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WT&E, 28 July 1889, 11; ‘The cry of the unemployed’, WT&E, 16 Oct. 1887, 6; ‘The
great dock labourers’ strike’, WT&E, 1 Sep. 1889, 9.
Social radicalism and the ‘popular front’ 285

important new development was the weekly column of John Morrison
Davidson, a former and future editor of Reynolds’s and the author of a
number of works on radicalism.50 The fact that his Christian socialist
rhetoric was sometimes echoed in the leading articles was in itself a new
departure for a newspaper which had traditionally been militantly anti-
clerical, and which, in its criticism of Home Rule, appeared to be more
concerned to roll back ‘priestism’, than to safeguard the empire.51 But it
is difficult to draw conclusions about this aspect of the editorial line
because the newspaper was really an open forum for the left as a whole.
By 1894 its correspondents included H. M. Hyndman, Edward Aveling
and Eleanor Marx, Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, J. Keir Hardie, J. Ramsay
MacDonald and various feminists.52 Other correspondents advocated
anarchism rather than socialism, boasting links with illustrious continen-
tal exiles such as Kropotkin, Merlino and Yanovsky.53
Their proposals were very ‘advanced’, as one might have expected from
such a group, and ranged from land nationalization and the right to work
(the county councils should provide work for the unemployed), to rudi-
mentary forms of planned economy to replace competition and the
market and – remarkably – the proto-Keynesian notion that unemploy-
ment derived from idle capital, or ‘the refusal of capitalists to allow their


50
Such as Eminent radicals in and out of Parliament (1879): cf. Shannon, Bulgarian agitation,
227–8. He described himself as a Scottish ‘Barrister-at-Law’: ‘The old order and the new:
from individualism to collectivism’, WT&E, 16 June 1889, 10. A Christian socialist
standpoint was also expressed by other contributors: John Howie, ‘Jesus and socialism’,
WT&E, 7 July 1889, 12. For the change in the editorials see ‘The great dock labourers’
strike’, WT&E, 1 Sep. 1889, 9.
51
See the letter by Agnostic, ‘Home Rule and toleration’, WT&E, 12 Mar. 1893, 6, and the
editorials ‘Mr Gladstone and Protestantism’, 12 Mar. 1893, 6 and ‘The Home Rule Bill
postponed’, 19 Mar. 1893, 8; see also the strongly anti-Evangelical l.a., ‘Queer co-
religionists’, 23 Mar. 1891, 8. Another article concluded that ‘the ultra-religious of all
sects are much alike’ ending up in clericalism and bigotry (‘The ‘‘distinctive religious
teaching’’ difficulty’, 19 Nov. 1893, 8).
52
E.g. Mrs Warner Snoad, ‘The Women’s Progressive Society’, WT&E, 2 Apr. 1893, 12;
Katharine St. John Conway, ‘A new A B C’, WT&E, 24 June 1894, 6 and 1 July 1894, 6;
and H. A. Hopkins, ‘Women and the suffrage’, WT&E, 24 June 1894, 6. See also the
leaders ‘Voteless women slaves’, WT&E, 23 Apr. 1893, 8 (about the exploitation of
women’s labour); and ‘Woman in battle’, WT&E, 29 Oct. 1893, 8 (about equality of
dignity and opportunity); ‘Women’s trade unions’, WT&E, 4 Nov. 1894, 8; and the plea
for married women’s suffrage, which would improve turn-out. The latter was a consid-
eration of some importance, in view of the fact that one million electors did not vote in
1892 and another million were not registered, huge figures when compared with the
government’s majority of only 232,000. But then ‘both political parties are afraid of
women’s suffrage’ (‘How many have the vote and use it?’, WT&E, 22 Apr. 1894, 8).
53
See letters about women’s education, socialism and anarchism in WT&E, 8 April 1894,
6, and 30 June 1895, 6, and in particular J. Hunter Watts, ‘Anarchism and social
democracy’, WT&E, 14 Jan. 1894, 6.
286 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

