James Keir Hardie (1856-1915)

NOTE: Most of these miscellaneous notes are taken from Lord K.O. Morgan’s several works on Keir Hardie.

Born and died in his native Scotland, he was monumental figure within British politics and his legacy continues to this day where he is revered in labour circles.

A boy collier in the Lanarkshire coalfield, he was self educated and through this humble upbringing (possibly illegitimate) became aware of the plight of his fellow workers, especially in the coal mining industry.

Appeared as an independent candidate at a Mid-Lanarkshire bye-election in 1888, he finally entered Parliament as an independent labour candidate for the West Ham constituency in 1892. Lost his seat there in 1895 and here, as again throughout his life, managed to supplement his modest income with writings, journalism and lectures. The Merthyr Pioneer was his newspaper, published in the first two decades of the 20th century as a mouthpiece for Socialism.

The lock-out of 1898 in the South Wales coalfield brought him to Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare (then joint constituencies returning two MPs) and here he made a name for himself as a champion of the coal miners’ in particular and workers’ causes in general.

Aberdare Trades Council nominated him as a Labour candidate at the 1900 General Election, where at the actual count at Merthyr Tydfil, he came second to D.A. Thomas, Liberal. Hardie remained thereafter as the "junior member for Merthyr" behind the Liberals until his death in 1915. Other sobriquets attached to him included "the man in the cloth cap" and the “member for the unemployed”.

Hardie stood for the rights of the working man (sometimes, though rather lukewarm, was his support towards votes for women as well!); was a supporter of Irish Home Rule, Welsh Home Rule, Disestablishment of the Church in Wales, Abolition of the House of Lords. He spoke passionately on issues of improved pay and working conditions; his adherence to teetotalism was lifelong. He was vehemently anti war and pacifist in attitude, especially in the years leading to war in 1914.

Hounded out of Aberdare at an anti-war rally in 1915, Hardie’s ailing health, compounded by ceaseless travels both within Great Britain and to Europe, his numerous public speaking engagements, the strains of his impoverished upbringing and his utter disillusionment at so many of his young constituents readily signing up to go to war in 1914-15, brought on his death, 26 September 1915 in Scotland.

"Keir Hardie has been the greatest human being of our time." (Sylvia Pankhurst, 1915)

A LABOUR TIME LINE:

1893: the Independent Labour Party (ILP) formed in a Bradford coffee house.

1900: February 27-28 at Farringdon Memorial Hall in London the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) formed.

1906: The group was now officially named as the Labour Party and, 29 members were returned as Labour and ILP.

1924: The first Labour Government under Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister.

KEIR HARDIE: SOME PRINCIPAL DATES

1856: Born in Legbrannock, Lanarkshire, 15 August

1866: Entered the mine as a trapper

1879: Appointed agent of Hamilton miners

1880: "Tattie Strike" in Lanarkshire

1882: Joins staff of Cumnock News

1886: Appointed organising secretary of Ayrshire miners and secretary of Scottish Miners’ Federation

1887: Founds The Miner; attend Swansea conference of the TUC

1888: Mid-Lanark by-election (27 April); Scottish Labour Party formed

1892: Elected M.P. for West Ham (South).

1893: I.L.P. formed at Bradford (13-14 January).

1894: Labour Leader becomes a weekly (31 March).

1895: Defeated at West Ham; first visit to the USA

1898: Visits South Wales during six months’ coal stoppage

1900: Formation of L.R.C. (27 February). Defeated at Preston but returned as M.P. for Merthyr Tydfil

1903: Gives up editorship of Labour Leader

1906: Re-elected for Merthyr Tydfil. Elected first chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party

1907: Journey round the world – Canada, India, Australia, South Africa

1909: Resigns from the I.L.P. executive

1910: International Socialist Congress at Copenhagen. Riots at Tonypandy (7-8 November).

1912: Final visit to the USA

1914: Presides at the I.L.P. coming-of-age conference at Bradford. Leads demonstrations against the First World War

1915: Dies at Cumnock, 26 September

(After K.O. Morgan, Keir Hardie, Oxford University Press, 1967 p. 61)

TOWARDS AN UNDERSTANDING OF KEIR HARDIE

Lord Kenneth O. Morgan, Hardie’s foremost historian and biographer, suggests in his collected essays, Labour People Leaders and Lieutenants: Hardie to Kinnock (1987 pp. 24-27), that he has at least five lives; that there are, in effect, five different kinds of entry points into his world of labour.

Point 1: Hardie's birth and growing up in his native Scotland, on the Ayrshire and Lanarkshire coalfields, were instrumental in shaping his later career; but here he endured mixed fortunes in gaining any elected positions of prominence. He came bottom of the poll at Mid Lanark in 1888.

Point 2: Hardie is the unfailing champion of Labour's political independence. He formed the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1893; he formed the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) in 1900, to become the Labour Party in 1906. He was the founding father of political Labour in England, Scotland and Wales.

Point 3: Hardie was for his entire time at Westminster a considerable parliamentary figure: "the member for the unemployed" (after his West Ham days), the member with the cloth cap (though never worn at Westminster!) Yet his was a minority voice with few supporters in his lifetime at Parliament.

Point 4: Hardie was formidable journalist, founding, part owning and providing considerable copy for three separate newspapers which would become the mouth pieces of his politics throughout his life: The Miner (1887), then becoming the Labour Leader (1894) and the Merthyr Pioneer (1911).

Point 5: Hardie retained a considerable international following and respect, both on mainland Europe where he was in constant dialogue with fellow socialists; in South Africa and notably in India where he was one of the few western politicians seeing the case for Indian nationalism leading to independence. He is still held in high esteem in India today.