war. This was followed by a large anti-war meeting in Edinburgh
(30 October), with Lloyd George as the main speaker. The formation of
the Young Scots Society further confirmed the trend. Its members, whose
motto was â€˜For Scotland and Gladstoneâ€™, organized another large anti-
war meeting in the Waverley Market in April 1901. Various Liberal
Imperialist attempts to launch their own popular association to counter-
act the SLA failed, but they eventually rallied around the Liberal League
(launched in London on 25 February 1902). The latter concentrated its
organizational efforts on Scotland, Roseberyâ€™s home, but with limited
results. By then Rosebery had clearly failed not only to steer the party
towards imperialism, but also to induce it to abandon Irish Home
Not only was the Scottish Liberal party closing ranks around
Campbell-Bannerman, but it was also adopting the anti-imperialist,
Gladstonian platform of democracy, peace, retrenchment and reform.365
For the Liberal Imperialists this meant complete defeat. As S. J. Brown
Gill, â€˜Calculating compassion in warâ€™, 130.
McCready, â€˜Home Rule and the Liberal partyâ€™, 336.
Minutes of meeting of Executive Council of Scottish Liberal Association, 16 Oct. 1901,
NLS ACC. 11765/7. Brown, â€˜ â€˜â€˜Echoes of Midlothianâ€™ â€™â€™, 167â€“81; Matthew, Liberal
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 343
points out, while they â€˜had called for the subordination of Scottish
national identity to the mission of the British imperial state, and the
subordination of popular government to the guidance of a wealthy edu-
cated eliteâ€™, the party rebelled, and the rank and file â€˜rejected the idea of
subordination and revived a Scottish radical identity. The benefits of
empire no longer seemed worth the sacrifice, and the elite no longer
commanded such confidence.â€™366
The war had been central to both the NDLâ€™s rise and Campbell-
Bannermanâ€™s seizure of effective power within the Liberal party. In the
spring of 1902, as even the guerrilla phase of the Boer War was drawing to
a close, the Leagueâ€™s importance declined. By then, however, the pros-
pect of tariff reform was creating a new popular agitation, mobilizing, in
particular, powerful pressure groups, including the Co-operative Union,
which, with a membership of two million, was comparable to
Nonconformity in terms of its electoral muscle.367 The NDL decided to
run eight parliamentary candidates against the government. In this con-
nection it is important to bear in mind that opposition to the war and tariff
reform were interlinked. As Howe has pointed out, â€˜[t]he Boer War,
acting as the mother of fiscal re-invention, had spawned a series of
expedients which posed an obvious and cumulative threat to fiscal ortho-
doxyâ€™.368 The â€˜Chinese slaveryâ€™ issue strengthened the suspicion that the
government was involved in a sinister conspiracy against the rights of
labour. The Transvaal had been purchased by British blood and money,
allegedly in order to liberate the Uitlanders and offer a brighter future to
British immigrants; but now it was handed over to â€˜foreign Jewsâ€™, while
Chamberlain allowed the mine-owners to import indentured Chinese
workers, who made Uitlander labour redundant.369 Compounding dam-
age by insult, the government gave the impression that it intended to pay
for such an unjust and expensive war by taxing the British workmanâ€™s
necessities and industry: the 1901 Budget brought back both a sugar duty
(which had been repealed in 1874) and a coal export duty (repealed in
Brown, â€˜ â€˜â€˜Echoes of Midlothianâ€™â€™ â€™, 182â€“3.
F. Trentmann, â€˜The strange death of free trade: the erosion of â€˜â€˜liberal consensusâ€™â€™ in
Great Britain, c.1903â€“1932â€™, in Biagini, Citizenship and community, 231.
Howe, Free trade, 227. Cf. P. J. Cain, â€˜British radicalism, the South African crisis and the
orgins of the theory of financial imperalismâ€™, in D. Omissi and A. S. Thompson (eds.),
The impact of the South African war (2002), 186.
