the Corbynites. He also notes that none of the leaders of this supposed plot have had the courage to reveal their identities, thus demonstrating once again the cowardice that has led their detractors to call them the ‘Chicken Coup’. And without knowing their identities, for all we know the story may have been made up by the Mirror and Torygraph. He concludes by stating that the only thing this will do is undermine Owen Smith’s own bid for the leadership.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/30/contempt-for-democracy-labour-rebels-plan-to-start-their-own-party-within-a-party/

Later yesterday Mike also put up a piece from the Groaniad, reporting Corbyn and McDonnell’s response to news of the plot. Corbyn said

“We are getting into some fairly bizarre territory here where unnamed MPs, funded from unnamed sources, are apparently trying to challenge – via the Daily Telegraph, very interesting – the very existence of this party.”

He stated that the Labour party was founded by pioneers, brave people, and that under the registration of parties act, they are the Labour party. There isn’t another, and he was very proud to be the leader of the Labour party. He also stated that it was nonsense that his leadership could cause a split, as membership had doubled since he became leader, and activity had increased.

McDonnell urged Smith to condemn the minority of MPs supporting his campaign, who were trying to subvert the election and damage the Labour party. Smith, when asked for a comment, said he refuses to indulge in gossip.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/30/bizarre-labour-rebels-can-never-steal-the-partys-name-and-assets-corbyn/

The Labour party has suffered a series of splits over its century-long history. Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, which was one of the Socialist groups involved in the foundation of the party, later split away in the 1920s to form, with other groups, the Communist Party. Keir Hardie’s ILP also split, to carry on as a radical Socialist party. One of its most distinctive policies was a complete rejection of the wages system. Outside the Labour party it very swiftly declined. The last time I heard anything about it was thirty years ago, when I found a copy of its magazine/ newsletter in Cheltenham Public Library.

The most recent and notorious of the splits was that of the SDP in the 1980s, formed by the right-wing Labour MPs Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen. They claimed to be ‘breaking the mould of British politics’, and Owen at the 1987 election told the party faithful to go back home and prepare for government. There was then, almost inevitably, a Tory victory. Screaming Lord Sutch later offered Owen a place in his Monster Raving Loony Party, saying cheekily that if Owen had joined them, he would be preparing for government. The SDP forged an alliance with the Liberals, and the two eventually merged to become the Liberal Democrats. They have also signally failed break the mould of British politics, despite the Guardian telling everyone to go out and vote for them at the 2010 elections. As for Owen, in the 1980s he was so desperate for power that at one point he even offered to support the Tories in a coalition, just as thirty years later Clegg decided to get into bed with Cameron.
And the SDP were also influenced by the neoliberal ideas of the Chicago School. Ann Soper, their Shadow Education Minister, was a fan of Milton Friedman’s ideas for school vouchers, which parents could use either on state education, or private.

If such a split did occur, it would be extremely unpleasant indeed. The wrangling about party assets and name could take years to settle. The vast majority of grassroots members would depart, and stay with Corbyn. And I’ve no doubt that rather than establishing themselves as the ‘official’ Labour party, the coup plotters would find the British public turning their backs on them as treacherous and untrustworthy intriguers. They’d decline into another rump party, while Corbyn’s faction would probably expand. They might also go the same way as the SDP, and try to join the Liberal Democrats after the number of their MPs declined past a certain point, no doubt all the while grumbling about ‘unelectable’ Corbyn being somehow responsible for the misfortunes they had all brought down on themselves.

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Smith Snipes at Corbyn from the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

July 27, 2016

Smudger must be on the rocks, and seriously rattled. Mike today posted up a piece reporting that the Pontypridd Pratt was in the Mirror, claiming that Corbyn did not understand British, that is, Scots, Welsh and English patriotism. Instead, he claimed that he had a ‘liberal’, left-wing, ‘metropolitan’ perspective that is not part of the Labour tradition. By which Smiffy means that ‘nationhood, nationalism and patriotism aren’t really part of his makeup.’

Someone once said that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. And someone else declared that patriotism was the position of the man, who had nothing else to say. Corbyn is massively more popular than Smudger, and so Smiffy is revealed for what he is – an empty politico sniping at his rival from a last, desperate fallback position, trying to bang the nationalist drum to oust someone, who is both more popular and who has much more substance politically.

Corbyn’s Genuinely Patriotic Policies

Mike also points out that it’s not fair on Corbyn to claim that he’s unpatriotic, and includes a meme to show how patriotic he is. This is through real, substantial policies that will make a positive difference to the welfare of the country and its great peoples. It is not through empty gestures, like grovelling deference to the monarchy, or standing with your shoulders back, and your tie straight to sing the national anthem, as the departing, unlamented former occupant of No 10 told him.

