“Independence” and Sentiment
The leaders of the Independent Labour Party have assuredly found the right way to deal with any of their followers who attempt to kick over the traces. Understanding the sentimentalism with which the I.L.P. is pervaded, J. Ramsay Macdonald, Keir Hardie & Co. are able, by working upon this feeling, to sway any assembly of I.L.P-ers in which they find themselves to practically whatever position they desire. An illustration of the success of this manoeuvre can be seen in reading the report of the recent I.L.P. conference at Birmingham. The whole tone of the meeting was such as would have been more applicable to a dormitory of love-sick young ladies than to an assembly of Members of Parliament and self styled economists and politicians. During the debate following the report of the I.L.P. Members of Parliament there were several outbreaks on the part of certain members of the rank and file. Even Lansbury—with an eye, possibly, to the future chairmanship of the Labour Party—made several rather unkind remarks.
P. S. Stewart started the ball by pointing out to the assembled delegates that in the division on the Right to Work amendment to the address on the King’s Speech, only a little more than 20 Labour Members had voted. He went on further to protest against neglect of Parliamentary duties by members who left Westminster to fulfil £5 week-end engagements.
F. W. Jowett reminded those present how in 1909 the Labour Party decided to move a reduction of the tea tax, but at the last moment refrained from voting when it was seen that there was a danger of defeating the Government; pointing out that this policy of waiting upon the Liberal party was still adhered to by the Labour Party as a whole.
Lansbury in his speech told the delegates that when the question of the Welsh colliers was raised in Parliament, only 17 Labour men went into the lobby for fear of endangering the Government.
R. C. Wallhead “was not satisfied with the Labour Party, and there were certain Labour Members he would like to see out of the House.”
The impression forced upon one by reading the report is that the I.L.P. members in Parliament are quite content to acquiesce in the coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberals. The admission was made by J. R. Macdonald that Labour Members are in the habit of appearing on Liberal platforms. Keir Hardie told those present that many Labour Members felt they were bound to be the friends of the Government, and give a general backing to those who had given them so much—the “so much” including the “super tax of 6d. in the £ on big incomes, important land taxes, and the valuation of land, and Old-Age Pensions.”
He went, on to say that “ The Government’s programme for this session contained an Osborne Bill, a Mines Rill, the Shop Assistants’ Bill, an Insurance Scheme against Unemployment and invalidity, which were all the outcome of I.L.P. propaganda. The Tories would fight these measures tooth and nail, and therefore there was bound to be a more kindly feeling towards the party that was going part of our way than towards those who were fighting us every inch of the way.” This in spite of the fact that he had complained just previously that the Labour Party thought too much in terms of Liberalism, and his remark that he feared the Liberals with their Social Reform much more than the Tories.
The debate ended in moonshine. The “meta-physical and philosophical” speech of Macdonald, the “heart to heart” talk of Lansbury, the earnest, touching, passionate, eloquent (adjectives fail) peroration of Keir Hardie, apparently reduced the assembled delegates to a state of speechlessness. At any rate, the whole matter dropped. The I.L.P. members in Parliament will go on in the old sweet way, pandering to the Liberals, speaking from Liberal platforms, fulfilling week-end engagements at £5 per time, joining committees in connection with the forthcoming Coronation festivities, writing well-paid articles for the capitalist Press. And through it all they will protest against their claim to independence being in the slightest degree impugned. Moreover, the pity of it is that thousands of the members of the working class still believe in their specious promises and the sentimental cant in which they delight to indulge. The Socialist Party has truly much work in front of it, not only in combating the avowed capitalist parties, but still more in fighting such parties as the I.L.P., which, under the guise of Socialism, is endeavouring to lead the workers into a more degraded and more servile condition of life than even the one in which they now find themselves.
F. J. Webb