Labour at the Polls. A Victory for Confusion

Since the General Election much twaddle has been uttered concerning the result thereof. It has been a “Great Victory for Labour,” the “Triumph of Socialism,” and the like. Let us examine some of the polls, with a view to seeing how far Labour has won a victory and Socialism has triumphed.

The Social Democratic Federation were enabled by the Countess of Warwick and a mysterious “rich sympathiser” down Cornwall way, to contest six constituencies, and allowed some members to run under Trade Union auspices, permitting the breaking of the rules of the S.D.F. where necessary to secure Trade Union and L.R.C. support. It is a significant and satirical fact that this body, claiming to be of and for the working class, could not have sent at least three of its seven candidates to the poll had it not been for the gold of Lady Warwick and the mysterious friend referred to above.

The S.D.F. candidates and constituencies contested, with the polls, were the following : —

Candidates Constituency Poll Liberal Poll Conservative Poll
Kennedy Aberdeen, N. 1,934 4,848 931
Hartley Bradford, E. 3,090 6,185 4,277
Hyndman Burnley 4,932 5,288 4,964
Jones Cambourne 109 4,614 2,384
Gribble N’hampton 2,361 4,472 4,061
Williams 2,537 4,235 3,987
Irving Accrington 4,852 7,209 —-

The solid vote for Gribble and Williams was 2,214, so the total S.D.F. vote was 17,131. This is rather over the mark, because the S.D.F. Executive only gave the Accrington Branch permission to put forward Irving “subject to the approval of the local Trades Council,” so that Irving’s was really a joint candidature, not an S.D.F. one alone.

Other members of the S.D.F. who contested seats were Quelch at Southampton and Belt at Hammersmith, both of whom ran as “Labour” candidates under the auspices of local Trades Councils, and Thorne at South West Ham, who was originally the candidate of the West Ham Trades Council, but who, on the instructions of the Gas Workers’ Union, signed the L.R.C. Declaration and ran as a “Labour” candidate under its auspices. At Rochdale the S.D.F. supported S. G. Hobson (I.L.P.), who ran as a Socialist. The polls were :—

Constituency Poll Liberal Poll Conservative Poll
Hammersmith 885 4,562 5,111
Rochdale 2,506 5,912 4,449
Southampton 2,146 7,032 5,754
6,255 5,535
S. W. Ham 10,198 —– 4,973

Only 1,155 of Mr. Quelch’s poll were “plumpers.”

It will be noticed that, with two exceptions, all the constituencies for which an S.D.F. member stood returned Liberals, and in one of the exceptions there was no Liberal candidate. This result is instructive in view of what appeared “Justice” for Jan. 13. Said the editor (H. Quelch), “We have, as the phrase goes, ‘smashed up’ the Liberals in all those constituencies in which, in spite of hypocritical eleventh-hour appeals, they did not leave us a clear field to try the issue direct with the Tories.” Of course, this was sheer brag, and can only bring a Body indulging in it into ridicule. As Mr. Hyndman remarks, “The S.D.F. has stood, and can stand, a lot of ridicule, But ridicule is apt to kill.” Mr. Hyndman is right.

Strenuous efforts were made by the S.D.F. to get the Liberal candidate out of the way and thus leave the S.D.F. “a clear field to try the issue direct with the Tories.” But if the S.D.F. candidates are only concerned to get into Parliament by the votes of the Socialist working class, it should make no differeuce to them how many capitalist factions put up candidates, excepting in so far as the more candidates to divide the non-Socialist vote, the better chance of the Socialist electors putting their candidate at the top of the poll. And why all this passing of resolutions, breaking up Liberal meetings, and wire-pulling to keep a Liberal out of the field ? Why not move heaven and earth to get the Conservative out of the way and try the issue direct with the Liberals ?