Corbyn wants UK utilities to be owned by the British people through the British state. This is patriotic. Profits made in the UK, should be taxed for the benefit of the British people. Patriotic. British men and women should not be sent to fight in illegal wars. Hence his opposition to the bombing of Syria. This is, again, patriotic. It shows a concern for Britain’s children, her sons and daughters, who have to do the duty of fighting and dying. It is also patriotic in the sense that it is concerned with upholding morality and the British tradition of fair play. He believes in protecting British Steel. Patriotic. He does not want British companies to be taken over by US or other foreign firms. Patriotic. He wants to stop the privatisation of the NHS, so that it is run for the benefit of British patients, not US corporations. Very patriotic. And lastly, he feels that British trade should benefit us Brits, so he will veto the TTIP. Again, patriotic.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/on-jeremy-corbyns-patriotism-owen-smith-has-given-himself-another-shot-in-the-foot/

Tories and the Right Unpatriotic in Selling Off Britain

Jeremy Corbyn is thus, in terms of policy, far more patriotic than the Right. Thanks to Thatcherite neoliberalism and the craze for foreign investment, our utilities are in the hands of foreign countries, as is much of our industry, including the City of London, so dear to the heart of Thatcher, Cameron and the rest of the Tories, including Tony Blair and New Labour. Cameron wanted British nuclear power stations built by the Chinese, as well as new roads. The privatisation of the health service carried out by Blair and Cameron has been at the behest and benefit of American firms such as Unum and Kaiser Medical. Atos, who administered the work capability assessment, was French. Maximus, who have replaced them, are American. And the mega rich, who make their profits over here, are squirreling them all away offshore in places like the Cayman Islands or Luxemburg.

By this standard, the neoliberal administrations Smiffy admires – Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron, are definitely unpatriotic. In fact, downright treasonous. But they got away with it because, following Thatcher, the Tory party became the Patriotic Party. You couldn’t get away from her and her chorus of sycophants yakking about patriotism. She was bolstered in this through her use of the symbolism surrounding Winston Churchill, the Second World War, and indeed through her unrestrained militarism. She had to be patriotic, ’cause we won the Falklands War. Well, just about, thanks to the Americans and Chileans. See, there’s another invocation of Winston Churchill, the great war leader and iconographic figure of British patriotism and pluck under foreign aggression. And then there was all the images of Spitfires racing across the skies in the 1987 general election. This was so blatant that Alan Coren dubbed it ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’ on the News Quiz on Radio 4.

And even there, Thatcher’s patriotism was much less than it seemed. She sold off Westland Helicopters here in the West Country to the Americans. She made massive cuts to the armed forces. The Falklands War was partly caused by the ship defending the islands being recalled by her defence minister, John Nott. The Argentinians seized their chance, and invaded. Then there were the celebrations in the Tory right over 1992, and the closer integration with Europe that came about in that year. That was being celebrated and anticipated even under Thatcher. I can remember that in the late 1980s, a wine bar opened on the Promenade in Cheltenham with that very date as its name: 1992. Denis Skinner in his autobiography makes the point that Thatcher was far less Eurosceptic than she appeared to be. Skinner also supports us leaving the European Union, but for left-wing reasons, rather than those of the ‘turbo-charged’ Tories, Nigel Farage and the rest of UKIP. He points out that while she constantly wrangled with them over our contribution to the EU budget, she never actually threatened to leave. And it was Ted Heath, who took us in. And then in the 1990s there was all the fuss about ‘globalisation’, which meant that capital became international, and the nation state was to be gradually dissolved as more companies established themselves around the world.

So by the standards of economic policies and the practical effects of their ideologies, the Tories weren’t patriots. They advocated selling Britain and its people off to whoever would give them money. They convinced millions of impressionable voters that they were doing the opposite through manipulating the pageantry of the monarchy and the iconography of the Second World War.

Why Socialists Distrust Patriotism

But let’s examine the wider problems of Smiffy’s criticism of Corbyn’s alleged indifference to ‘patriotism’.

Firstly, a supposed ‘liberal’, ‘left-wing’ indifference to patriotism and nationalism is very much a part of the Labour tradition. Or at least, parts of it. In line with the rest of the European Socialist parties, many members of the Labour party opposed the wars between European powers in the 19th century, because it was felt – and not just by Marxists – that the working class of all nations had more in common with each other than with their rulers in the middle and upper classes. Socialists from all over Europe objected to the prospect of a war in Europe, because they felt that it would be carried out for the profit of the industrialists and the feudal aristocracy. This was shattered when the First World War broke out, and most of the Socialist parties showed themselves only too eager to vote war credits in support of the conflagration. But individual Socialists, including members of the Labour party, did protest against it, along with their counterparts in France and the German SPD.

Looking along the magazine racks in the newsagents in Bristol’s Temple Meads Station last Friday, I found among the current affairs magazines the New Internationalist. I can remember copies of that lying around my sixth form common room when I was at school. From what I remember, it’s another left-liberal magazine devoted to international social justice, particularly in the Developing Nations. Back in the 1980s, it was firmly behind the Greenham Women. I also seem to recall one of Paul Weller’s songs having the refrain, ‘Internationalists’, although I can’t remember which one.

