Lansbury and the “Daily Herald”. A forgotten incident
We see from the Daily Herald of January 19th, that Mr. George Lansbury is publishing a history of the Herald. Lest Mr. Lansbury should omit to record the treatment meted out to Charles Lapworth, a former Editor, for the offence of assuming that the duty of a workers’ paper is to fight for the working class, we reprint the letter Lapworth wrote when his connection with the Herald came to an end. A lesson is also to be learned about the futility of trying to build up a workers’ movement except on the basis of solid understanding. The wealthy and “disinterested” friends are likely to prove disappointing supports in time of trouble. Those who pay the piper call the tune !
Lapworth’s letter appeared in the New Age on December 18th, 1923, after the Herald had refused to publish it !
A letter from Chas. Lapworth to the “ New
Age ” (18/12/1913).
I sent the enclosed statement to the Daily Herald. The management declined to pub¬lish it. Will you be good enough to give it a space in the New Age?
(Signed) CHAS. LAPWORTH.
After, a fortnight’s delay, an announcement has been made in the Daily Herald of the fact that Mr. G. Lansbury has been appointed Editor in my place and it has been necessary to say that “there will be no change of policy.” I think it is due to these enquiries, and certainly in view of events subsequent to what I am about to relate, it is due to me personally that my explanation of what happened should be published. The notice in to-day’s “paper” states merely that I had resigned, and many may wonder why I should desert my post at such a crisis in the industrial war as the week before the “Dublin Conference.” The statement, if it had given the full truth, would have said “that I had been forced out of the editorship against my will.” Most readers know something of the romantic career of our little paper, and will remember that in June last the “Daily Herald Co.” was forced into liquidation through no fault of its own. “The Limit Printing and Publishing Co.” was then formed, consisting of Mr. G. Lansbury and myself, and we acquired the paper. By this time the expenditure had been cut down to £500 per week, as against £1,100 per week of a year previous, and the weekly loss reduced to about £200 per week, which several anonymous rich friends of Mr. G. Lansbury agreed to make good. Later Mr. Francis Meynell, as representing these friends, was added to the Board of Directors, making the maximum of three allowed by the “Articles of Association.” The only other shareholder besides the Directors is Mr. Robert Williams.
Mr. Lansbury is Chairman and I am Secretary of the Company. On Sunday, December 1st, 1913, I received a summons to a meeting of the Company, signed by Mr. G. Lansbury and called for the following Monday morning. Mr. Lansbury, Mr. Meynell, and myself were present, and the meeting was opened by the Chairman without any preamble addressing me: “We have come to ask you to resign the Editorship. Either you go out or I shall refuse to have anything more to do with the paper.” And he went on to say that he must refuse to enter into any argument or give any other reason than that there was a fundamental difference between his own frame of mind, his own outlook and mine, which difference made the position absolutely hopeless so far as the future of the paper was concerned. Naturally, I urged that, even admitting this “fundamental difference,” it was not serious enough ground for me to resign my position, and that with all respect I must ask for something more specific. Placing a copy of the Daily Herald on the table, I said that was what the staff and myself stood for, obviously, or we would not have been working as conscientious journalists, and that being so, the request for my resignation necessarily implied a departure in policy. Mr. Lansbury denied that it did. I answered that a mere negative did not help me to understand, and I asked for particular criticism of the conduct of the paper. The Chairman objected to what he called my cross-examination of himself, but conceded that as I have been honest and conscientious in my editorial work, I was only doing the right thing from my point of view in fighting for the status quo. He also agreed there was no personal feeling in the matter, but we disagreed about a principle. Mr. Lansbury repeated that so far as he was concerned the position was hopeless if I remained Editor. I pressed for reasons. Mr. Meynell then proffered this : “We want the paper to represent Mr. Lansbur’s ideas, and we propose that Mr. Lansbury be Editor.”. I suggested that the change of Editor and mention of “ideas,” seeing that Mr. Lansbury had stated his ideas coincided with mine, did warrant my assumption that change of policy was intended. To which Mr. Meynell replied: “We are against the gospel of hatred you preach. I pointed out that the paper stood for the class war, without modification, and Mr. Lansbury interposed that “it would continue to stand for the class war, but not class hatred and attacks on persons of another class.” “Hatred of conditions, by all means, but not of persons,” I think were his words, and Mr. Meynell said something about the absence of the spirit of brotherhood in the paper. Incidentally Mr. Lansbury strongly condemned some public remark of Wm. D. Heywood about middle-class people. Readers will have to put their own construction on the foregoing. My construction was that the paper was to be allowed to retain its “kick,” but that it was to have a feather bed tied round its foot. Both Mr. Meynell and Mr. G. Lansbury insisted that their complaint was against the tone and not the policy of the paper. Mr. Meynell said that almost every day his father or somebody else complained of something offensive. My reply was that the Daily Herald was not written for rich people, but by workers for workers, and so far the latter had not made manifest any objection to the tone. In response to further pressure, I got one or two items mentioned about which there was complaint. It is hardly believable, but I, Editor of a militant working-class paper, was taken to task for uncomplimentary reference to a duchess, to a bishop, to a prominent Fabian, and for a cartoon of a certain Labour Member of Parliament.
Prior to this particular meeting, complaint bad been made about neglect of the woman’s movement and “Too much Dublin” In reference to this, I contended that it was not fair to blame the paper for the past few months’ apparent slump in militant suffrage methods, and that if my editorial judgment was wrong in attributing to Dublin the greatest importance in the industrial war, then I must certainly accept the blame for devoting to it so much of our eight small pages. Finally I said I had diligently assembled all the—to me—little molehills to which exception had been taken, and for the life of me I could not build a big enough mountain of reason why I should desert my post, and I refused to resign. Mr. Meynell then moved : “That Mr. G. Lansbury be Editor in place of Mr. Lapworth.” I voted against the proposition. Mr. Lansbury as Chairman used his casting vote and declared himself appointed Editor. Subsequently, as a graceful concession to Mr. Lansbury, I formally resigned and duly entered on the minute book the new Editor, and that was all, except—at the evident desire of Mr. Lansbury—I left the office at once. I also proffered the undertaking that I would not speak to any of the staff, who would naturally want some explanation of the extraordinary turn of events, until Mr. Lansbury had had an opportunity of giving his own explanation.
Mr. Lansbury objected to me taking notes of the discussion, but I think I have reported fairly correctly what took place. Mr. Lansbury also intimated that he would allow no discussion in the Daily Herald, so I don’t know whether this statement will be permitted to appear in the paper, which has hitherto made a boast of its “free and open platform,” but it is in view of events subsequent to the above meeting that I am obliged to press for publication.
I have since been criticised for allowing myself to be forced out of the Editorship. My answer is that the proposition came upon me so suddenly that it did not occur to me that I could alone shoulder the responsibility of stopping the £200 a week subsidy, as I was made to feel was inevitable if I proved obdurate. The money had always been put up solely on account of Mr. Lanhbury’s personality, and his withdrawal meant the withdrawal of the cash.
December 12th, 1913.
(Italics ours.—Ed. Com., “ S.S.”)
(Socialist Standard, February 1925)