At Burnley, Mr. Hyndman, of course, ran as a Social-Democrat, but was quite willing to get elected by non-Socialist votes. In his election address he appealed to them to elect him so that he might “plead in Parliament for the sad and suffering millions of India.” The prospect of effecting the Social Revolution by pleading to the capitalist class to relieve to some slight degree the “sad and suffering millions” is a very remote one. British policy in India, said Mr. Hyndman, is “destroying, with inconceivable imbecility, the greatest market in the world for Lancashire cotton goods.” Now, this was an appeal to the interests of a section of the working class and their masters, which any non-Socialist could make quite as effectively, if not more so. A drastic change in the direction referred to would tend, if it provided an extended market for Lancashire cotton goods, to give a new lease of life to British Textile Industries, and thus defer the final collapse of Capitalism. Strenuous efforts, also were made to secure the Irish vote. In fact, Mr. Hyndman’s friends and also Mr. Hartley’s at Bradford assert that they lost the election because “the Irish vote was awarded to the Liberals.” We have yet to learn why the Irish should be expected to vote for Socialists, unless they are themselves Socialists. It has also been suggested that Mr. Hyndman would have won had there been a second ballot. But we claim that a vote that will be cast for a capitalist candidate at the first ballot and for a Socialist at the second is in no sense a class-conscious Socialist vote and could not be relied upon to back up revolutionary action taken by Socialists in Parliament.

In his election address, Mr. H. Quelch said, ”Having been selected as their candidate by the Trades and Labour Council, and other working class organisations in the Borough,” and “I and the Party for which I speak, the Labour Party of Southampton,” etc. A leaflet issued contained a cartoon shewing three men, “The Landlord” on the back of “Rates and Taxes,” who in turn was on the back of “Ratepayer.” “Vote for Quelch and get them off your back” ! Another leaflet was headed “A Bad Day for Liberalism,” and probably had some reference to the day when the Liberals of Southampton decided to break their agreement with Mr. Quelch’s “Labour Party,” and run a second candidate. This leaflet urged the establishment of a “Labour Party,” and called upon its readers to “Put the candidates of the Labour Representation Committee into Parliament” ! No mention is made in this literature of the S.D.F., although, according to “Justice,” Mr. Quelch was an S.D.F. candidate. Time was when Mr. Quelch wrote: “We want our men elected as Social Democrats, for the greater glory of Social Democracy. If they cannot be elected as Social Democrats, they had much better remain outside. We want our men elected as Social Democrats, independent of all other factions.”

Mr. J. Jones said he was “defeated ignominiously because he was the victim of lying misrepresentation,” and that “if they knew all the circumstances in connection with that fight they would say he had done a lot better than they expected.” Well, Mr. Jones has been repeatedly asked to tell all the circumstances but he has preferred to be “the victim of lying and misrepresentation” to doing so. He has, however, admitted that he himself did not know all the circumstances as the name and address of the “rich sympathiser” whose money was being so lavishly spent were unknown to him. Not only so, but the members of S.D.F. Executive were equally in the dark concerning this spook-like being, for at their meeting on Nov. 29th, 1904, “The Secretary reported that he had been introduced to, and had had an interview with the gentleman who was prepared to find the money for a Socialist candidate in the mining division of Cornwall ; he had revealed himself to him on the strict understanding that his identity should go no further.” After this one and only “materialization,” the E.C., at their next meeting, decided to run Mr. Jones.

At Hammersmith Mr. Belt, described in Justice as “London’s Socialist Candidate,” though he was careful to keep the word “Socialist” out of his election address, issued a special handbill pointing out that it was not the fault of the “Labour” Party that the “forces of progress” were divided, as they had brought out their candidate on the promise of the Liberal Association to support him, and that the Labour Party were “most anxious to arbitrate” as to which of the “forces of progress,” Liberal or Labour, should nominate the candidate. Thus did Mr. Belt present a clear issue to the working-class of Hammersmith. He, like Mr. Irving at Accrington, signed the L.R.C. Declaration, but neither was adopted by the L.R.C.

