The Way Things Were
Labour used to be the party of the working man. And I mean the working man. The Labour heartlands of South Wales illustrate this point. It is here that you find the people that Labour was set up for. It was here that the chartist movement began. They asked for a vote for every man (earlier, “every person” but this was dropped due to middle-class pressure) twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime. They secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote. They called for no property qualification for Members of Parliament in order to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice. Another point was Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation. Finally, equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones.
These are things that many people today would think is reasonable, and most take for granted, especially on boundary changes. This movement, along with the later Labour and Trade Union movements arose from the industrial revolution. These were times when ordinary people were faced with appalling working conditions, and health and safety was non-existent. Being sick could cost you your livelihood, and quite possibly your life. Children lost arms and legs working in mills and on looms. Iron works owners like Crawshay in Merthyr Tydfil had to have grave stones weighing a couple of tonnes to stop them from being dug up. This tells you much of how the workers felt about their treatment. All the while Crawshay lived the high life in the magnificent Cyfartha Castle. He knew he had done badly by the workers, as the epitaph on his grave stone reads “God forgive me.” Times were hard, but so were the men. They faced tough conditions down the mines, but many were proud they were tough enough, and that they could provide for their family.
When the Great War came around it was these men that signed up in their droves. Many joined the Pals battalions with other men from their street. Many died, many came back maimed, others had wounds of the mind. They were rewarded with universal suffrage. They had helped bring an end to absolute monarchy across Europe, saved Belgium and France. When the Second World War reared its ugly head, these men again met the challenge. They suffered at Dunkirk and Tobruk, and in the jungles of Burma. They led the line at El Alamein and Normandy. They fought hand to hand with real, actual Nazis to help defeat Literally Hitler. Once again, they had given everything to stop tyranny and ensure the rights of man, and the future of a Europe of the nations.
|Exercising their white male privilege|
They were represented by the Labour Party. While you might not agree with the policies, you could at least understand them and where they came from. Higher wages, better working conditions, health and safety at work, worker rights in general. The workers fit hand in glove with the party they were voting for. Many M.P.s came from the same background, such as Keir Hardie who was a former miner. You didn’t have to like ‘em, but you knew where they were coming from.
© Jonathon Davies 2017
More from Jonathon here. Part two tomorrow.