JOHN McGURK: LABOUR’S FOUNDERS WOULD BE PROUD OF JEREMY CORBYN

JOHN McGURK

Every day seems to bring another broadside attack on Jeremy Corbyn as Labour MPs and party grandees, assisted by the majority of newspapers, line up to stick the boot in and bring about their leader’s downfall.

Corbyn’s decision to allow a free vote on the parliamentary motion for Britain to bomb Syria, thereby handing victory to David Cameron and the go-ahead to scramble RAF tornadoes, was arguably his only option to hold the division in his ranks.

But the split over Corbyn’s anti-war stance may well have doomed the party towards an internal civil war — It was, as the Sunday Times reported at the weekend “The week Labour tore itself apart”.

It is, of course, dramatic stuff for the media but none of this is hardly new in the history of the Labour Party, a movement born out of pacifism and whose founding fathers were predominately anti-war.

Keir Hardie himself, the Scottish miner who became the first leader of the Labour movement in Britain and its first MP, died aged 59 in 1915 having suffered a series of strokes brought about by the barrage of hatred he suffered because of his opposition to the First World War.

In 1913, Hardie presided over a peace rally in the Albert Hall and fronted numerous anti-war demonstrations. Despite being shouted down and accused of being a traitor, he attempted to form an international socialist alliance with other European countries in an effort to stop the war.

Hardie would have been proud of Jeremy Corbyn. There can be little doubt that if he were alive today, he would be an outspoken and aggressive voice against war.

No less of an anti-war campaigner was the Red Clydesider James Maxton who became leader of the Independent Labour Party and MP for Bridgeton in Glasgow from 1922 until his death in 1946 aged 61.

Maxton was the conscientious objector who preferred to go to jail rather than join the military. In 1916, after organising a series of strikes at the Clydeside shipyards, he was arrested and found guilty of sedition.

Now recognised as the most charismatic socialist politician between the wars in a biography written by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Maxton would undoubtedly be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jeremy Corbyn today.

Then there’s Labour’s first Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald who, after seeing the results of modern warfare and the slaughter it caused in the South African Boer War, became another strident opponent of the senseless killing of World War One.

Like today, Labour in 1914 was a party split over whether or not support the war.

While the majority in the party backed the government’s campaign to raise £100 million by selling war credits, MacDonald resigned as chairman of the party amid cries of treason and cowardice.

The press was no kinder to Ramsay McDonald than it is to Jeremy Corbyn today.

The patriotic but fiercely jingoistic magazine John Bull exposed him as illegitimate and campaigned that he should be thrown out of parliament because he had entered using a false name.

Interestingly, MacDonald’s pacifism became widely admired throughout the 1920s as he led various attempts at disarmament.

But the struggles wore him out physically and mentally leading to his death on a holiday voyage to South America in 1937 aged 71.

So what will become of Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour leader who appears to be hugely popular with his party’s rank and file but who is clearly despised by so many of his own MPs?

While it is difficult to see how he will be able to retain credibility in Parliament, it is also hard to imagine that he will become Prime Minister.

So we are witnessing either the destruction of the Labour Party or the beginning of its transformation into something completely different.

Only time will tell who is right about the actions now being taken in Syria; whether these so-called 70,000 anti-IS fighters will turn up, whether the RAF’s precision bombs will go astray and kill civilians and whether sympathisers around the world will be radicalised against the West as a result.

All of these questions came to mind on a Sunday afternoon visit to the wonderful Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s Queen Street.

Downstairs hangs a dreadful effort of Alex Salmond painted from a photograph which was probably projected on to a canvass so that the image could be  copied.

But upstairs is the wonderful World War One exhibition of portraits which include the Scots Keir Hardie, James Maxton and Ramsay MacDonald hanging virtually side by side as reminders of their astonishing contribution to the Labour Party.

There can be no doubting what they would be saying now.

jcmcgurk@blueyonder.co.uk

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Feedback

  Comments: 1


  1. Come away Jimmie Maxton! Interesting article and xronia polla tomorrow from Stuie and I!

Letters to the Editor