British patriotism has also been intimately connected to imperialism. From the 19th century one of the holidays celebrated was ‘Empire Day’. David Dimbleby in one edition of his art history series, The Seven Ages of Britain, dug out a Victorian children’s book called, The ABC for Baby Patriots. Under ‘E’, the book had ‘Empire’, for wherever the British citizen went, they would be safe and free. Except for the indigenes, who were expected to work for us. While that book expressed the attitude of the imperialists, the Labour Party in the 1920s passed resolutions committing itself to giving the colonies their independence. I even found it discussed in the autobiography of another Labour politician from that period, called Benn, though I don’t know if there was a connection to Tony. This particular Benn made it very clear he stood for granting the peoples of the British Empire the right to run their own countries. And George Orwell came to Socialism through his hatred of imperialism.

Smiffy also claims that working class patriotism is often socially conservative. He’s right, which is why so many left-wingers have been intensely suspicious of it. The national symbols it embraces are those of the ruling classes, such as the monarchy, the stately homes of the rich and powerful, and so forth. In the 1960s there was considerable controversy over a history programme called The World We Have Lost. Or rather, over its title. Some historians objected to it because it expressed a nostalgic support for the good old days of aristocratic rule, when proles and tradesmen knew their place. This kind of patriotism is bound up with Michael Gove’s view of history – that it should all be very Conservative, patriotic, and reinforce Tory values.

And what really worries left-wingers is the racism that can lurk underneath this kind of patriotism. Alf Garnett was a parody of working class Conservatives, people with dirty, broken windows, living in poverty, for whom the Tories had done absolutely nothing, but nevertheless doggedly supported them. As well as generally reactionary and ignorant, Garnett was virulently racist. Johnny Speight, the writer, intended the character to show up and lampoon that aspect of Conservativism. But he was dismayed by the failure of many viewers to see the joke, and there were all too many ready to agree with him about non-White immigration.

London is a multicultural world city, far more so than much of the rest of the country, although many cities nevertheless may have sizable populations of ethnic minorities. I feel uneasy when Smudger attacks Corbyn for being ‘too metropolitan’, because it suggests that he thinks Labour should reflect the growing racism and xenophobia of the Brexit campaign. One of the criticisms the political scientist Guy Standing makes of New Labour in his book, A Precariat Charter, is that they did try to harness the growing resentment of immigrants by pushing policies that increasingly denied them their rights, such as to welfare benefits and employment legislation. Smudger’s a New Labour neoliberal, and it seems to me that with his attack on Corbyn for his ‘metropolitan’ attitudes to patriotism, there’s a concealed racism and determinism to inflict more precarity on refugees and asylum seekers, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Patriotism and Working Class Culture

But patriotism can also include left-wing elements, which would no doubt also horrify Smiff. If you think of Wales, for example, there’s not only Owen Glendower, and medieval Welsh kings like Hywel Dda, there’s also the images of working class radicalism – the Welsh miners, and their leaders like Nye Bevan. Scotland has Red Clydeside, Devon in England the Tolpuddle Martyrs, without forgetting the Yorkshire Miners. These are also part of British nationalism and national identity, along with heroes like Tom Paine, Thomas Spence, Keir Hardie, Feargus O’Connor and the Chartists, and other heroes and heroines of working and lower middle class history. The British folk revival of the 1950s was inspired by Black American blues music, much of which had been collected by researchers as part of F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. British musicians and musicologists began exploring their own traditional music, to find the traditional British counterparts to this American working class music. And it exists. Paine’s The Rights of Man was celebrated in song in the 18th century, and it can be found in sheet music even now. Thomas Spence and the Chartists also composed songs to put their message across. Chumbawumba did a version of at least one of these songs a little while ago. It’s on the Net, if you care to look. This is all part of our national identity and culture, but one which I suspect Smiffy isn’t easy with, and which Thatcher and the Tories positively wanted to suppress or dismiss. But these heroes and heroines did inspire Clement Atlee’s Labour party, when they one the 1945 election, and introduced the welfare state.

Conclusion

Smith’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn and patriotism are therefore both wrong, and potentially dangerous. Corbyn is patriotic in the matter that counts – doing your political duty to improve the lives of one’s fellow citizens. Thatcher and the neoliberals betrayed the British people, plunging them into poverty and selling off Britain, all while maintaining the illusion of British imperial power, and maintaining and expanding their class privileges. And Britain also has a rich, working class traditional culture, that also forms part of our national identity, in opposition to the approved culture promoted by Gove. And when Labour members and supporters were critical and uncomfortable with nationalism and patriotism, it’s because it all too often leads to imperialism and racism. A racism that it seems Smudger would like to harness once again, as part of New Labour policy.

A few years ago, Lobster published a unique and fascinating article by a southern Irish Roman Catholic Ulster Unionist. This particular contributor wanted working class radicals from both the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities to unite to do something positive for the working people of Northern Ireland as a whole, regardless of their faith or national loyalties. The piece also criticised Tony Blair for embracing the politics of culture. The author explained that this was dangerous, because in Ireland it usually meant there was a man with a gun behind it. It was a danger then, and I don’t think the danger has disappeared in the decade or so since that piece was written. And it shows how dangerous nationalism and patriotism can be at their most extreme.

