1910s >> 1913 >> no-110-october-1913
The Labour Party in Parliament
The Chesterfield Bye Election has re-opened the question of the Labour Party’s position as a political party. After the local T.U. official being adopted as the Liberal and Labour candidate, the prince of political independence, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, solemnly anathematises such an unholy alliance. As the Labour Party constitution definitely states that candidates must run as “Labour”.candidates only, there was nothing else the leader of the party could do but disown him who broke the rules.
In spite, however, of the repudiation of the candidate by the chairman of the organisation, its members, who are also members of the candidate’s Trade Union, supported the aspirant. This offence was aggravated by the defiant speeches as well as actions against the Labour Party Executive for casting out Mr. Kenyon because he had received the official Liberal label.
Although the circumstances are tempting enough in all conscience, I am going to refrain from commenting on the Chesterfield bye election, and treat of the position of the party as a whole, a position upon which this election throws a flood of light and provides an excellent illustration.
The Labour Party in Parliament boasts 42 members. The candidates have to be run as “Labour” candidates only, and no connection with any other political party is allowed. The Labour Party is nominally as independent of the Liberal party as of the Tory party—or the Socialist Party. Yet in practice the Labour members are, for the purposes of the Government, the equivalent of Liberal members. The Liberal and Tory parties in the House exactly equilibrate with 272 members each, but the Liberals hold office with the Irish Nationalist and Labour votes.
When the Labour Party were first returned as a separate party in 1906, they sat on the cross benches, belonging to neither side, but now they sit on the Liberal side. Is this only due to the exigencies of the seating accommodation ?
The late Mr. Haslam, who sat for Chesterfield, was a fully-accredited Labour member. The seat was won in what the followers of the Labour Party euphemistically describe as “a straight fight with the Tory.” The value of the independence of such a position is admirably depicted by the subsequent happenings at Chesterfield and the walk-over of the Liberal candidate in spite of the official repudiation by the Labour Executive. The value of the independence of the Labour Party is also shown in the fact that not one of the 42 seats they occupy has been won in opposition to the Liberal party. Every one of their seats is held for the Liberal party, by the goodwill of the Liberal party, and it is not too much to say that the official Liberal party could claim almost any one of them in the same way as at Chesterfield. Liberal votes are behind every Labour member in the House, and his “independence” of Liberalism can be valued accordingly.
The same holds true particularly in those two-seated constituencies now held by one Liberal and one Labour member as at Leicester, Blackburn. Derby, Halifax, Newcastle, Stockport, Sunderland, Norwich, Merthyr, Dundee, and Bolton. In each of these cases one Liberal and one Labour candidate were opposed to two Unionist candidates, and the two seats are held practically with the same votes. At Preston the two unionists were successful, and the Liberal and Labour candidates, locked in each other’s embrace, sank into temporary political oblivion.
A list of the seats held by Labour men without opposition from the Liberals would exhaust the remainder of the party. In addition to those successful in fighting the Tories for the Liberals, the following, who were unsuccessful, adds to and completes the tale of Labour dependence on Liberalism. Kirkdale, Liverpool, Mr. McKerrell lost to the Unionists by 2,992 against 4,205; at St. Helen’s Mr. Glover was knocked out by 6,016 against 5,752; at Central Sheffield Mr. Bailey lost to the Tory by 3,455 against 3271; at Wigan Mr. Twist was defeated and lost his seat by 4,673 against 4,110; and at Newton, S.W. Lancashire, Mr. Seddon also lost his seat by 6,706 against. 6,562.
There have been cases, however, where the Labour Party have contested seats against both parties. These cases are rare, and tend to become rarer. Occasionally the local Labour organisation take the bit between their teeth and rush into a contest either against, or with the unwilling approval of, the Centre. The nervousness of the seat-holders is increased when such a rift in the lute results in losing the seat to the Tories. Such results occurred at Crewe, Chatham, Camlachie, and Midlothian, where the “split progressive vote let the Tory in.” In thirteen other constituencies the Labour Party put up a candidate against both Liberal and Tory parties, and the Liberal was returned at the top of the poll, in every case with the Labour man a bad third.
In addition to the Labour Party as the political expression of the trade unions, there is also the pseudo-Socialist parties. Of these the I.L.P. has sunk its identity in the Labour Party, whose absorption by the Liberals involves the Independent Labour Party. The Fabian Society does not run candidates on its own, its members being occasionally found among the Liberals. The British Socialist Party had a little flutter at the last General Election, but never, notwith standing the sweet reasonableness of the attitude they adopted, getting within reach of success. At Burnley, where the candidature of Hyndman has been pressed for many years, where the candidate was the best known among them, and when the programme was watered and coloured to popularise the candidature, the vote was barely more than half the successful Liberal’s. Irving at Rochdale, although he trimmed and revised himself almost out of a separate existence, did not come within a third of the number of votes necessary.
Some excuse can be made for candidatures of the hopelessly unsuccessful class when they are propagandist, but the desire to win necessitating such excessive trimming as is undoubtedly indulged in by the B.S.P., prevents excusing them on the ground of propaganda.
The Labour Party in Parliament, which the above facts show to be necessarily but an adjunct to the Liberal party, is officered and bossed by the men who are the self imposed leaders of ‘‘Socialist” thought in this country. Ramsay MacDonald, Keir Hardie, and Philip Snowden are the “brains” of the I.L.P. Ramsay Macdonald is the first of the scientific Socialists, for he himself has said so. He is popularly supposed to be the first example of a Socialist statesman this country has produced. Yet it seems to those of us who can dispassionately view the activities of our masters in the political as well as in other fields, that J. R. MacDonald has manifested no degree of mentality to make us wonder, nothing of faith or power to make us worship. There are many men in the ranks of our avowed opponents who could give him a start and a beating at any test of mentality, and his statesmanship is becoming nauseating even to quite loyal members of his party. So far as he is responsible for the present position of the Labour Party he has little enough to flatter himself with, except that the “new and leavening factor that was introduced into Parliament” in 1906 with such a flourish of trumpets has negotiated itself into the Liberal majority and is lost. Not a fragment remains as a memento of its work, if any, and now its power to do any thing for itself and the people it is supposed to represent has vanished with the last shred of its independence, the sooner it is decently buried the better for everyone concerned —except the members.
The sooner the working class of this country learn the lesson the dismal history of this phase of the working-class movement presents the quicker shall we have started on the road to our emancipation. That lesson, surely, is that the position of our representatives in Parliament must be one of absolute independence from any pro-capitalist party, and that such independence most be based upon their hostility to capitalist parties.
The working class, having learnt that capitalist exploitation is the source of their social evils and their enslavement, will seek to emancipate themselves and solve their social problems by the abolition of capitalism through the establishment of Socialism. Parliamentary action must always be guided by that object, and no compromise with the enemy is possible or desirable. The essential factor is the education of the workers in the principles of Socialism, for on the “rank and file” rests the responsibility of a “leader’s” shortcomings.
The failure of the Labour Party to “make good” is useful in showing how it can not be done, but is a useless waste of time to those of us who knew it could not be done that way.
If there are any who even think themselves Socialists left in the I.L.P., it is to be hoped that they will justify themselves by studying the position of the only Socialist party in Great Britain and so befit themselves to become soldiers in its ranks, there to work for Socialism and Socialism alone.