Lord Amwell and the Labour Party: Pointed Criticism by Early Member of the S.D.F.

With the permission of the Daily Mail and Lord Amwell we reproduce below the article “Why I Quit the Labour Party,” published in the Mail on 16 December, 1955. It is of more than passing interest because Frederick Montague, besides having been Labour M.P. and having held office in Labour Government, was a member of the Social Democratic Federation at the time members broke away to form the S.P.G.B. in 1904. He had joined the S.D.F. in 1894 and the I.L.P. in 1895 (dual membership being quite an accepted thing at that time) and later became a member of the Labour Party. The S.D.F. which, after some changes of name, had reverted to its earlier name, lost membership and influence and disappeared early in the second world war. In 1939. the last year in which it appeared’ among the organizations affiliated to the Labour Party (with a membership reduced to 500) Fred Montague was their delegate at the Labour Party Conference.

All this gives interest to Lord Amwell’s reason for leaving the party that he has supported for so long. Many of the points he makes are in line with S.P.G.B. arguments

Why I Quit the Labour Party

One-time newsboy and shop assistant), Lord Amwell, Frederick Montague as he then was, sat as Labour MP. for West Islington from 1923 to 1931 and from 1935 to 1947. He was Under-Secretary of State for Air, 1929-31; Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. 1940-41; and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, 1941-42. He was created Baron in 1947.

I quit, but not to cross any floor, only to be free. I want freedom to say without embarrassment that which I feel ought to be said about today’s labour politics and industrial tactics.

Clement Attlee’s departure provides the occasion by loosening certain ties of personal loyalty.

Labour was never very clear in its Socialist theory but I, for one, hoped for the best. Today’s attempt at “refashioning Socialism as a philosophy and finding practical programmes to meet the needs of the times” has resulted in grounding the principles by which the movement was originally inspired. Such is my view and here are some of my reasons for holding it.

“Welfare” has nothing whatever to do with Socialism, and constitutes no “silent revolution.” It did not originate with the Labour Party and was not opposed by any party. It is not a party issue. That “rascally” Tories voted against the Welfare State is not true. Naturally Tories wanted their own way on details, but they no more voted against the principle than Labour voted against having an Army, Navy, and Air Force.


It is a little disgusting to mislead electors by taking advantage of popular ignorance of Parliamentary procedure in the interest of vote-catching.

I have no objection to “Welfare.” We live in a keen Capitalist world that must be allowed to work or we starve. But I do object to the substitution of it for what we are supposed to stand for and the consequent neglect of more fundamental things. Especially do I object to calling the Beveridge system Socialist and claiming fundamental change for it, silent or not.

It is not true that “ poverty has been wiped out in Britain for ever,” as Attlee told the Russians. The authoritative figure of persons in receipt of public assistance is 1,600,000. These are not all old persons.


The fact is that “Welfare” implies the continued existence of the inherited and the disinherited—Disraeli’s “Two Nations.” It is made a substitute for Socialism on the ground that it involves a redistribution of national income—the alleged silent revolution. But Socialism is not the redistribution of money income. It is production for use and the distribution of that.

There is now full employment upon the basis of inflation, which is quite another matter. For how long? Three-and-a-half-million married women go out to work. They will not go out to work when inflation has run its course and lower prices set in. The production line at any old wage will last as long as markets are kept and no longer.

The American motor-car balloon is already sagging. Automation and “ automation” may soon start its own silent revolution. For leisure? Oh, certainly for leisure if we don’t look out! How are you going to sell superabundance to countries also superabundant?

The Illusion

In my view it is a complete illusion that high-powered industry on a vast scale can be “taken over” as a going concern, or “planned” from the outside, without taking over and planning human beings. Stateism which under trades union rule means syndicalism was never the dream of old. Mechanism and freedom won’t mix.

Labour in face of tremendous problems seems to me to be playing the old unclean party game, peddling for votes on the “Ninepence for fourpence” and “Big loaf instead of little loaf ” pattern. I have no use for it. I think the propaganda of Transport House shocking in its mendacity and its appeal to cupidity. Not thus was a loveable movement made. ‘

Labour’s new generation even experts like Gaitskell himself, brilliant player of the “game” as he no doubt will be, no more understand the economics of Capitalism than they do the economics of Socialism.

We are not informed as to what has happened to the untold millions made overnight on the floor of the London Stock Exchange. Silence reigns on this matter, because the untold millions are no longer told. In this notion that ledger-entries and real wealth are one and the same thing and that “there’s plenty where that came from” to go on being distributed there is the elementary fallacy that Socialists laughed out of court years ago. The fallacy of “sharing out.”

Can’t be done

I want to say these things and much more. I want to show how it is that Socialism cannot be properly dressed in Capitalist togs, that “welfare” is precariously poised, as Beveridge admits, and that a free economy is possible.

I want also to show that social reform in history has always been a process of “tidying up” when the cruder forms of exploitation have ceased to pay. There is no exception to this, and it makes a big difference once understood, to what we think about fundamentals and expediencies.

So, I quit!

Lord Amwell