UKIP Appoint Anti-NHS Preacher as Candidate For Coventry

February 14, 2015

George Hargreaves

George Hargreaves: UKIP Candidate and Controversial Preacher. From the Isle of Man (Deviants! Yes! There are no deviants on the Isle of Man!)

Over on the Purple Rain blog at Hope Not Hate is the report that UKIP have appointed the controversial Christian preacher, Rev. George Hargreaves, as their candidate for Coventry South. Hargreaves was the founder and leader of the short-lived Christian party, branches of which he set up around the UK in 2005-7, following his foundation of the Christian People’s Alliance and Operation Christian Vote in 2004. Hargreaves has pronounced views on a number of controversial topics. He wishes to ban abortion, euthanasia, embryo experimentation and to introduce compulsory Christian teaching in schools. He also wants the return of the death penalty, and, of course, as a Kipper is firmly behind UKIP’s policy that Britain should leave the EU.

The article is entitled UKIP Enlist Anti Gay Zealot For Coventry South , because Hargreaves, like many other Kippers, has strong views against homosexuality. He regards it as a sin, and demands the reintroduction of Clause 28, the law Maggie Thatcher attempted to pass outlawing the promotion of homosexuality in schools. He is also against gays adopting children and has even gone so far as to say that gay men with AIDs should be denied treatment by the NHS because their illness is ‘self-inflicted’.

The article points out that Hargreave’s views on gays are remarkable, given that he was the pop producer and songwriter, who promoted the 80’s stars Sinitta and Yazz. Sinitta’s hits ‘So Macho’ and ‘Cruising’ were massively popular amongst the gay community, and partly responsible for Hargreaves becoming a multi-millionaire tax exile in the Isle of Man.

Fast Show Isle of Man

Typical residents of the Isle of Man according to the Fast Show

Where there are no deviants!

Sorry, flashback to all the jokes in the Fast Show about weirdoes from the Isle of Man shouting ‘There are no deviants on the Isle of Man’. His stance against homosexuality and AIDS is particularly remarkable, and seems particularly callous, considering that one of Hargreave’s song-writing partners, and former flatmate, was gay and died of the disease.

The article begins:

UKIP have enlisted the services of a controversial Christian preacher as their prospective parliamentary candidate for the Coventry South seat in the May General Election, much to the annoyance of the local party.

The Reverend George Hargreaves, the former leader of The Christian Party is certainly a controversial choice for the West Midlands seat and adds fuel to the fire when it comes to accusations of UKIP being homophobic.

Hargreaves is a former music producer and songwriter, who promoted 80’s pop acts Sinitta, Yazz and Five Star amongst others. His biggest claim to fame was writing Sinitta’s hit records “So Macho” and “Cruising” which both became gay anthems in the 1980’s, making George Hargreaves a millionaire from the royalties and which saw him later move to The Isle of Man as a tax exile.

During his time on the Manx island, Hargreaves embraced Christianity and became a Pentecostal minister. Soon after he became involved in politics, standing for The Referendum Party in the 1997 General Election.

Hargreaves went on to help form The Christian People’s Alliance and in 2004 formed Operation Christian Vote, which stood candidates across the UK in the 2004 European Elections. and which saw George Hargreaves stand for OCV in several parliamentary by-elections.

Hargreaves formed The Christian Party in 2005 and in 2007 saw the formation of The Scottish Christian Party, set up by Hargreaves to contest the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Hargreaves used the money, generated by the royalties of Sinitta’s hit singles to fund the campaign, which had a strong anti gay message, describing homosexuality as “a sin” and calling for a hard-line stance against abortion and euthanasia along with supporting a return of the death penalty and withdrawal from the EU.

The article’s at http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/ukip/ukip-enlist-anti-gay-zealot-for-coventry-south-4270

Hargreaves on Satanism and the Welsh Flag

Many of Hargreave’s views, although controversial, actually aren’t unreasonable. Many Christians object to abortion, euthanasia and embryo research because they feel that these violate the sanctity of human life. The argument here is that these assume that there are certain classes of human, who can be killed and experimented upon, and who therefore have less rights than the well, able-bodied or biologically fully developed. A dangerous precedent. As for his views on capital punishment and homosexuality, while they’re extreme, they’re shared by a wide section of British society, beyond those whose would consider themselves religious.

Where his views get really bizarre is on the subject of the Welsh flag. He wanted the dragon removed from it, because it was a symbol of Satan. He also objected to Manchester United having a badge showing a pitch-forking wielding devil, because it was satanic. Now, a devil clearly is a symbol of Satan, but Hargreaves missed the point somewhat. There’s a difference between cartoon devils, like the one on the Man UTD badge, and real Satanic worship. I doubt very many people have seriously gone over to worshipping the forces of darkness because of Man UTD, though a daresay the team’s rivals probably have other opinions.

What the Article Doesn’t Say: Hargreaves on the NHS

The article states that Hargreaves appears to have been appointed as Coventry South’s official candidate against the wishes of the local party, who already had their own candidate, Mark Taylor. It suggests that Farage, a very wealthy individual, was attracted to Hargreaves because he also is a multi-millionaire.