capital to be used unless they see fit’.54 Yet, most of the policies advocated
by both correspondents and editors were not incompatible with the views
expressed by the radical wing of the NLF. Indeed the ultimate aims
proclaimed by most Weekly Times correspondents were worded in such
a way as to appear consistent with the old ideology of the ‘free-born
Englishman’: they included an emphasis on personal ‘independence’,
freedom from monopolies and privilege, and a commitment to the elec-
toral process and parliamentary politics.55 For some, socialism was ‘the
only method of securing the largest measure of liberty to the greatest
number, of satisfactorily dealing with tyrannism [sic], and of respecting as
far as is humanly possible the apparently sole want of the Anarchist, viz.,
his personal freedom – in fact it is . . . the best basis for freedom that can be
devised’.56 In this way socialism embodied ‘the best tendencies . . . of the
Democratic Movement’ – a concept which may have reflected the influ-
ence of Eduard Bernstein (whose name, however, was never cited).57 For
others ‘anarchism’ was summed up in
The abolition of artificial monopoly and privilege; a society of free men, each one
enjoying the fruits of his own labour, and being free to dispose of it as he pleases;
each one being free to associate with his own fellows, or to decline; the production
and distribution of wealth, organized and carried out by free individuals; a
perfectly free market, a sound monetary system, free credit, free land – in short,
a free life.58
Although officially the newspaper was not committed to any of the views
published,59 leading articles consistently upheld radical causes and occa-
sionally flirted with anarchism, for example inciting its readers to fiscal
rebellion.60 Insisting that Liberalism should adopt social democracy, the


54
See George Field, ‘The right and the duty to work’, WT&E, 26 Mar. 1893, 12. See also
T. L. McCready, ‘Single tax v. freedom’, and R. Stevens, ‘Human nature and poverty’, in
WT&E, 9 Sep. 1894, 6; A. Withy, ‘Single tax and free money’ and G. Standring,
‘Christianity and social reform’, in WT&E, 21 Oct. 1894, 6; Adrian Forr, ‘What is
socialism?’, WT&E, 27 July 1890, 6.
55
See J. Hunter Watts, ‘Anarchism and social democracy’, WT&E, 14 Jan. 1894, 6, who
claimed that the anarchists dismissed electoral democracy and were mere individualists.
56
See letters by J. B. Shipley and ‘Another socialist’ in WT&E, 7 Jan. 1894, 6.
57
J. C. Kenworthy, ‘Men of the movement: X – Ben Tillett’, WT&E, 12 Aug. 1894, 4. Cf.
I. Fetscher, ‘Bernstein e la sfida all’ortodossia’, in E. J. Hobsbawm, Storia del marxismo,
vol. II (1979), 260. For Bernstein’s influence in England see D. Tanner, ‘Ideological
debates in Edwardian Labour politics: radicalism, revisionism and socialism’, in Biagini
and Reid, Currents of radicalism (1991), 271–93.
58
R. Stevens, ‘Anarchism’, WT&E, 14 Jan. 1894, 6.
59
As one contributor admitted, ‘it is well known that the Editor of this paper allows an open
field of discussion’ (J. Hunter Watts, ‘Anarchism and social democracy’, WT&E, 14 Jan.
1894, 6).
60
L.a., ‘Why should we pay taxes?’, WT&E, 4 Feb. 1894, 8.
Social radicalism and the ‘popular front’ 287

newspaper advertised Fabian tracts as embodying the best way forward in
social reform and in particular popular education.61 By July 1894 it
regarded itself as belonging to the same league as Clarion and the Labour
Leader. It fundraised for the ILP,62 campaigned for Tom Mann63 and
deplored sectarian divisions among the various socialist schools, wishing
that it were possible ‘for us of the Movement . . . to work as M E N and
64
W O M E N bound to each other by the common tie of Humanity’.
By 1893–4, for the first time since 1886, and perhaps because of the
influence of Morrison Davidson, the Weekly Times expressed a more
positive view of the Liberal party: in 1893 a leading article drew its read-
ers’ attention to the difference between ‘the old’ and ‘the new’ radicalism.
The former ‘kept a sharp eye upon the public purse and showed a
laudable jealousy at every fresh demand upon its resources’. By contrast
‘[t]he new Radicalism hardly troubles itself to contend against the clam-
our of the generals and admirals . . . being too much occupied in enforcing
claims to increased outlay upon education, factory inspection and other
expenditure of a more productive character’.65 In 1894 the newspaper
welcomed Harcourt’s famous budget as ‘the thin end of the wedge as
regards the graduation of the Death Duties’.66
These changes were accompanied by the gradual adoption of a more
nuanced attitude to the Irish question, in particular through the espousal
of the notion of imperial federation – ‘which is so dear to large-minded
patriots both here and beyond the sea’.67 Home Rule for Ireland featured
prominently only in J. Keir Hardie’s 1892 electoral programme, printed
in full,68 but the editor was tolerant enough to allow Morrison Davidson
to advocate ‘Home Rule All Round’.69 As a Scot, his views echoed the
debate within the radical wings of both parties north of the border,70 but


