The British Labour Party, then and now

It was on this day, February 15th, 1906, that the 29 Members of Parliament just elected under the banner of the Labor Representation Committee (LRC), voted to adopt the name “The Labour Party” and chose Keir Hardie, a former lay preacher as their leader. The LRC had been formed from several workers’ associations and trade unions, who decided to seek their own representation in Parliament following the extension of the franchise, rather than continue to support the Liberals. The party had roots in non-conformism, prompting a later General Secretary to comment that "Socialism in Britain owed more to Methodism than Marx."

Despite distancing themselves from the now-declining Liberal Party, the brief Labour governments of 1924 and 1927-31 were with Labour minorities dependent on Liberal support. Their first majority brought to office the postwar government of Clement Atlee, which engaged in a radical socialist programme, including the nationalization of key industries, and the introduction of the National Health Service. It failed, however, to end the shortages and rationing that had characterized wartime Britain, or to revitalize industry and the postwar economy, and it lost office accordingly.

There has long been a mismatch between working class Labour support, principally expressed through the trade unions, and an urban intelligentsia in the thrall of Marxism and the ideology of class struggle. The New Labour period of 1997-2010 showed that Labour could win power if it eschewed socialism, but left-wing critics regarded this as “Tory Lite,” and saw little point in electing a Labour government if it embraced market capitalism.

The party today is under the control of an urban Marxist intelligentsia, personified by Jeremy Corby and John McDonnell, whose policy it is to introduce to the UK policies that have failed in practice not only in the UK, but everywhere they have been tried. Those 29 MPs who formed the Labour Party 113 years ago would distance themselves today if they were able to see the anti-Semitism, the support for terrorist and anti-British groups that the present leadership of their party embraces. They were basically decent and patriotic, despite their opposition to the established policies of their day. They would be appalled at the thuggery that characterizes today’s Labour militants, and by the way in which extremism has become mainstream-ism in the party they began with such lofty ideals and intentions.