That may well be part of it.

I also suspect another part of it is that Hargreave’s shares Farage’s views on the NHS. The article doesn’t mention it, but Hargreaves is against it, and the rest of the welfare state. When Hargreaves and his white colleague in the Christian Party appeared on TV screens appealing for votes nearly a decade ago, Private Eye did a brief feature on them. Put simply, they’re connected to a number of extreme right wing American think tanks and organisations, and had made statements themselves about getting rid of the NHS and welfare state. That’s clearly not something that Farage wants to make known, as he is very aware that it will cost him votes. He does seem perfectly comfortable with someone who has a bitter hatred of homosexuals, however, even when some other Christians have far less extreme views. The I newspaper carried a series of letters from Christian ministers and theologians, who supported gay marriage. This was partly based on the existence of marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples from the medieval Byzantine and central European churches.

Hargreaves vs. Keir Hardie

Hargreave’s profoundly anti-Socialist views contrast very strongly with those of Keir Hardie, the founder of the ILP. Hardie like many in the early Labour movement had been a lay preacher, and it seems that he regarded himself throughout his life as a radical Christian. Late in his life he wrote

The impetus which drove me first of all into the Labour movement and inspiration which has carried me on in it … has derived more from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than from all other sources combined.

In the choice between Hargreaves and Hardie, Hardie wins every time.

Meanwhile, here’s a selection of Fast Show clips about the Isle of Man.

1914 and the Lack of Popular Enthusiasm for the War

November 1, 2014

The documentaries and commemorative articles screened and published this year about the outbreak of the First World War have repeated the claim that it was greeted with enthusiasm by the mass of the British public. I was sent this paper by Nick Jones a few months ago, and unfortunately have only just now got round to publishing it. It’s an important, eye-opening piece, as Nick argues that the general, jingoistic patriotism claimed by many historians did not actually exist, though there were local patches of support for the War. Reaction to the War seems to have been mixed at many levels of society. The Royal Family weren’t keen on waging war on the Kaiser, who was, after all, the king’s cousin. The ‘little bounder’ Lloyd George, as Nick shows, was ambivalent about the War. The Labour Party was split on the issue, between those who believed support for the War would make the party more electorally respectable, and those, like Keir Hardie, who continued their principle opposition.

Nick’s article shows that some of the support for the War came from the gentry, and from particular commercial or bureaucratic groups, which saw a material advantage in the crisis. These included cinema chains, who used it as an excuse to open on Sundays under the pretext that they were supporting the war effort. Other organisations were equally cynical, but much more malign in their attitudes to the working class. These were the guardians of the workhouses, mental hospitals, borstals and labour colonies, who took the opportunity to reduce their inmates rations on the grounds that cuts needed to be made in anticipation of food shortages caused by the War. Some went even further, and forced their inmates to leave to join the army, thus reducing the economic burden of welfare expenditure for their ratepayers. Nick shows that some employers also used the same tactic to lay off staff by encouraging them to join the armed forces instead.

So, little popular enthusiasm for the War. But it did provide an opportunity for more cynical exploitation of the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the desperate. All in the name of patriotism and serving one’s country. Here’s Nick’s article:

Little Support for the War

There has, until very recently, been a general consensus amongst historians that the nation marched happily to war in 1914. A moment’s reflection might question this.

The classic account is that of Arthur Marwick;
“As the time limit [for the ultimatum] approached a great concourse of people gathered in Trafalgar Square and Whitehall…when the British declaration of war upon Germany was issued at the Foreign Office it was greeted with ’round after round of cheers'(1)

Yet an eye-witness later recalled; “We listened in silence. There was no public proclamation that we were at war. The great crowd rapidly dispersed”(2)

Outside London things were also done quietly;
“The little country town was full of anxious people. on the Tuesday night that war was to be declared, waiting in the half-lighted streets for the news that…never came until the morning…at 8 o’clock, when the post office opened .. or postmaster read to us a telegram, ‘War is declared..’ It seemed quite unreal to us, and after a few moments of talk we settled down to our ordinary lives..” (3)

Subsequent historians have repeated Marwick’s suggestion of general optimism. John Turner remarks “The Liberal government …and the British public, entered the conflict in 1914 expecting a short struggle, brought to an end by the success of British sea-power and the armies of the Entente” and in a recent study David Silbey suggests that “By the time Britain declared war, most of the population had converted to a pro-war position (4)

But Marwick had offered a note of caution ; “The patriots did not have things their own way” (5) In York; “When war was declared [the town] went into a turmoil and nothing caused greater annoyance and upset than the commandeering of horses for the army (6)

Another writer points out a few flaws in the accepted versions. He notes a lack of enthusiasm for war in Wales and that such crowds as there were in London, consisted of “a normal August Bank Holiday crowd” . He was unable to locate any precise numbers.(7)
[Further scholarly research] has suggested the indifference displayed by the population at large, to the ‘gentry’s’ enthusiasm for the war. Bonnie White’s [assessment] of recruiting in Devon suggests that, despite the efforts of the local grandees, appeals to ‘patriotism’ were not reciprocated with ‘local ardour’. Noting that; “As elsewhere in the country, Devonians were apprehensive about leaving their communities for military service”. (8)

The Royal Family, Liberals and the Labour Party

The Royal Family may not have been too keen to enter a conflict against a state headed by one of their closest relatives. Kaiser William had also been a member of their Life Guards. It is not recorded whether he was issued with mobilisation papers after the declaration of hostilities.

