Pelling, â€˜Wales and the Boer Warâ€™, 36 3â€“5.
Hardie to Hodgson Pratt, cited in Price, Imperial war, 44â€“5; cf. G. Stedman Jones,
Languages of class: Studies in English working class history, 1832â€“1982 (1983), 181. In June
1899 C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian was also considering Morley as the poten-
tial leader of a â€˜progressiveâ€™ party; Clarke, Lancashire, 174.
Elizabeth Rhys to T. E. Ellis, 4 May 1898, in NLW, T. E. Ellis MSS, 1747.
332 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
by Reynoldsâ€™s Newspaper a few months later, in September 1900.312
The unrelentingly radical London weekly was then partly owned by
J. H. Dalziel, a Scottish Home Ruler and Liberal MP for Kirkcaldy
Burghs, who was close to Lloyd George.313 Its chief editor was
W. M. Thompson, who had succeeded Edward (â€˜Gracchusâ€™) Reynolds
in 1894. Although he was a member of the Radical Committee of the
Liberal party, his articles were critical of the party leadership and in most
respects he wrote and acted as an independent democrat. Fiercely hostile
to Chamberlain (whom he routinely abused as â€˜that vulgar bullyâ€™314), he
managed to oppose the Boer War without alienating the soldiers who
traditionally formed a significant part of Reynoldsâ€™s readership. He
emphasized their humble and heroic efforts and championed their griev-
ances, but condemned the ruling â€˜Oligarchyâ€™ who had started an unjust
war for base self-interest, and were recklessly and unpatriotically
â€˜L O O T I N G T H E B R I T I S H E M P I R E â€™.315 In short, he took a line which was
more â€˜pro-Britonâ€™ than pro-Boer, similar to the â€˜criticalâ€™ but â€˜patrioticâ€™
line adopted by Labouchere as well as C. P. Scott and J. A. Hobson in the
The Convention that Thompson called was not only against the war,
but also against the existing parties and in favour of a democratic reform
of the state. He proposed â€˜the formation of a D E M O C R A T I C P A R T Y . . .
representative of the People, uncontrolled by official wire-pullers . . .
representative, in no narrow spirit, of all shades of Democratic opin-
ionâ€™.317 Thompson criticized for their â€˜apathyâ€™ and â€˜timidityâ€™ â€˜[the] men
generally recognized as leaders in working-class movementsâ€™ and was
dismissive of the recently established LRC. According to Barrow and
Bullock, his was â€˜a conscious revival of Chartismâ€™, but it was also an
attempt to harness working-class radicalism to the twin causes of anti-
war and social reform.318 The initiative contained allusions both to the
1866â€“7 Reform agitation and to various other radical causes. For exam-
ple, the Convention adopted an official flag: a tricolour of white, red and
Morgan, Keir Hardie, 109; G. D. H. Cole, History of socialist thought, vol. III (1956), 1,
Lee, â€˜Radical pressâ€™, 51â€“2; M. Brodie, â€˜Dalziel, J. H., Baron Dalziel of Kirkcaldy
(1868â€“1935)â€™, ODNB, vol. xv, 21â€“2.
W.M.T., â€˜A working manâ€™s governmentâ€™, RN, 14 Oct. 1900, 1.
W.M.T., â€˜Labour firstâ€™, RN, 23 Sep. 1900, 1 (emphasis in the original).
Hind, Henry Labouchere, 33; M. Hampton, â€˜The press, patriotism, and public discus-
sion: C. P. Scott, the Manchester Guardian, and the Boer War, 1899â€“1902â€™, Historical
Journal, 44, 1 (2001), 177â€“97.
â€˜A democratic conventionâ€™, RN, 16 Sep. 1900, 1.
Barrow and Bullock, Democratic ideas, 141; Davey, British pro-Boers, 123; Price, Imperial
war, 92â€“4 and App. II.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 333
green, like that of the Reform League and â€˜also the flag of the Italian
Republicans in the days of Mazzini and Garibaldiâ€™. It was meant to
symbolize the unity of all currents of radicalism in the British Isles, and
their link with the early nineteenth-century revolutionary tradition.
