Robert Blatchford (1893)

The Labour Conference

Source: The Clarion, Saturday 21 January 1893, p. 5
Note: The conference described was the first conference of the Independent Labour Party. It also described sympathetically in some of the commercial press, including the Glasgow Herald.
Transcription: by Graham Seaman for MIA, January 2021

There has been so much written about the initial conference of the Independent Labour Party at Bradford by pressmen who neither understand nor sympathise. with the movement, that perhaps a few words from one who does understand it and does sympathise with it may be useful. I propose, therefore, to devote a little space to a consideration of one or two prominent features of the present situation.

First of all let me congratulate our Bradford friends upon their progress. Little wore the a year ago we wore told that the Bradford Labour Party consisted of seven men. It now consists of one of the strongest local organisations in Great Britain. It polled nearly three thousand votes in one division for Ben Tillett, and it will certainly return one or more Labour members to Parliament at the next election. If all the other towns of this country were as far advanced as Bradford, the Labour Cause would be as good as won.

Next, if I may—as an unusual thing—be pardoned the egotism I wish to thank our Bradford friends for the cordiality with which they received my unworthy self. I am not given to complimentary speeches, but I must say I was rendered very grateful, and very proud, by my reception at the conference, and at St. George's Hall. I didn't deserve such kindness, but I was not the less affected by it. A little thing like that makes a man ashamed of his unworthiness, and inspires him with a wish to deserve better in future.

* * *

The comments of the Liberal Press upon the conference are amusing, but nothing more. It would be easy to answer them, were they worth answering, but they are not worth answering. No. One of the most cheering facts in connection with the Labour movement is the fact that the Labour men have no longer any faith in the Press.

Another grand fact is that the Labour men will not listen to any suggestion of alliance or compromise with the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party may protest as they will; but there are two things patent to the minds of the Labour men: one, that Liberalism is Individualistic while Labourism is Socialistic; two, that Liberal friendship for Labour is mere feigning. For how far can a Party be the ally of Labour which refuses even an eight hours’ act? and how can a party be the friend of Labour which refuses Labour any seats?

Had Liberalism meant what it professed there would now be many Labour members in the House. How many could the Liberals have let in? How many have they let in? How did they meet the candidatures of Ben Tillett, of W. K. Hall, of Keir Hardie?

* * *

The new Independent Labour Party is not yet very large; but it has in it the elements of success. It will not be bribed; it will not be intimidated; it will not be cajoled from without; nor will it be divided or domineered over from within.

At the conference I noticed with much delight an aversion to rhetorical speaking; a contempt for the Press; an unqualified hostility to both the old Parties; a praiseworthy eagerness to get forward with the business; and an intense anxiety to uphold the unity and friendliness of the Party. Hero-worship, also, I am pleased to say, is not in favour amongst the Labour men.

Those who have laboured to bring about these results have reason to feel proud and gratified to-day.

* * *

The conference made one or two mistakes, it is true; but these will surely be rectified in the near future. There were at times some rather sharp interchanges of language; but these were taken in good part, and it is not too much to say that the delegates parted good friends and faithful comrades.

The business got through in the time is sufficient proof of the earnestness and intelligence of the conference, but too much praise cannot be given to Keir Hardie for his conduct in the chair. His good humour, his firmness, his ready wit, his large grasp of the questions under debate, as well as his knowledge of procedure, saved endless waste of time, and averted wily a burst of anger. Keir Hardie left Bradford with a vastly increased popularity—every atom of which he richly merited

* * *

The most regrettable incident of the conference was the speech of Ben Tillett against the Continental Socialists. This speech was universally deplored by the delegates, and I am sure is now as much deplored by Ben Tillett. Ben is too brave and generous a man to let a few rash words stand in his name. I feel sure that when he has reflected he will take those unkind aspersions back. The Labour cause is the Labour cause in Germany as in England. Justice is not a geographical idea. We cannot quarrel with our Continental comrades. Socialism is only half won until it has made brothers of us all.

* * *

Another thing I was sorry to notice was the attitude of the conference towards the London Fabians. I do not allude to the challenging of the Fabian credentials. Perhaps I may be allowed a few words on this matter.

As to the position of the Fabians as delegates. The Fabian Society and the S.D.F. refuse to be absorbed by the Independent Labour Party. I think they are wise; and that they are more use as they are. But, under these circumstances, I submit that neither the S.D.F. nor the Fabian Society are entitled to send delegates to any future I.L.P. conference.