In political circles, opinion was divided The ruling Liberal Party was deeply split over the war.

The Cabinet itself was divided almost equally. The day before war was declared four of its members resigned over the issue. Lloyd George was later reported to have believed ‘There appears to be nothing for a Liberal to do but to look on while the hurricane rages”. He did promise not to campaign against the War as he had done against the Boer War (9.)

There was a near fatal split between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the ILP.

Henderson, leader of the former, opted for participation in the war effort on pragmatic grounds, He thought that ‘Labour’ could show its fitness for government by collaboration with the ‘war party’. Ramsay MacDonald resigned the chairmanship of the Party when the Parliamentary section voted for ‘supplies’. Kier Hardie after voicing his dissent, retired to his Merthyr constituency and attempted to build opposition to the war from there.

War Fever in the Gentry and Contractors for the London Mental Asylums

It is true that there was an outburst of ‘popular’ enthusiasm for the conflict in some quarters.

“Next morning…there was much buying up of stores in the town by the gentry.. Prices were going up in the town; sugar had doubled, bread was a half-penny dearer” The London County Council “Asylums and Mental Deficiency Committee faced a spate of letters from “contractors [who] sent in claims for extra payment for goods which have been supplied since war was declared” (10)

The inmates of such institutions were less fortunate. In Bermondsey, by London Docks where it might be expected ‘business’ might be brisk, the Board of Guardians decreed that;

“If the Rations of the Staff or the Dietary of the Inmates can be curtailed in any way without inflicting any hardships … no hesitation whatever should occur in carrying the same into effect”.

These generous souls offered a list of suggestions how economies might be effected; “Preserved Meat, Fish or Beef Extract” could replace “Meat”. Biscuits should be offered instead of the lashings of ‘Bread and Cake’ inmates consumed. “Egg Powder” must replace “Eggs”. Superintendents ought to “Omit altogether Eggs (and) Poultry” except for the Sick, as shortages were anticipated. (11)

Hollesley Bay Labour Colony

The supervisor of the Hollesley Bay Labour Colony, no doubt keen to minimise rate-payers ‘burdens’, reduced the food ration there at the earliest opportunity. ‘owing to the military preparations in East Anglia” As a result the men protested’ and asked for an assurance that no further curtailment would take place. As the superintendant could [or would] not give this undertaking 101 men had left the Colony”

It is not recorded where they went to. A Deputation from the remaining inmates went to” the Central Office where they were interviewed by the vice-chairman of the committee who informed them…no further assistance [would] be given..to any of the men who had left the Colony”(12)

Employers and Redundancy

Employers saw it as a golden opportunity to shed ‘surplus’ (or recalcitrant) parts of their workforce. Balfour, a leading figure in the Conservative party thought it wrong that “employers [were] offering their employees the choice of getting the sack or joining Kitchener’s New Army” (13)

All Local Authorities acknowledged that there would be problems of ‘distress’ due to the war [and prepared measures to deal with mass unemployment.


Jingoism and the Cinemas

Not everyone greeted the outbreak of hostilities with long faces though.

LJ Collins has noted that ‘the theatre was employed as a recruiting and propaganda agent, and raiser of funds for war’ filling places in the auditorium. Although they were closed when war was declared, they still had to pay the bills and fill seats. There was a tradition of jingoism in popular entertainment, theatrical managements had used it to curry respectability with licensing authorities. Charity fundraising galas proved a godsend in filling empty spaces. (14)

One group of entrepreneurs welcomed the outbreak of war with open arms. The bioscopes, or Cinematographs were a relatively new form of entertainment. Like Music Halls, they were licensed by Local Authorities and had to observe strictly regulated opening hours. These prevented them from admitting patrons on a Sunday. One way in which they circumvented such restrictions was to offer ‘benefit performances’ for charities.

On August 18th WF Pettie, proprietor of the Crofton Park Picture Theatre applied to the LCC’s Theatres and Music Halls Committee for permission to open on Sundays in contravention of a previous undertaking not to do so. he offered ‘that the proceeds…be applied wholly or in part to the Prince of Wales’s National Relief Fund.” Permission was refused. (15)

The LCC’s Committee felt obliged to assess the effect of the war on attendances at cinemas. This was deputed to the London Fire Brigade. For the most part, audiences were down. In the East End, whilst a few managers thought sanguinely of affairs. they attributed any loss of business to the warm weather.

The managers of The Britannia, Hoxton ‘stated’ that their ‘house [was] doing better than ever, packed; war not affecting them at all”. Also in Hoxton, the manager of the premises at 55 Pitfield Street stated that his “house [was] doing rather well.”

