Account For The Rise Of The Labour — страница 2

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reality of working-class demands for state-sponsored social reforms during this period. `The corollary of pre-war Liberal weakness is, potentially at least, Labour strength; and Pelling and others, while not denying the evident weaknesses of the Labour Party during these years, have stressed ‘the strength of the roots put down before 1914′. Pelling, for example, has emphasised repeatedly the enormous importance of increasing trade union affiliations for future Labour development, and especially the accession of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain in 1909, which at one stroke increased party membership in the House of Commons by fifteen, and held out the alluring prospect of all the miners’ pocket boroughs being swept into the Labour net, as indeed they were after

1918. Moreover, he stresses the importance of those more general social and economic factors – growing difficulties in basic unity on the one hand but deeper class divisions on the other – which were bound eventually to play into the hands of the Labour Party. Dr Gregory has illustrated in detail the importance of these factors for the prospects of the party in the coalfields between 1906 and 1914. By the eve of the First World War, as he points out, the Liberal alliance was already beginning to crumble, and the M.F.G.B. was proposing to sponsor twenty-one Labour candidates against the Liberals at the next election. Indeed, one recent estimate suggests that the Labour Party would then have put up between 150 and 170 candidates, compared with seventy-eight, the highest number

previously. In one way or another, therefore, the conditions were being prepared for Labour’s great leap forward in the post-war world. The Liberal Party was doomed. `It has been argued by historians such as Professor Trevor Wilson and P.F. Clarke that in the early twentieth century there was a genuine Liberal revival, linked with opposition to the Boer War and Conservative reaction, and based on the ethic of ‘Progressivism’: social reform and anti-Imperialism, fostered by national party organisation. ‘The Liberal revival’ writes Dr Clarke ‘gave evidence of its scale in 1906 and its durability in 1910′; and there was no reason to believe that it would not continue among the working class. The Labour Party can best be seen, therefore, as a part, but only a part, of

the Edwardian Progressive Movement. Conceived as an” independent”> political party, it was narrow, weak, uninspired, and irrelevant, for the Liberals could have retained power in 1910 with Irish votes alone. Labour electoral history during these years gives much substance to these views. In twenty of the twenty-four seats where Labour opposed Liberal candidates in January 1910, Labour finished bottom of the `poll; Labour was bottom of the poll again in all the fourteen by-elections they fought between December 1910 and July 1914, though Henry Pelling has argued that nevertheless in terms of votes Labour was still doing better than this indicates. `In principle, there is no necessary incompatibility between the views of the two groups of historians, since they differ not so

much over the facts but over the time scale into which those facts should be fitted. Looked at from the point of view of pre-1914, Professor Wilson and Dr Clarke are right to stress the weaknesses of the Labour position; on the other hand, Henry Pelling’s insistence on the importance of those fundamental social and economic factors which in the long run were likely to benefit the Labour Party, seems equally valid. In particular his emphasis on the key importance of growing trade union links with Labour seems persistently underrated by ‘pro-Liberal’ historians, though it is important to remember of course that a trade unionist did not necessarily vote Labour merely because his union had affiliated to the Labour Party. The problem is that it is difficult to isolate the

effects of such long-term factors from the more immediate and obvious impact of political events; and at the heart of this controversy is a political event of major importance: the Liberal split during the First World War. The consequences of this split in helping the Labour Party to dislodge the Liberal Party (as revealed in the electoral statistics 1918-24) are so profound as to render otiose squabbles over the pre-war positions of the two parties. `Nevertheless, even the immediate post-war period of Liberal ‘downfall’ no longer seems quite as inevitable as once it did. After 1918 the Labour Party at last (as Maurice Cowling argues) ‘broke through the dams which the Liberal Party had built’ and entered, with evident satisfaction, the world of ‘high politics’. He