Although the latter issue had an obvious humanitarian dimension, the conditions under
which Chinese workers were brought to and kept in South Africa did not feature
prominently in Reynoldsâ€™s, the Labour Leader or the ILP News. What mattered to them
was the patriotic issue of the â€˜whiteâ€™ man being robbed of his wages by his â€˜yellowâ€™
competitor, thanks to a conspiracy of Tories and Jews: See Ward, Red flag and Union
344 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
1845). The NDL felt that Chamberlainâ€™s tariff reform ideas were even
more insulting and inequitable, and damned them as â€˜the widowâ€™s loaf
taxâ€™. The fact that this fiscal strategy coincided with the Taff Vale reversal
of Gladstoneâ€™s 1871 trade union legislation further contributed towards
casting it in a sinister light.
Such were the themes discussed at a League demonstration in Hyde
Park on 11 May 1902. Participants included members of trade unions,
friendly societies and various democratic organizations, as well as a
number of MPs. The previous day a demonstration for the same purpose
had taken place in Newcastle upon Tyne, involving the Northumberland
and Durham miners.370 Reynoldsâ€™s hoped that the two meetings would
signal â€˜the awakeningâ€™ of democracy. Praising the Irish Nationalist MPs
for being â€˜loyal as usual to great principlesâ€™, it highlighted the similarities
between the present situation and the 1879 anti-Beaconsfield agitation,
in that both represented a radical reaction against an imperialist govern-
ment intent on wasting British lives and national revenue on reckless
imperial adventures.371 Although the Hyde Park rally attracted only
about 20,000 people â€“ a comparatively small number â€“ participants
comprised a cross-section of London progressive politics, with both social
radicals and Cobdenite Liberals marching to the tune of the Marseillaise
and the Carmagnole. In Reynoldsâ€™s the page reporting the meeting was writ
large with a sizeable portrait of Richard Cobden â€“ the man â€˜who abolished
the tax on breadâ€™ and the champion of peace and anti-imperialism.
â€˜WMTâ€™ used the opportunity to launch a final appeal for the formation
of a new Peopleâ€™s party.372
When his plea went unheeded, he tendered his resignation as NDL
president â€“ only to hold it back when it proved impossible to find an
immediate successor.373 He claimed that it had become increasingly
difficult to reconcile his duties to the NDL with his professional commit-
ment to his newspaper. But there is evidence to suggest that he had also
become disenchanted with the League. While reports of NDL meetings â€“
which had been so prominent during the previous eighteen months â€“
suddenly disappeared (although they were reintroduced at the end of
September), Thompson looked to the TUC and LRC, hoping they would
become the kernel of his new â€˜Peopleâ€™s partyâ€™. In a curious reversal of
See the reports â€˜The Budget proposalsâ€™, Ti, 12 May 1902, 9 and â€˜T H E F O O D O F T H E
PEOPLE: widowâ€™s loaf taxed: National protest in Hyde Parkâ€™, RN, 11 May 1902, 1.
L.a., â€˜The awakeningâ€™, RN, 18 May 1902, 4.
Rep., â€˜The Hyde Park protestâ€™, RN, 18 May 1902, 5; WMT., â€˜National Democratic
League: special appealâ€™, ibid., 1.
Rep., â€˜The democratic world: Mr W. M. Thompson resigns NDL presidencyâ€™, RN, 27
July 1902, 1.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 345
1900, the NDL (unsuccessfully) sought affiliation to the LRC. This sig-
nalled a change of tactics, but was hardly one of either strategy or ideology.
