Keir Hardie (1893)

First Conference of the ILP as reported in the press

Source: The Glasgow Herald, Saturday 14 January 1893, p.9
Note: The description includes an apparently complete report of Keir Hardie's speech at the conference, shown with blue background.
Transcription: by Graham Seaman for MIA, January 2021


The first conference of the National Independent Labour Party was opened at Bradford yesterday morning. There was an attendance of about 130 delegates, amongst whom were Mr J. Keir Hardie, M.P.; Alderman Ben Tillett, Dr Aveling, Mr G. Bernard Shaw, Mr Shaw Maxwell, Mr. W. S. De Mattos, Mr. R. Blackford, Mr John Trevor, and Mr Chisholm Robertson. There were represented at the Conference 91 branches of the Independent Labour Party, 11 Fabian Societies, 4 branches of the Social Democratic Federation, and the Cumberland Workers' Association, the Medway Trades' Council, the Carlisle Trades' Council, the German Social Democratic Federation, representative league of the London Trades' Council, the International Labour League, the Bloomsbury Socialist Society, the Eight-Hours League, and other organisations, numbering a total of 115.

Mr W. H. DREW, president of the Bradford Labour Union, welcomed the delegates to the conference on behalf of that body. Mr J. Keir Hardie, M.P. was elected chairman of the conference. The Standing Orders Committee, after considering the credentials of Dr Aveling, of the Eight-Hours League, and Mr G. Bernard Shaw and Mr De Mattos, of the London Fabian Society, advised their acceptance. The question as it affected the Fabian Society representatives was specially discussed by the conference, it being stated that the secretary of the society had distinctly stated in writing that the society could not be affiliated with the party, and the recommendation of the committee was accepted by 49 votes to 47.

Mr GEORGE CARSON (Glasgow) moved, on behalf of the Scottish Labour party, that the title of the organization should be "The Socialist Labour Party," saying that it was felt in Scotland that there was no reason why they should not call a spade a spade.

Mr H. A. BARKER (London) proposed as an alternative "The Independent Labour Party," and argued that there were large numbers of working men who were not yet prepared to adopt Socialism as an entirety, yet who would be very glad to join a party which was established for the purpose of obtaining the independent representation of labour.

Ald. BEN TILLETT strongly opposed the resolution, on the ground that English trades' unionism was better and stronger than any kind of Socialism, whether English or foreign, and his desire was to capture trades' unionism for the Independent Labour movement. English trade unionists were a body of men who paid their money for the cause, and were Socialists at their own work - not blood-red revolutionists and chattering magpies on the platform, who sneaked to the nearest bed when the revolution came.

Mr GEORGE CARSON, secretary of the General Arrangement Committee, strongly protested against the language used by Alderman Tillett.

After considerable discussion, the amendment was carried by a very large majority.

Mr BARDSLEY (Heywood) then moved that the object of the Independent Labour party shall be to secure the collective and communal ownership of all the means of production, distribution, and exchange.

Mr BIRCH (Bury) seconded the resolution.

Mr J. L. MAHON (Leeds) moved as an amendment that the objects of the Independent Labour party shall be to secure the separate representation and protection of labour interests on public bodies; and the amendment was seconded by Mr Vickers of Leeds.

Mr SHAW MAXWELL (London) said labour representation was not an object at all, but merely a means to an object; and though the Socialists had made a concession as to the title, they must not, in considering the objects, run the risk of losing some of the best minds in the country.

In the course of a long discussion, Mr G. BERNARD SHAW suggested that, with the purpose of ascertaining how many Socialists there were in the Congress, all who were not Socialists should vote against the resolution.

The amendment was then put, and defeated by 91 votes to 16. The original resolution, after the excision of the words "and communal" had been agreed to, was put and adopted almost unanimously.

Mr W.H. DREW, of Bradford, moved, "That this conference of delegates of numerous local organisations all over the United Kingdom pledges itself to the principle of independent labour representation on all legislative, governing, and administrative bodies; hereby agrees to federate for the speedier accomplishment of their one common object: and declares that the style and title of the new federation shall be the Independent Labour party of Great Britain and Ireland."

Mr SHAW MAXWELL seconded the resolution.

Mr A. FIELD moved as an amendment the omission of the word "federate," and the substitution of the words "to amalgamate their organisation into one national Independent Labour party." The difference between federation and amalgamation was discussed at great length, and eventually the resolution was passed in its original form without opposition; but after announcements from the representatives of the London Fabian Society and the Social Democratic Federation that their associations had no intention of affiliating with the Independent Labour party, though they were glad to give it every possible assistance.

Mr EDWARD BERNSTEIN was permitted to briefly address the conference to extend a greeting from the German Social Democratic Federation, and in reply to Alderman Tillett's observations about Socialists, which he strongly resented, gave an account of the work which had been done by the federation.

