Keir Hardie (1893)

The Fourth Clause

Source: The Clarion, Saturday 4 February 1893, p.5
Note: The Manchester Independent Labour Party, now part of the Independent Labour Party, wished to impose a ‘fourth clause’ on the ILP limiting electoral support to ILP candidates only. Robert Blatchford, founder member of the Manchester party and editor of the Clarion, invited a debate on the topic. This is the first contribution. Other contributions came from:
Robert Blatchford
W.S. de Mattos
Edward Aveling
Transcription: by Graham Seaman for MIA, January 2021

Let me say that pending the decision of the Bradford Conference I reserved my opinion on the Fourth Clause. I did not in any of the speeches I made say one single word which could be construed into an expression of opinion for or against.

Now, however, that there is an Independent Labour Party for Britain, it becomes necessary to boldly face every difficulty which threatens to impute the progress by interrupting the harmony of the movement. The Fourth Clause falls well within this category; and it is gratifying to be in a position to be able to discuss it without a haunting fear of evil consequences following. It will take a lot of free expression of opinion to break down the good fellowship and confidence which Bradford inspired.

Let us suppose then that, from any cause, a national conference of Independent Labour Party delegates, met on the eve of a general election, saw fit to advise that in every constituency, excluding of course those in which Independent Labour Party candidates were run, the Independent Labour Party vote as a matter of good policy and sounds tactics should be cast for the candidate of one of the historic parties. Would it tend to good feeling and concord for one set of delegates to have to confess that their hands were tied? That even if they would, they had no power to carry through the conference decision without it first altering the constitution? I do not think it good for any district to bind itself.

It may be replied that the Independent Labour Party has no connection with any party, and should not support its nominees. If carried to its logical conclusion, that would surely mean that those Independent Labour Party Candidates who may have the misfortune to he returned to Parliament should not vote for any measure not introduced by one of their own number! So, at least, does it present itself to my mind. Besides, you may want the Independent Labour Party vote to punish one of the parties for some act of more than usual treachery to the working classes, and this can only be done by casting it for their opponents, and thus preventing the return of the traitors to power. But with the Labour vote tied up this would not be possible. We would be like men fighting with one hand shackled.

Again, there are 672 constituencies represented in the British House of Commons. If the Independent Labour Party contests 272 of these at next election it will do remarkably well. That leaves 400 constituencies in which we are to tell the workers that they are not to vote at all. Frankly, Mr. Editor, I am opposed to any such wholesale disfranchisement, nor do I believe an order to this effect would be obeyed. The British worker is too astute to thus throw away an instrument which his fathers fought so hard to secure for him. The effect of the vote going solid would appeal to the imagination of the people, and have a demoralising effect on our opponents of both shades of political colour.

If it be said that the worker who had been a Liberal would not vote Tory, and vice versa, then I reply that he is not a true Labour man. I have seen a dozen true blue Orangemen march to the poll and vote Liberal for the sake of an eight hour bill for miners. Much more would they do so to-day for the programme of the Bradford conference. The workman who would not support his former political opponents when the interests of labour demanded that he should, would not for long continue to abstain from voting for his own party, and, fourth clause or no fourth clause, he would be lost to us. Besides, it is a higher standpoint to be able to give or withhold the vote, just as circumstances may dictate, than it is to say that a man cannot be trusted so to do, lest the claims of party prove too strong for him.

Such are some of the considerations which make me think that Manchester men would do well to so modify their famous clause as to leave them free to act with the rest of the country. That is all I ask; for I do not believe it possible to get such a clause inserted in the constitution of the party as being applicable to all the branches, nor do I deem it desirable even were it possible.

I write this within sound of Mr. Balfour's rasping voice. I have vainly tried to find a quiet hour for it, and must content myself with promising to deal more fully with whatever points may come out in your promised discussion than I have been able to do in this epistle.