February 27th

On This Day in 1900 the direct predecessor to the British Labour Party, the Labour Representation Committee, was formed.

labour-collage_61

A Labour slogan featuring the red rose which was adopted in the 1980’s as the party moved away from it’s socialist roots. James Keir Hardie one of the party’s foremost founders and one of the first labour representatives elected to British Parliament in 1892. A plaque incorrectly celebrating the founding of “The Labour Party” in 1900. It wasn’t until 1906 that the Labour Representation Committee became the Labour Party.

Labour representation in the British Parliament was a long road. The House of Lords, who had been the dominant chamber for centuries, were ill-inclined to extend voting rights to all men (and especially not women). However, the evolutionary nature of the uncodified British constitution had allowed legislation to be introduced to slowly diminish their influence. The main changes to the franchise were seen in the first three reforming acts brought in prior to the Labour Representation Committee’s founding.

The 1832, 1867 and 1884 Representation of the People Acts had taken Britain from a confusing, archaic mess of voting rights to a much more uniform system. Despite the elitist exclusion of poorer, working class voters, the influential Liberal Party’s progressive agenda encouraged them to support legislation in a more democratic direction.

At the same time, James Keir Hardie was establishing himself as a young Union leader, but quickly became disillusioned by William Gladstone and the Liberal Party, deciding to stand in the Mid Lanarkshire By-election of 1888 as an independent Labour candidate. Though he came last, he continued in his efforts and found victory in West Ham South in 1892, where the Liberals had decided to not field a candidate to give Hardie a chance.

Hardie was immediately an intensely controversial figure. He refused to wear typical Parliamentary apparel and voted in a way unseen in the Westminster’s history; including advocating for female suffrage and the abolition of House of Lords. The final straw came following an explosion in Wales which killed 251 miners. Hardie requested that the addition of a line of condolence be added to the prepared speech celebrating the birth of a royal heir. However, his request was denied and he subsequently lambasted the monarchy.

This was incredibly unpopular and is credited for him losing his seat in the 1895 election. However, it would be outside of Parliament that some of Hardie’s greatest successes would be seen. He was to spend the next five years building up the Labour party and in 1900 he organised a meeting of trade unions and socialist organisations, including the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society, that would build the foundation of the Labour Party in what was then named the Labour Representation Committee. Later that year he was elected as the junior MP in the dual-member constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare in South Wales.

The party organised with the Liberals in 1903 to avoid clashes that would lead to the splitting of anti-Conservatives votes at the next election, and in 1906 saw 29 MPs elected. The first Labour government was formed in 1924 by Ramsay McDonald, and the Party would go on to define themselves as one of the two main parties in British politics.

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