Red, for the Socialists, is the emblem of the sun, green, for Irish Nationalists, is the
colour of the earth, and white is the emblem of light, the hue of the friends of
peace. It is also the flag of the English Republican conspirators of 1816 â€“ Watson,
Thirstlewood, and Preston, and was raised as the flag of insurrection in Spa
Fields. It is a noble flag that should gather all around it.319
The tone and style was consistently â€˜Mazzinianâ€™ with its typical combi-
nation of idealism and sublimely vague, quasi-religious democratic
In a spectacular display of political identification between a newspaper
and its readers â€“ a relationship which historians are more accustomed
to associate with the Northern Star and the old Chartist press than
with Edwardian journalism â€“ Thompson appealed to his readers to
mobilize instantly. He referred to them as â€˜the Old Guard of the English
Democracyâ€™, and relied on their loyalty as confidently as the editor of
a continental European socialist party organ â€“ such as Vorwa Â¨rts or
lâ€™Avanti! â€“ might have done on that of its reader-activists:
In every constituency in Great Britain the readers of Reynoldsâ€™s are invited to
assemble outside the local Radical or Working Manâ€™s Club, Parish Council
Room, or Parish Church, as the case may be, at eight oâ€™clock this (Sunday)
evening, or, if that day be inconvenient, on Monday evening, and thence proceed
to any place of meeting which shall be convenient. There a Provisional Emergency
Committee shall be immediately formed, consisting of all present.320
If such mobilization was not unprecedented (arguably the onset of the
Bulgarian agitation in August 1876 had seen something similar in the
north of England321), it was unknown for one newspaper editor to call for
anything like it on a national scale.
In the short term at least, this levee en masse was quite effective. The
proposal was immediately welcomed by both the Metropolitan Radical
Federation and a number of prominent Lib-labs and Radical leaders,
including Thomas Burt and Wilfrid Lawson. As Richard Price has
shown, it was especially successful with the Club and Institute
Movement â€“ which by 1903 comprised about 900 clubs and 320,000
members322 â€“ but was also enthusiastically endorsed by many trade
â€˜The Democratic Coloursâ€™, RN, 21 Oct. 1900, 5.
â€˜A democratic convention, emergency provisional organizationâ€™, RN, 30 Sep. 1900, 1.
Shannon, Bulgarian agitation, 75. 322 Price, Imperial war, 47, 68â€“9, 93â€“4.
334 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
unions, including the navvies, the General Labourersâ€™ Amalgamated
Union and several groups of Jewish workers as well as trade councils,
anti-war committees and radical clubs from all over the country.323
Among the larger unions, Will Thorneâ€™s Gas Workers and General
Labourers and Richard Bellâ€™s Railway Servants were prominent. It was
indicative of the Conventionâ€™s pull that J. Ramsay MacDonald himself
sent in his adhesion on behalf of the LRC. So also did twenty ILP
and twelve SDF branches.324 Among the early supporters there were
champions of both agrarian radicalism and anti-imperialism, such
as G. B. Clark of the Scottish crofters and the Irish Nationalist
F. H. Oâ€™Donnell.325
By the time the Convention met to the tune of the Marseillaise at
the end of September, its 700 delegates claimed to represent one
million people of both sexes. Besides â€˜WMTâ€™ (as Thompson was famili-
arly known to his readers), the main speakers included Tom Mann,
George Howell and Pete Curran. The original programme included:
â€˜1. Automatic registration, with a three months qualification. 2. One
man one vote, so as to abolish the half million bogus votes. 3. The official
election expenses placed on State funds. 4. A second ballot. 5. Abolition
of the hereditary principle in the Legislature.â€™326 The meetingâ€™s openness
and its organizersâ€™ commitment to internal democracy was suggested by
the extent to which the views of those speaking from the floor (many did)
were taken seriously: it was one of them who proposed amending the
programme to include political rights for women through â€˜adultâ€™, instead
of â€˜manhoodâ€™, suffrage. The Convention then proceeded to appoint a
council, which included several women.327
This resulted in the formation of the National Democratic League
(NDL). Its philosophy was quintessentially Chartist, based on the
assumption that class discrimination and the unequal distribution of
wealth were the consequence of political inequality, rather than its cause,
â€˜The Metropolitan Radical Federationâ€™, RN, 16 Sep. 1900, 1; â€˜A democratic conven-
tionâ€™, RN, 23 Sep. 1900, 1.