The Independent Labour Party “played the game” by running nearly all their candidates under the auspices of the L.R.C. In several cases they contested double-member constituences, and not only got in by Liberal votes, but made arrangements with the Liberals to work and vote together. Here are some of the polls :

Constituency Candidate Plumpers Splits with Liberals Splits with Tories
Merthyr Keir Hardie 2,304 7,883 —–
Blackburn Snowden 1,504 7,871 907
Leicester MacDonald 426 13,999 260
Halifax Parker 211 8,572 154
Sunderland Summerbell 833 11,323 1,274

Writing in the Clarion after the election, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald said, “We shall remain an Independent Labour Party, absolutely.” We have italicised “remain” because we deny that Mr. MacDonald won Leicester on independent lines.

After the poll was declared a meeting was held at the Liberal Club, at which Ald. Wood congratulated them upon their magnificent victory. He was proud of the Liberals of Leicester, proud of the Labour Party of Leicester and of the unity of action which had brought about that great triumph. Mr. Henry Broadhurst said that Labour and Liberalism had known no difference, an shown by the extraordinary equality of votes between Mr. MacDonald and himself. That is what they did when they had trust in each other. There was one man who had made that grand result possible, and that was Alderman Wood, but for whose years of devotion to unity they might have been a divided people again. Three cheers were given for Ald. Wood.

At the same time a meeting was being held by the Labour Party. Councillor Banton, in opening, said the Liberals had polled with them (cheers) and they reciprocated the fight side by side (loud cheers). Mr. MacDonald said there had been one very significant fact about the contest. Practically every voter of the 14,000 had polled Broadhurst and MacDonald (cheers). The plumping had been insignificant, and consequently—(Voices : “Three cheers for MacDonald and Broadhurst.”) —he wanted to read the following message to them : “I wish you to give my hearty congratulations to the Labour Party on the Progressive victory at Leicester to-day. (Signed) Ald. Wood.” (Voices: “Three cheers for Ald. Wood,” which were heartily given). The Alderman had told him that he would be 67 years of age to-morrow. They had given him a magnificent birthday present (cheers). Let them be perfectly clear. The Mercury had said that the two parties—Liberal and Labour—had been occupying quite independent positions during the whole of the contest, but owing to the great crises that the late government had brought upon this country —the crisis to Trade Unionism and the crisis to industry they had, upon those specific and definite points, co-operated for the purpose of killing the late government, and preventing things from going from bad to worse.

At Halifax Mr. Parker openly advised his supporters to give one vote to the Liberal. The defeat of tlie Tory, said the Halifax Guardian, was entirely due to the alliance between the Liberal and Socialist Parties, which had occurred for the first time in the political history of Halifax. The figures showed unmistakably that the combination had held good, that Liberal votes by the thousand went for Socialism, and that Socialism reciprocated this support to the fullest extent of its power.

The Guardian, however, is a bit out in calling it a victory for Socialism. Even Mr. Parker only claimed “that the result had shown that Halifax at heart was in favour of progress.” At the Oddfellows’ Hall Mr. M. J. Blatchford said, after speeches from Mr. Parker and others, the result showed that the arrangement made by the Liberals had been honestly carried out by both parties. It had been a magnificent display of confidence. Nothing could be more splendid than the confidence each party had shown in the other. He was entirely satisfied that the Labour Party and the Liberal Party had done what they had undertaken to do and he thought both sides might be proud of it (cheers).

Mr. F. W. Jowett contested W. Bradford and won the seat against both Liberal and Conservative, but according to Mr. Hartley, the S.D.F candidate for the adjoining division, he ran as a Labour candidate because “he believes in getting your man in.”

Amongst L.R.C. candidates who contested two-member constituencies were the following :

Constituency Candidate Plumpers Splits with Liberals Splits with Tories
Norwich Roberts 635 10,097 327
Stockport Wardle 642 6,000 657
Newcastle Hudson 1,013 17,396 460
Bolton Gill 1,818 7,828 770
Portsmouth Saunders 3,833 2,010 1,053
York Stuart 421 4,042 110
Dundee Wilkie 2,553 3,307 963

After the declaration of the poll at Norwich Mr. Roberts said there were local political factors which had been used to their advantage and the certain promises by the other party had evidently been carried out. He wished to add that they were quite willing to work hand-in-hand with any other section or party of the State who were willing to labour for the realisation of industrial reform.

