How the Labour Party was created to stand up for the working class
The early 20th century was a time of social upheaval in the UK. new laws and regulations were brought in to protect the working class and the vulnerable, moving the country away from the dark days of the Victorian era. Much of the support for this social improvement came from the creation of the Labour Party, and its founder and first Parliamentary leader Keir Hardie.
Born in 1856 in Legbrannock, Scotland, Hardie was a devout socialist and an outspoken pacifist from the Boer War at the turn of the century onward.
The Labour Party was created to give the working class a voice within Westminster, and Hardie was from a hard working background. At the age of eight he began work as a coal miner, but two years later was sacked and blacklisted by Lanark mine owners for his tendency to strike.
The last two decades of the 19th century saw Hardie become a major player in socialist activity. From 1881 he helped to form miners’ unions on a county basis, meanwhile earning his living as a journalist. In his own newspapers, The Miner (1887–89) and Labour Leader (from 1889), he expressed Christian socialist views on labour and on wider political issues. He founded the Scottish Labour Party in 1888, the year in which he was badly defeated in his first attempt at election to the House of Commons.
In 1893 he helped to create the Independent Labour Party. The group was more of a political branch than a political party, but it appealed to working class socialists in a way that the Conservatives or the Liberal Party ever had before.
It was February 1900 where Hardie and other socialists would truly make history. The group formed the Labour Representation Committee, a forerunner to the Labour Party. Hardie wanted the group to represent the workers on which modern society was built upon. The Conservatives were not listening and the Liberals were disconnected from the working classes.
The first General Election in which Labour were involved was 1906, with 26 becoming Members of Parliament. Labour’s first government would get into power in 1924 under Ramsey MacDonald.
Keir Hardie was leader for a short time, but by 1907 had taken more of a back seat from the role. In the lead up to the First World War, Hardie turned his efforts to figuring out how the group could support the push for peace. However, Labour MP’s got behind the need for Britain to enter the war. Hardie became disillusioned with the party. When he died in September 1915, Britain and the Commonwealth were deeply involved in the war and thousands of soldiers had been lost.
His relationship with the Labour Party may have waned, yet the party owes so much to Keir Hardie. The man grew up in a working class town, earned money in one of the most dangerous professions of the Victorian era. He was exactly the kind of person who needed a voice in politics after being ignored for centuries. The original purpose of the Labour Party which Hardie helped to create was to stand up for the working class. In 2020 the party needs to go back to its roots now more than ever.