Price, Imperial war, 247.
â€˜A Democratic Convention: new political epochâ€™, RN, 23 Sep. 1900, 5; â€˜National
Democratic Conventionâ€™, RN, 21 Oct. 1900, 5. On Clark see Foster, â€˜The intellectual
dukeâ€™, 156, n. 100; on Oâ€™Donnell see D. Fitzpatrick, â€˜Ireland and the Empireâ€™, in Porter,
The nineteenth century, 505â€“6; H. V. Brasted, â€˜The Irish connection: the Irish outlook on
Indian nationalism, 1870â€“1906â€™, in K. Ballhatchet and D. Taylor (eds.), Changing South
Asia: politics and government (1984), 73.
â€˜Great National Democratic Conventionâ€™, 28 Oct. 1900, 8.
The revised programme was published in RN, 24 Nov. 1900, 1. Among the women on
the council there was Mrs W. M. Thompson, described as a member of the Womenâ€™s
Liberal Federation: â€˜The Great Conventionâ€™, RN, 4 Nov. 1900, 1.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 335
as the Marxists argued. Its strategy was â€˜to democratise Parliamentâ€™ in
order to secure social and industrial legislation.328 This understanding
was aptly expressed in a cartoon.329 It showed Parliament, its gate locked
and a notice posted saying â€˜Capitalistic legislation onlyâ€™. Outside the gate
six figures were waiting impatiently. These were â€˜The Outcastsâ€™: Housing
of the Poor, Old Age Pensions, Infant Mortality, Poor Law Reform, the
Unemployed and Temperance Reform. Only Democracy could unlock
the gate and remove the class-exclusive notice from it. The NDL also
campaigned for most of the then current radical concerns, including free
trade and secular education (against Balfourâ€™s Bill),330 but not explicitly
for Irish Home Rule, despite W. M. Thompsonâ€™s personal convictions.331
The NDL has been comparatively neglected by modern scholars. Yet
G. D. H. Cole, an informed contemporary as well as a historian, argued
that for a few years it enjoyed â€˜much more of the limelightâ€™ than the LRC, a
view shared by Price and endorsed by Davey.332 It certainly attracted
substantial backing from Liberals and democrats nationwide and was
strongly supported by the radical clubs (in London they accounted for
one-third of the NDL branches). In addition it was championed by Club
Life and the maverick avant garde journal New Age.333 Its activities were
carefully reported by The Democrat, its official magazine, and even more
effectively by Reynoldsâ€™s, which simultaneously acted as its sounding
board and chief source of inspiration. Contrary to what Price has sug-
gested,334 the anti-war dimension was central to the NDL from the start,
rather than emerging as a fall-back strategy for attracting support which
the Leagueâ€™s â€˜Chartistâ€™ platform would otherwise have lacked. In fact, the
NDLâ€™s pro-Boer stance was the reason why the Fabian Society (which
supported the war) refused to participate in its founding Convention.
D. Torr, Tom Mann and his times, vol. I: 1856â€“1890 (1956), 92; RN, 2 Dec. 1900, 5. See
also T. Mann, Why I joined the National Democratic League (1901).
RN, 2 June 1901, 5.
See reports in Ti, 12 May 1902, 9, and 18 July 1902, 6; see also The Democrat, Juneâ€“Nov.