At York, when it became known that Mr. Stuart was not elected, some strong remarks were passed by his supporters at the Labour Committee Rooms. Because the Liberals had given Mr. Greenwood 2,082 plumpers and Mr. Stuart’s only numbered 421, Mr. Hawkin declared that, it was “the last time that he would ever agree to any compromise with any party whatever.”

It is quite evident that these gentlemen, when they found the election upon them, threw over all the “independence” they had been insisting upon and signing declarations upon previously. It was much more important to most of them that they should he M.P’s than that a clear lead should be given to the working class. Reynold’s asserts that Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald had interviews with one or more representatives of the Liberal Party with a view to an arrangement. We cannot say whether this is so, but it, certainly is given colour by a letter from a Wakefield Liberal which appeared in the Daily News of Jan. 3rd. The writer asserted that the official Liberals would not help the local Liberals to find a candidate because of a compact which the official Liberals had made with the Labour Party.

Mr. Crooks (Woolwich) and Mr. Steadman (East Finsbury) are members of the National Democratic League. We believe, they are both vice-presidents. The N.D.L. exists, “not to oppose, but to help the Liberal Party.” Mr. Crooks was an L.R.C. candidate, and has signed the Declaration of Independence ! Mr. Steadman refused to sign this, and ran as a Liberal-Labour candidate. But Mr. Steadman was put forward by the London Trades Council, which is affiliated to the L.R.C., and whose S.D.F. chairman (Mr. H. Quelch) has referred to Mr. Steadman as “our” (L.R.C.) candidate since his refusal to sign the L.R.C. Declaration. Over the nom de plume TATTLER, Mr. Queleh writes in Justice:

“The London Trades Council is pledged to independent political action, and is affiliated to the L.R.C. John Burns demonstrates his hostility to an independent working-class party by joining the Liberal Government. The London Trades Council endorses the candidature of a number of independent candidates, including, I believe, Qnelch at Southampton and Stranks at Croydon. John Burns, as he was in duty bound to do, supported the Liberal candidates at Croydon and Southampton; and then the Trades Council, by 75 votes to 35, congratulates John Burns on accepting an office which made it incumbent upon him to oppose the candidates whom the Council supported, and the policy to which the Council is pledged. It really is very funny !”

Why doesn’t Mr. Quelch complete the paragraph ? Would it be too funny ?

Another L.R.C. candidate has been showing how “independent” he is of the L.R.C. Declaration which he has signed. On Monday, Feb. 12th, at the Liberal Club, Elm Grove, the Peckham Liberals celebrated their victory at the election by entertaining the new member (Mr. Goddard Clarke) at a Dinner and Concert. After a number of congratulatory speeches Mr. C. W. Bowerman, M.P., said he made no apology though a Labour member for being present. As a Labour man he was very much indebted to the Liberals of Deptford for the position he occupied. The best Liberals in Deptford came and supported him. For the first time in political history the workmen had been alive to their own interests. And as long as the Liberal Party will be loyal to them they will be loyal in return.

Mr. Percy Alden, Liberal and Progressive candidate for Tottenham, issued a pamphlet on “His Public and Civic Life,” written by Mr. Will Crooks. At the end are letters from “Labour Leaders,” including Messrs. Will Crooks, Will Thorne, W. C. Sleadman, J. Passmore Edwards and George Cadbury. The two first have signed the L.R.C. Declaration of Indenpendence. Mr. W. Thorne is a member of the S.D.F., and in his letter he says, “I come into conflict with many of my comrades for backing up men like yourself, but that I cannot help.” There’s independence for you ! Other supporters who sent letters were Messers. H. H. Asquith, James Bryce, Herbert Gladstone, John Burns, Sydney Buxton and John E. Ellis. What a galley !

Space will not allow us to give details of other alleged “Labour” and “Socialist” candidatures, but sufficient has been said to show the hollowness of the claim that there has been a victory for Labour or a triumph for Socialism. If further evidence is required one has only to take the declarations of the successful candidates as to why they won and what they think should be done. Free Trade, Trades Disputes Bill, Chinese Labour, and the like. There is only one phrase that will express the result. It was a



(Socialist Standard, March 1906)

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