In fact, Thompson continued to campaign for a popular front which would
involve not only Labour and the Liberals, but also the Irish National party
and even the Ulster Radical Unionists.374 In February 1903 he was finally
able to have his resignation accepted when G. J. Holyoake agreed to
become his successor. The octogenarian Holyoake â€“ a veteran, as he
boasted, of the 1832 agitation for the Great Reform Bill â€“ was largely a
figurehead, who did not play a very active role, although he did produce the
occasional stirring appeal.375 The League had run out of steam and its
future was uncertain: lack of funds prevented effective action, and the
need for a relaunch was explicitly admitted by many of its delegates: as
John Oâ€™Connor put it, â€˜[i]f the NDL was to live, it must be composed of
different members than those of the past two yearsâ€™.376
However, by then the revival of radical causes was well under way. The
reaction to Chamberlainâ€™s tariff reform proposal prompted old and new
radicals to champion free trade as a vital part of the constitution,
one which allegedly provided â€˜virtualâ€™ representation to the interests of
groups â€“ such as women â€“ who were excluded by the formal democratic
process.377 Meanwhile Balfourâ€™s Education Bill brought out a number of
â€˜Progressive, Labour and other [radical] bodiesâ€™, prompting Reynoldsâ€™s to
launch a new crusade against â€˜clericalismâ€™.378 In April 1902 the NDL
individual membership, â€˜not reckoning [that] of affiliated societiesâ€™,
amounted to about 6,000 â€“ more or less the same as for the ILP at the
time.379 Soon, however, there were reports of a â€˜great increase in the
WMT, â€˜The Trades Union Congressâ€™, RN, 7 Sep. 1902, 1; rep., â€˜Labour demonstra-
tionâ€™, ibid., 3; rep., â€˜The Trades Union Congressâ€™, ibid., 5; WMT, â€˜Ireland for the Irishâ€™,
RN, 21 Sep. 1902, 1.
â€˜A great democratâ€™s last appeal: George Jacob Holyoake to the democracyâ€™, RN, 14 Jan.
1906, 1. His experience with the NDL was barely mentioned in McCabeâ€™s Life and
letters, and not at all in Holyoakeâ€™s own Bygones worth remembering (1906). He was,
however, highly regarded in radical circles and in 1902 was also elected vice-president of
the Land Nationalization Society: J. McCabe, Life and letters of George Jacob Holyoake,
(1908), vol. II, 296.
Rep., â€˜National Democratic League: annual meetingâ€™, RN, 1 Feb. 1903, 1.
F. Trentmann, â€˜Bread, milk and democracy: consumption and citizenship in twentieth-
century Britainâ€™, in M. Daunton and M. Hilton (eds.), The politics of consumption ( 2001),
Rep., â€˜The Education Billâ€™, Ti, 18 July 1902, 6; â€˜Demonstration against the Education Bill
and the Bread Taxâ€™, RN, 17 Aug. 1902, 1; l.a., â€˜Clericalismâ€™, RN, 7 Sep. 1902, 1; WMT,
â€˜Bishops and educationâ€™, RN, 2 Nov. 1902, 1; rep., â€˜The clerical conspiracy! . . . Great
protest in Hyde Park yesterday: march of the Free Churchesâ€™, RN, 24 May 1903, 1.
â€˜NDL new resolves: great demonstration in Hyde Park: protest against the bread tax:
eight candidates for Parliamentâ€™, RN, 27 Apr. 1902, 1. For the membership of the ILP at
the time see Howell, Independent Labour Party, 328.
346 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
membershipâ€™ in South Wales, especially in the mid-Rhondda, partly in
response to the adoption of a club system. At that stage the League
counted fifty-one metropolitan and sixty provincial branches.380 Then
came the Woolwich by-election, where Will Crooks triumphed as the
Liberal and NDL candidate.381 This sparked off a polemic between the
League and the LRC over political co-operation with the Liberals.
Richard Bell â€“ an LRC member on a collision course with his party
leaders over this issue â€“ had unsuccessfully proposed a conference of
Liberal and LRC MPs. Keir Hardieâ€™s decision to reject it was criticized
by the NDL as â€˜suicidalâ€™.382 The polemic broadened when F. Maddison
pointed out that not only Hardie himself owed his seat to the Liberals, but
that both D. J. Shackleton at Clitheroe and Will Crooks at Woolwich had
stood as â€˜progressiveâ€™ candidates.383
The battle lines between the advocates of the â€˜popular frontâ€™ and
those of independent socialist action were now finally drawn. In July
Morrison Davidson started a new series of articles on â€˜Dear Bread â€“
Imperialismâ€™.384 In October 1903 Reynoldsâ€™s launched a campaign for a
public inquiry into allegations that the ILP had been â€˜secretly acting in the
interest of the Toriesâ€™.385 In June 1905 the newspaper was to attack the
SDF for the same reason.386 While Keir Hardie renewed his campaign
against Liberalism, Richard Bell (of the Railway Servants, who had been
the first victims of the Taff Vale judgement), Sam Woods and John Ward,
general secretary of the Navviesâ€™ Union, advocated the NDL line of close
co-operation with the Liberals.