His newspaper continued to report sympathetically the meetings of the Irish National
Convention and appropriated Nationalist notions and language, calling for the demo-
cratsâ€™ â€˜Plan of Campaignâ€™ and revelling in examples of government repression â€“ such as
when the circulation of Reynoldsâ€™s and Lloydâ€™s Weekly was prohibited in martial-law
districts in the Cape Colony: RN, 16 Dec. 1900, 4 and 13 Jan. 1901, 4; â€˜The Jingo and
Tory government and Reynoldsâ€™s Newspaper: English press censorship: imperialism
means tyrannyâ€™, RN, 17 Feb. 1901, 1.
Cole, History of socialist thought, The Second International (1956), 195â€“6; Price, Imperial
war, 93â€“4; Davey, British pro-Boers, 123.
Price, Imperial war, 92â€“3; on the political trajectory of the New Age see T. Villis, Reaction
and the avant-garde: the revolt against liberal democracy in twentieth-century Britain (2006).
Price, Imperial war, 249; cf. Thompson, Socialists, 212â€“13.
336 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
The League was chaired by Thompson himself. Its vice-presidents
included David Lloyd George, Charles Fenwick and Sam Woods (the
secretary of the parliamentary Committee of the TUC). Among its most
active supporters were John Burns, Robert Smillie of the Scottish miners,
John Ward of the navvies and George Howell, the veteran Lib-lab. Its first
secretary was Tom Mann. Although the ILP and SDF refused to join
because of the Leagueâ€™s links with the Liberal party, some of their local
branches did and several individual socialists were prominent in its ranks.
From the start individual, as well as corporate, membership was wel-
comed, and the NDL attracted a number of disgruntled Liberals and
feminists who demanded â€˜a reorganized and reinvigorated party of
Paul Thompson has argued that the NDLâ€™s reliance on the services of
SDF members indicated â€˜the extent to which Social Democracy had
replaced radicalism among the politically-minded working classâ€™.336
However, if we accept that the Boer War was important, Thompsonâ€™s
evidence must be read in a different way. The League claimed to repre-
sent â€˜the electoral army of Labourâ€™ with the mission of joining together
democrats of all classes and backgrounds and both sexes, children
included, against â€˜Territorialism, Capitalism and Privilegeâ€™.337 That it
attracted the support of SDF members is evidence of its success, not of its
failure. Such co-operation was facilitated by the porous nature and con-
tinuous exchange of ideas and personnel between radical and socialist
groups at the turn of the century, a situation involving the fluidity of party
boundaries and compatibility between different allegiances on the left.338
If the NDL attracted socialists of various affiliation, the SDF and the ILP
had reason to find the trend alarming, rather than encouraging, because it
betrayed the continuing appeal of liberal radicalism, which, as Paul
Thompson admits, eventually triumphed in the election of 1906, when
the Liberals attracted more than 60 per cent of the London working-class
vote. For Cole that triumph was indeed partly the result of the NDLâ€™s
activities, which had helped to reorient the Liberal party towards
See the reports and letters under â€˜National Democratic Conventionâ€™, RN, 14 Oct. 1900,
1 and â€˜The Great Convention: list of delegatesâ€™, RN, 21 Oct. 1900, 5.
Thompson, Socialists, 108, 194â€“5.
â€˜National Democratic League: are we a debating society or an army?â€™, RN, 18 Nov.
1900, 1; l.a., â€˜The Peopleâ€™s League: appeal to democratsâ€™, RN, 13 Jan. 1901, 1.
M. Bevir, â€˜The British Social Democratic Federation, 1880â€“1885: from Oâ€™Brienism to
Marxismâ€™, International Review of Social History, 37 (1992), 207â€“29; Lawrence, â€˜Popular
radicalismâ€™, 177â€“8; Johnson, â€˜â€˜â€˜Making reform the instrument of revolutionâ€™â€™â€™, 987â€“8.
What Johnson writes about the sympathy of some SDF members for the Liberal party
contrasts with his later insistence that for SDF members â€˜it was important that their
politics continued to derive its inspiration from Marxâ€™ (999).
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 337