Yet the majority bemoaned a loss of business. At the Variety Theatre Hoxton ‘Managers stated [that they were] doing fairly well, but [were] affected by large numbers of territorials called up.

At the Adelphi Chapel, Hackney Road the manager thought his
‘Bad business [could be] attributed to [the] number of territorials and reservists called up, who with their women folk were regular patrons”. (16)

Audience figures for individual cinemas are hard to come by. Even when they are, a number of variables need to be taken into consideration. Above all the popularity of the programme offered, the entrance price and competition from other entertainments

The manager of the Essex Road and Packington Street Cinema offered a more informed opinion, He believed;

“The cinematograph business might…suffer somewhat owing to the renters insisting on cash for films instead of allowing a two weeks credit, as formerly (17)

Managers who had regularly opened for business on Sundays before the War, quickly found a new excuse for doing so.

At The Princess Row, Kew cinema the manager Harry Gray claimed on the 30th “I am open by direction of my employers in aid of the Middlesex War Relief Fund..” by the 13th the reply had been modified to “I am open by direction of the owners and on the advice of Counsel. The proceeds are diverted to Charity, the Middlesex War Relief Fund”. (18)

At the Electric Palace, Cricklewood, the police had reported on the 7th June 1914 “The Managers informed me that the proceeds after deducting expenses would be given to London Medical Charities” On 16th August they were; “informed by the manager Mr Hallam that the proceeds after deducting expenses would be given to the War Fund. (19)

Borstal Boys Recruited into Army

On a more mundane level, it is remarkable how many young offenders were pardoned by Home Office Warrants during the latter part of 1914. Richard Van Emden has noted that approximately 150 ‘former borstal boys were known to be serving’ at the end of 1914.

Accurate figures are not easy to gauge. The figure of 150 is given by the Association’s annual Report. In the a minute of March 1915 it was noted that “320 Borstal Boys have been discharged direct into the Army and many others have enlisted on discharge or within a few weeks”

They had an inducement to do so as “The Association was asked by the [Prison] Commissioners to provide a suitable outfit for boys enlisting in the Army from the Institutions… a piece of soap, a towel and a leather belt have been added to the outfit provided” The generous souls overseeing the borstals felt able to be this magnanimous since they no longer had to ‘make any payments on account of fares, board & lodging or extra clothing in these cases’ thus saving over £300. As the war dragged on the Army was the destination for nearly all boys who left the ‘Institution’. By September 1916 it was estimated that “Nearly 50% of the boys who have enlisted are already in action abroad”. (20)

Recruitment and the Workhouses

Poor Law Guardians and Workhouse masters took the opportunity to remove some of their ‘clients’ to the care of recruiting sergeants.

The Clerk to the Sedgefield, Durham, Union, a JW Lodge, circulated a motion passed there on 26th August to other Unions;
“in view of the large number of able-bodied vagrants … who appear to be generally living on the community, the attention of the Local Government Board and War Office be drawn to the matter with a request that legislation be passed for the purpose of utilising.. the services of these able-bodied men for the Country’s good at this time of National stress” (21)

He found some receptive ears.

Cyril Pearce records that ‘Huddersfield’s Poor Law Guardians.. agreed to support a proposal to compel all able-bodied male applicants to enlist. Its supporters claimed that this policy would soon clear out the vagrant wards and ‘be very great relief to the expenses of the country’ (22)

In fact this had been official policy since the declaration of War. A Relief Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Balfour. When the Cabinet had sought a vote for supplies in the House of Commons, it had included measures to alleviate any distress caused by the resultant unemployment. The Local Government Board, under Herbert Samuel, set up a formal Committee for the Prevention and Relief of Distress.

Administered by an Education official Joseph Alfred Pease, it’s aim was to co-ordinate the various methods of Relief, including Charities and Poor Law Boards.

As early as August 7th. recommendations had reached the Charity Organisation Society in London, who passed them on to its members, that “Single able-bodied men and lodging-house cases should be dealt with by the Poor Law”(23) The COS was soon “asked by the Local Government Board Intelligence Department for London..to collect certain information indicating the existence or otherwise of abnormal distress” in the Capital (24)

Within a week of the declaration of war draft guidelines for the dispensation of relief had been distributed by the Local Government Board Committee. These stated; “that men living with their families should have priority over single men, or those living apart….relief should be refused to young single men capable of military service”.(25)

Notes

1. [The Deluge p.31 1967 ed citing Daily News 5 August 1914 Daily Mail ibid] The Guardian pages for the 4th and 5th of August give a far more nuanced impression of the public response and list some of the appeals for peace and/or neutrality
2. [M MacDonagh. London During the Great War, London, 1935. p.10. MacDonagh was the Times correspondent. It is good to know the Mail has maintained its veracity through the years. J.C.C Davidson recalled the occasion differently some years later; “Whitehall was simply packed with a seething mass of people…(after sending the Colonial Office telegrams relaying the declaration of war) “We started back to Downing Street, to find thousands of people milling around shouting and singing and bursting with cheers.. They didn’t know what they were in for, and they had this awful war fever..” quoted in R.R. James; Memoirs of A Conservative, London, 1969 pp.10-11].
3. M. Fordham ‘War and The Village’, The New Statesman, August 15 1914. p.593]