The proper course for members of these two bodies is to join the local branches of the I.L.P. and stand for election there.

But there was an evident disposition on the part of many delegates to disparage the Fabian Society; and it was alleged that the Fabian Society was not in favour of an independent party.

Now, I feel called upon to state—firstly, that I have, on a dozen occasions, heard Messrs. De Mattos, Hubert Bland, and Robert Dell speak and lecture ably and earnestly on behalf of the formation of such a party, and I am at a loss to understand the assertion that the London Fabians are against the movement.

* * *

But more than this. Some years ago, previous to the formation of the Bradford Labour Union, De Mattos came to Manchester especially to see me, and to request me to do what I could to organise a national party. I declined to do that, because I did not want to lay myself open to the charge of trying to make myself a leader.

I mention these facts in justice to the London Fabians. I do not like the Fabian policy of permeation, and I have more than once said so—in terms unkind and unjust, perhaps; but the Fabians have done good work, and are trusty and valuable friends of Labour. I hope we may all shake hands and be good boys in future.

* * *

And now I come to the question upon which the conference had the longest and sharpest discussion—the notorious Manchester Fourth Clause.

Our fourth clause, forbids members of our party to vote for any nominee of the old Parties. The majority of the conference are against it. The men of Manchester are strongly in its favour.

Well, at the Labour Church meeting Keir Hardie spoke of this clause, and said he hoped Manchester would not persist in adhering to it. Since then, I see, he has made a speech at Colne to the same effect.

Had I spoken after Mr. Hardie, instead of before him, at Bradford, I would have answered his speech, but I could not anticipate it, as I did not know his intention.

I think I may say that Keir Hardie and I understand and trust each other. On this point we hold different views. Now, Hardie is a man of intellect, and a cool and steady fighter. It is quite possible that he may be right, and that we at Manchester maybe wrong.

On the other hand, Mr. Bernard Shaw said at the conference that the the men of Manchester lacked “political intelligence.” I think that is a mistake. We are not orators here, but we have enough political intelligence to find our way about our own city by daylight, and it is just possible that we may be right and that Keir Hardie may be wrong.

And now I'll answer the newspaper comments, and also Keir Hardie's challenge.

First—Understand that the Manchester Party is “Independent.” That is to say that the members manage their own affairs, and that the President never interferes with them, nor makes the least attempt to lead or to persuade them. Therefore I cannot answer for them; but only for myself. Here is my private opinion.

The fourth clause is very dear to me. I believe it to be imperatively necessary to the maintenance of the independence of the Party.

But it is only valuable as a means to an end. The end is the end so dear to us all, to the Fabians, the Democrats, and the I.L.P.'s—the emancipation of Labour; and it would be foolish to value the means more than the end.

Another vital element in the success of any party is Unity. If the Labour Party is to succeed it must be united.

Then, again, the Manchester Party is now only one part of a greater party, the National Party—one battalion in an army corps.

Finally, the I.L.P. is a democratic body, and is ruled by the vote of the majority.

To what conclusion do we come?

I think it is the duty of the Manchester regiment to impress upon the others with all its power the value of Independence.

I think that if, after we have done that, the majority of the army are against us, it is our duty to give way.

The majority are our General. If our General issues an order we must obey it.

Therefore, be it known unto Keir Hardie, and our comrades, as also unto the enemy, that, no matter what are my private feelings, I shall obey orders.

For years I have urged most earnestly upon the workers the duty of loyal union. I will not be an example of disruption. I will fight as directed; and I hope my Manchester comrades will not leave a gap in the line of battle.

And now, Keir Hardie, a word with you. I see your policy, and I think you are wrong. I will argue it out with you if you like, and the army shall judge betwixt us. Send to me an article of about one thousand words in defence of your policy, and I will answer it in the following issue of the Clarion, and we will let a few good men on either side take the matter up, and then I will sum up, and you shall reply, and we shall know where we are.

Meanwhile, let me congratulate all our comrades upon the success of the conference; let me express my admiration for your chairmanship, and let me emphatically state for the benefit of our candid friends of the Press, that the Labour Party mean to stick together and be faithful to each other and to their cause, and that is the chiefest desire of NUNQUAM