Thompson had now reached the conclusion that the Liberal party,
rather than the LRC, was to be the kernel of the popular front, while
the ILP was a mere faction and an obstacle.387 Between May and
September 1903 Reynoldsâ€™s hosted a series of seventeen articles by Lib-
lab and Radical leaders advocating the Liberal alliance. Holyoake wrote
an address as NDL president condemning the politics of ILP exclusivism,
which he compared to the strategy adopted by the Chartists in 1837â€“46:
then, as now, competition between Liberals and socialists would benefit
Rep., â€˜National Democratic League: annual meetingâ€™, RN, 1 Feb. 1903, 1.
See the reports in RN, 8 Mar. 1903, 1 and 15 Mar. 1903, 1.
Rep., â€˜Labour in politicsâ€™, RN, 5 Apr. 1903, 1.
Rep., â€˜Labour and Liberalismâ€™, RN, 3 May 1903, 5. 384 RN, 5 July 1903, 3.
â€˜The Independent Labour Party: serious accusations: an inquiry necessaryâ€™, RN, 4 Oct.
1903, 1; see also the exchange of letters the following week, 11 Oct. 1903, 4.
L.a., â€˜SDF and Tory fundsâ€™, RN, 11 June 1905, 8.
TAC, â€˜ â€˜â€˜WMTâ€™â€™ at Portsmouthâ€™, RN, 12 Apr. 1903, 3; â€˜Labour and liberalismâ€™, RN, 3
May 1903, 5; Morgan, Keir Hardie, 127â€“9.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 347
only the Tories.388 This remained the line which Reynoldsâ€™s canvassed in
its columns, often through the pen of George Howell. He deployed the
Gladstonian rhetoric of the â€˜masses versus the classesâ€™, according to
which â€˜classâ€™ politics was vicious and incompatible with the public inter-
est (the â€˜massesâ€™). In the tradition of John Bright, he proclaimed â€˜we do
not claim class representation; we want to break it downâ€™.389 As Blaazer
has pointed out, it was this divergent attitude to â€˜classâ€™ representation
which, more than the clash between â€˜socialismâ€™ and â€˜individualismâ€™,
represented â€˜the real barrierâ€™ between the NDL and the ILP.390
The â€˜Chinese labourâ€™ question allowed Reynoldsâ€™s to exploit the English
working manâ€™s xenophobic instincts by denouncing the â€˜the pro-pigtailâ€™
government and their Chinese â€˜serfsâ€™.391 If its attitude to the Chinese
smacked of racism, the London weekly vindicated its liberal credentials
by advocating the cause of the Jewish immigrants. In Britain (and to a
lesser extent Ireland) the Russian pogroms and the Dreyfus affair had
begun to create a new rallying point for radicals and democrats in the late
1890s.392 In London, the three newspapers of Chartist tradition â€“
Reynoldsâ€™s, Lloyds and the Weekly Times â€“ rediscovered a common ground
in their response to anti-Semitism when they all joined the radical and
Nonconformist campaign in support of Alfred Dreyfus.393
Reynoldsâ€™s fearlessly championed the cause of the Jewish refugees and
workers, who in politics were solidly radical (their concentration in
Whitechapel guaranteed this being a safe Liberal seat).394 In the process
it managed to appropriate the anti-capitalist side of anti-Semitism
without renouncing its traditional defence of the underdogs of â€˜every
creed and nationâ€™. This is best illustrated by its stance in the Mile
End by-election, which saw an unprecedented display of anti-Semitic
The first article was by George Howell, â€˜Liberalism and Labourâ€™, RN, 17 May 1903, 1;
the last was by Sir Charles Dilke, RN, 6 Sep., 1903, 5; for Holyoake see â€˜National
Democratic League: address by the presidentâ€™, ibid.
G. Howell, â€˜Labour politics, policies and parties: a striking indictmentâ€™, RN, 4 June