4. J Turner, British Politics and The Great War; Yale 1992. p.4; DJ Silbey The British Working Class and Enthusiasm for War, London 2005, p.20.
5. [Deluge p.30]
6. Peacock, York In The Great War p 294]

7. [A Gregory, British ”War Enthusiasm’ in 1914: a Reassessment’ in G. Braybon (Ed); Evidence History and the Great War, New York & Oxford, 2003 p 71 ]

8. White [citing Cox Be Proud; p.20 Mansfield; in Gliddon, 1988. p18ff]
9. [BL Add Mss. 46386 f.52. ; Cabinet Letter to George V;f,69; Runciman to Spender Nov 4th 1929 f.72. See also Ramsay MacDonald’s memoir; PRO 30/69/1232]
10. [[Fordham op cit p 593] LMA/ LCC Minutes 3 Nov 1914 pp 694-5; Report 27th Oct 1914….See also 13 October 1914, p.537 report of 29th September 1914 Printed Minutes of Proceedings, July-Dec 1914]

11. [LMA BBG 104. Bermondsey Board of Guardians Minutes and Cash Papers; Memorandum B, 8th August 1914.]

12. “[LMA /CUB 71. Minute August 6th f.75. Minute 22nd Sept. f.84.]

13. [Balfour to Lady Wemyss; August 29 1914 cited K Young; Balfour London, 1963. p.350]

14. [ [LJ Collins Theatre At War, Oxford 1998, p.3]. P Summerfield ‘The Effingham Arms and Empire’, in E & S Yeo (Eds) Popular Culture and Class Conflicts, Hassocks, 1981 S Pennybacker; ‘It was not what she said….The London County Council and Music Halls’; in PJ Bailey Music Hall, Milton Keynes, 1986]

15. [Minute 7th October LCC/MIN/ 10,735 Signed Minutes Theatres and Music Halls Sub-Committee Minutes 1914 f.761.]

16. [[LMA ibid 4/458 7th Oct 1914; 10,981 Visit 29th August p.1].
/ LMA ibid 10981 31st August p.3].
17. [LCC; p.2 10, 981 31st August]
18. [MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/16 Middlesex County Council; Engineer and Surveyors Department; Entertainment Licensing; Files concerning prosecutions against licensed premises no folio but dated 21st Sept.]. f.31956]
18. [3 May to 9 August : MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/33; MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/17 Middlesex County Council; Engineer and Surveyors Department; Entertainment Licensing; Files concerning prosecutions against licensed premises]
20. [Emden, Boy Soldiers of The Great War p.127. Emden’s precise quote is ‘Of 336 boys released from borstal institutions in the year ending March 1915 150 were in the forces, while in all some 60 former borstal boys were known to be serving’ quoting , presumably, HO 247/2 Annual Report, p 12. Borstal Association Records. Remarks on Income and Expenditure during the year 1914-1915. p. 2. ibid. Tss Report On Cases. Oct 1916. Some were fortunate enough to be rejected by the Military they appear to have, largely, ‘gone to sea’]
21. [reproduced in LMA/BBG /104. Bermondsey Board of Guardians Reports; Minutes Vol. XXXIV. No.8 p.27 22nd Sept 1914.]
22. [Pearce Comrades In Conscience pp 81-2 citing Huddersfield Daily Examiner 1.9.1914 Worker (Huddersfield) 5.9.1914] .

23.[ Circular No 3 7th August 1914 COS Archive; LMA/A/FWA/C/A3/49/1 between ff. 323-4].

24. [Circular August 14th 1914.ibid.]

25.[COS Minutes Vol 50; LMA/A/FWA/C/A3/50/1 between ff. 3-4 August 20th 1914. “The Local Government Board advised in their circular of August 10th…”]

So the image of cheering crowds, ecstatically greeting the news that war had come, is a myth. The reality was a deep ambivalence about the War amongst nearly all levels of society, and, for many, indifference. It was also cynically used by the nascent cinema to gain greater respectability, while employers, borstals and the managers of the workhouses and labour camps for the unemployed used it as a means to cut down on expenditure, either by reducing rations or encouraging their unwanted staff and inmates to join up.

There are several parallels to the war in Iraq nearly a century later. There was wide opposition to the beginning of the War, with a million people marching against it. The present government has continued its campaign of welfare cuts, including laying off senior military staff, while simultaneously running recruitment campaigns trying to get more people to enlist. And as the Capped Crusader, Michael Moore showed in Fahrenheit 9/11, the burden of the War has fallen on the poor and working class. It is they, who have been targeted by the recruiting sergeants, while the rich and powerful, with the possible exception of the British Royal Family, have been keen to keep their sons and daughters well away from the frontline.

And the mass media, the cinema in the case of the First World War, and the TV news now, have done their best to support and promote the War.

It makes you wonder… After all the rhetoric about the War to End All Wars, what have we learned … what has changed over the past century?