61
L.a., ‘State education at home and abroad’, WT&E , 15 July 1894, 8.
62
L.a., ‘Wanted at once – ÂŁ500’, WT&E, 15 July 1894, 8.
63
‘Every Trade Unionist should, by every means in his power, forward Tom Mann’s
candidature.’ (‘Powder and shot’, WT&E, 12 Aug. 1894, 9.)
64
L.a., ‘The SDF and the ILP’, WT&E, 12 Aug. 1894, 8–9; l.a., ‘The ‘‘larger hope’’ of
socialism’, WT&E, 19 Aug. 1894, 8. This article commented upon and endorsed a letter
from H. M. Hyndman published in the same issue.
65
L.a., ‘The disappointing Budget’, WT&E, 30 Apr. 1893, 8.
66
L.a., ‘The Budget’, WT&E, 22 Apr. 1894, 8.
67
L.a., ‘Imperial penny postage’, WT&E, 30 Apr. 1893, 8.
68
Rep., ‘Mr Keir Hardie and his programme’, WT&E, 10 July 1892, 6. However, the same
page contained a report about Daniel O’Connell’s son supporting a Unionist candidate
and rejecting Home Rule as ‘not only . . . injurious to this country, but most disastrous to
Ireland’.
69
J. Morrison Davidson, ‘Scotland and Home Rule’, WT&E, 8 Apr. 1894, 6.
70
E. g. J. Milne Watts (Glasgow) to E. Blake, 9 Aug. 1892, NLI, Blake Letters [222] 4684;
Cameron, Mackintosh, 3.
288 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

there was little doubt that on Irish affairs Morrison Davidson was close to
the Gladstonians. Indeed, in 1888 he had fervently advocated Irish Home
Rule in Reynolds’s, a newspaper for which he wrote again from 1900.71 In
1895 he used the columns of the Weekly Times to defend the Liberal
government, which he saw as locked in a mortal struggle against privilege
and on behalf of labour.72 Surveying Gladstone’s last campaign,
Davidson argued that the GOM’s mistake was not to make the second
Home Rule Bill the issue of ‘an informal Referendum’, seeking a mandate
from the people instead of proceeding as he did by ‘his crafty policy of
concealment’.73 He eulogized his successor Rosebery as a fearless fighter
against the ‘most unholy Trinity’ (peer, publican and parson). The fall of
the Rosebery government was due to ‘the Parnellites, the Scottish
Crofters, the ILP’s and the SDF’s’ who had ‘stabbed in the back’ the
Liberal and Home Rule alliance. Indeed, he credited the nine Parnellites
not only with ruining Rosebery’s strategy of ‘filling up the cup’ (that is, by
provoking the Lords to stop popular legislation), but also with ‘ruthlessly
smashing it to pieces when more than half-full of very tolerable demo-
cratic liquor’. Useful, necessary measures including ‘the factory, Irish
Land, Crofters’ and Welsh Disestablishment Bills’ had come to nothing
‘because of an adverse majority of seven on Cordite’. It was an indictment
not of the Liberals, but of ‘Party Government and methods of parliamen-
tary legislation’. The greatest loser was Ireland, which ‘has . . . been . . .
most loyal to the Liberal alliance; more loyal than many Liberal members
themselves’. The anti-Parnellites were singled out for special praise: they
were ‘mostly poor, but nearly all able men’.74 He concluded with a
prophecy about the Liberal party, which
has been sloughing off ‘Class’ after ‘Class’ and ‘interest’ after ‘interest’, but its
grand mission is not yet fulfilled. That mission is not to disestablish Churches and
Public Houses, or even to pass Factory Bills, but to give the people One Adult One
Vote of Equal Value; Annual or Biennial Parliaments; Second Ballot; Paid


