Saturday, 6 December 2008

A History Lesson

Since its foundation in 1906 the Labour Party has been the most successful party of the left.

Our record is a proud one, the welfare state, Independence for the empire and a continual fight for equality, lets not forget that its under labour that the social reforms of the 60's took place, the death penalty was ended and indeed equal pay and equal rights at work for women became a legislative reality (shame its taking so long for business to realise).

So who were the people who made it possible for a small party elected with 29 seats in 1906 go on to record the largest single party majorities in parliamentary history and change the country that we live in for the better.

so here is part one of the list of Labour Leaders and the length of time that they held office as well as the seat they held in Parliament. Part one deals with 1906-1935.

James Keir Hardie 1 year, 11 months, Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare
Arthur Henderson 2 years, 3 weeks, Barnard Castle
George Barnes 11 months, 3 weeks, Glasgow Blackfriars & Hutchesontow
Ramsay McDonald 3 years, 5 months, Leicester
Arthur Hendersn 3 years, 2 months, Barnard Castle
William Adamson 3 years, 3 months, West Fife
John Robert Clynes 1 year, 9 months, Manchester Platting
Ramsay McDonald 8 years, 9 months, Aberavon then Seaham
Arthur Henderson 1 year, 1 month, Burnley then out of Parliament
George Lansbury 2 years, 11 months, Bow and Bromley

So there is the first part of the list and the interesting thing about it is that Robert Clynes was the first leader not to be Scottish, although Adamson was the only one to represent a Scottish seat he was the 5th Scot to lead the party.

Part 2 will be posted later and then some mini biographies of some of them will be posted.


  1. I look foward to reading your thoughts on these early times in the Labour party/movement. Our history and roots are too easily overlooked.

    By the looks of things you've already got hold of Henry Pelling's classic and still very useful 'A Short History of the Labour Party', but there were a number of other good studies undertaken around the centenary of the formation of the party proper. Amongst these I like Briviati and Hefferman's Labour Party: a centenary history.

    If you're looknig for something with a real 'feel' for the party, then I'd always recommend Henry Drucker's superb 1979 'Doctrine and Ethos in the Labour Party' which is not a history per se but sets out how much (then) modern Labour was in debt to its older traditions, in a way which 'policy-focused' history never captured. It's also quite Scottish-focused as Drucker was then based in Scotland.

  2. Paul

    Thanks for the hints on the books, i havent got a copy of Pelling's im just old :) (well in student terms anyway).

    But it is important that we do rememebr the party history as it is from the past that we can learn about the future so any help and additional info that can be given will be greatly appreciated.

  3. I think this is a great idea for a series, I look forward to reading your thoughts. Perhaps since you're doing a series on your speciality I should do one on my subject. Although quite what a "Chemistry of the Labour Party would be about I'm not sure.

    One point I would quibble on though is the date of founding. The history I read recently gave the founding date as the 27th of February 1900; the date of the founding of the Labour Representation Committee.

    Paul: Thanks for the book recommendations I recently (I might have mentioned it in another post) got a Short History by Keith Laybourn, and I had been looking around for other books on Labour but was stymied somewhat by not knowing what was good and what was dross to be avoided. Certainly I think a book on Doctrine and Ethos sounds very interesting.

  4. The LRC was indeed founded in 1900 but i am taking the offical date that the Labour Party came into being and that was 1906.

    By the way a history of what Labour has done for science would be a great idea :)

  5. Yes Nahuatl, the Laybourn one is good too. Pelling's is interesting principally because it's old (1961) and it therefore feel quite simply closer to the action, though in truth it's more straight narrative than historical analysis.

    I agree that 1900 is a better date really, but it doesn't matter that much.

  6. Peter: That's a good idea, i think I'll look into when I have more time (i.e. In the Christmas holiday.). Certainly the public funding of science is very important to me.

    Paul: You seem to know quite a few Labour history books. Is your PhD related to history?

    I just ordered Pelling's book from Amazon, i look forward to reading it.

  7. Just to say the reason why I choose 1906 as the starting point is that before that date the LRC was just a group of organisations working together to support individuals, indeed my other love the Co-op was even invited. But in 1906 a decision was taken to formalise the relationship and to fund a proper Labour Party so while we can go back to the election of Keir Hardie in the 1890's or the LRC in 1900, 1906 was the date that the left had a major place in the House.