The CHAIRMAN, who had reserved his introductory remarks, after dinner addressed the conference. He said a question often asked in relation to public affairs was, “Where is the Labour party?” He trusted that after the proceedings of that conference had been concluded they would have a good and sufficient answer to give to that question. The Labour party, however, was not an organisation; it had neither programme nor constitution, but was the expression of a great principle, the determination of the workers to be the arbiters of their own destiny. There were not in that meeting any of the great or learned ones of the sons of men, and therein lay the hope of the movement. They were there such as they wore, such as circumstances had created them, as the expression of an inborn and undying determination on the part of the democracy of this land to assert itself in its own spirit and through its own methods They would have plenty of advice and sympathy showered upon them in the future,as they had had in the past. He trusted that no man would ever be above giving serious consideration to all the advice so freely bestowed upon them. But after all, the Labour movement could not afford to swerve in the slightest degree from its own path in deference to the desire or the wishes of any person or organisation outside the Labour movement itself. (Hear, hear.) The demand of the Labour party was for economic freedom, which was the natural outcome of political enfranchisement. It was possible to have a mockery of freedom in the form of a people exercising a State franchise, and yet bound by economic conditions more harsh and cruel in their operation than any want of a vote could possibly impose. The aim of the Labour movement was to direct the attention of the workers away from questions of reform of the political machinery, no matter how important these may be, and to concentrate their whole energies on this one problem of how to restore to the working classes of the community the capital, the land, without which they could not live or carry on their industrial operations; and anything, no matter what it might be, which came between the workers and this object was an enemy to the movement, and as such should be removed. (Hear, hear.) He asked, then, that the delegates should realise the responsibility resting upon them, and he trusted that the form which the organisation would ultimately assume would be one which would leave to every locality the fullest and most ample freedom to develop along its own lines. If they desired to play havoc with the movement they could not do better than begin by making a strait-waistcoat in the form of a constitution. The movement was outside the scope of any constitution. He pleaded for a wise confidence in those who they might select as their executive. Confidence was of slow growth, but unless they were to have ample and complete confidence in the men who were to be at the head and to be their representatives in the intervals between the conferences, much better have no committee at all. (Hear, hear.) Nothing was more conducive to spirit-breaking than snarling, frivolous criticism of everybody and everything. He wanted to tell them that the men who were taking part in the movement were at least as honest as themselves; and expressed the hope that these men, whilst they should be called to account for delinquencies on their part, should have whatever strength and encouragement came from the confidence and support of men they were specially called upon to represent. It was no vain boast or exaggeration of language to say that the eyes of the people of this country were turned towards Bradford this week. The party politicians were looking on longingly in the hope of seeing the apple of discord firmly embedded in their midst–(hear, hear, and laughter)–but behind these was the wailing voice of millions whom they specially represent, and who were looking longingly and hopefully to Bradford. (Applause.) He believed that children yet unborn would bless the concord of that day if they wisely resolved to give full autonomy to every locality, and only sought to bind localities to such central and general principles as were indispensable to the progress of the movement, and concerning which they were all practically in agreement. (Cheers)

Mr J.L. Mahon, of Leeds, asked permission to move that those whose societies are pledged to federate themselves with an Independent Labour Party be now requested to withdraw from the Conference; but the chairman said the resolution must go through the Standing Orders Committee.

Upon the proposition of Mr J. BURGESS, London, it was agreed that the supreme and governing authority of the Independent Labour Party shall be the national conference of branch delegates; that the conference of branch delegates shall elect an executive, their term of office to be until the next ensuing Conference has elected their successors in the executive; to be eligible for re-election.

Upon a motion that the secretary should be elected by the whole body of delegates, and should be ex officio a member of the council, Mr BERNARD SHAW alleged that there was great danger of the secretary in such a case coming into direct conflict with the executive, and on the motion of Mr CARSON, Glasgow, the resolution was amended to indicate that the secretary should act under the control and instructions of the executive. It was carried in that form.

Amongst some letters of apology which were read was one from Mr E. H. Champion, in which he said he hoped for the formation of a really independent Labour party, such as would exercise an immediate and irresistible power over the machinery of Government, and that he saw no reason why the great work ready to their hands should not be harmoniously and successfully carried out.

It was decided that the executive should be elected on a geographical basis, and the arrangement of the details were left to a committee, with instructions to present a scheme on the following day. It was also decided that the executive should have power to initiate the policy of the party, but should confine itself to carrying out the instructions given at the annual or special conference of delegates. A committee of six was appointed to discuss and arrange in order for the next day’s sitting of the Conference a number of resolutions which bad been submitted as the foundation of a programme for the party, and the sitting then ended.

Three very largely-attended public meetings were held in various parts of Bradford in the evening, and were addressed by the most prominent men attending the Conference.