71
See his serialized work signed J. M. D., ‘The Book of Erin, Chapter XVI’, RN, 26 Feb.
1888, 2 and ‘Our glorious constitution: how it came about’, RN, 7 Oct. 1900, 7 (one of a
series on this topic).
72
J. Morrison Davidson, ‘The cordite coalition’, WT&E, 30 June 1895, 6.
73
Ibid. Suspicion of Gladstone’s ‘crafty’ approach had been recurrent in the popular radical
press at least since 1886: see for an example l.a., ‘The autumn campaign’, RN, 9 Oct.
1887, 1.
74
J. Morrison Davidson, ‘The cordite coalition’. However, the ‘cordite affair’ – the allegedly
inadequate supply of explosives, on which Campbell Bannerman resigned – actually
elicited some animosity from Weekly Times contributors, who claimed to be concerned
both about national security in case of a war, and about the welfare of government
workers in arsenals and arms factories: see letter by ‘Nemesis’, ‘The late Liberal govern-
ment and government workers’, WT&E, 30 June 1895, 6.
Social radicalism and the ‘popular front’ 289

membership and Election Expenses; federal Home Rule; the Initiative and
Referendum.75
The ‘initiative and referendum’ – the former to empower citizens to start
legislation, the latter to enable them to enact it by plebiscite – would
shift the balance of power away from Parliament towards the electorate,
who would acquire the power to initiate legislation and to vote directly
on specific Bills. These radical changes would in turn be the first step
towards what the author described as ‘the Cooperative Commonwealth’.
The latter should be a decentralized democracy with separate provincial
assemblies for ‘‘‘Greater’’ London, Scotland, Wales, Ulster [and] Erin
(that is, the rest of Ireland)’.76 This proposal was vaguely reminiscent of
Chamberlain’s 1885 plan, but Morrison Davidson also borrowed liber-
ally from the continental tradition of radical democracy and socialism. In
particular, ‘the initiative and referendum’ had long been debated within
socialist circles and endorsed by the Second International at the 1893
Zurich Congress.77 Much of it – such as the second ballot, manhood
suffrage and payment of both MPs and their electoral expenses – had
already been adopted by Liberal and Radical clubs around the country.78
By the summer of 1894 one of the readers of the Weekly Times con-
gratulated the editors on their dropping the Unionist cause in favour of a
new line, which sought to foster a ‘progressive’ alliance between socialism
and a regenerated post-Gladstonian Liberal party.79 The leaders of such
an alliance were to be Keir Hardie and Rosebery, imaginatively joined in
an improbable but suggestive partnership – a reminder of the extent to
which the Scottish peer was regarded as a radical.80 For Morrison
Davidson a Liberal–Labour electoral alliance was essential to avoid

75
Morrison Davidson, ‘Cordite coalition’.
76
J. Brailsford Bright, ‘A possible Labour Parliament’, WT&E, 23 Dec. 1894, 6.
77
Barrow and Bullock, Democratic ideas, 50–6. The referendum was to be widely discussed
in both Liberal and Conservative circles in the run up to the constitutional crisis of 1911:
L. Atherley-Jones, ‘The Liberal party and the House of Lords’, The Nineteenth Century
Review, 62 (1907), 170; J. A. Hobson, The crisis of Liberalism: new issues of democracy
(1909), 37–8. Cf. G. Guazzaloca, Fine secolo: gli intellettuali italiani e nglesi e la crisi fra otto e
Novecerto (2004), 151–63.
78
See, for example, the ‘Social and political programme’ of the Partick Liberal Association
(Mitchel Library, Glasgow), 18 Mar. 1891. Partick was at the time an inner-city ship-
building district.
79
‘The articles by J. C. Kenworthy, Keir Hardie, and Morrison Davidson are splendid. At
last I am firmly convinced that the position you have taken up in regard to politics and
labour is right. Six months ago I had almost given your paper up because of what you were
constantly saying about the Liberal Party. But you were always right. From Kenworthy’s

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