Socialist Worker

Labour in cartoons 1: 1912 - cuddling up to the Liberals

Issue No. 2023

Cartoon by Will Dyson, Daily Herald, 1912 (Pic: from the book Did Cowards Flinch?)

Cartoon by Will Dyson, Daily Herald, 1912 (Pic: from the book Did Cowards Flinch?)

The 1910 general election saw 42 Labour MPs elected. Labour had made an agreement with the ruling Liberals that gave it a clear run in a number of seats. In return, Labour agreed to support the Liberal government that was returned with no overall majority.

Labour’s Keir Hardie was elected in Merthyr Tydfil on a platform of abolishing the House of Lords, granting votes for women and home rule for Ireland. His election address denounced militarism, imperialism and the use of the army against strikers.

But this view contrasted with that of Ramsay MacDonald, Labour’s leader, who believed the party’s task was merely to operate as a pressure group on the ruling Liberals.

Other Labour MPs rapidly succumbed to the charms of parliament. “There was no snobbery, no side,” wrote JH Thomas, leader of the rail workers’ union.

“A man was and is welcomed there for his character and brains, and not for the amount of his income.”

Outside parliament people were radicalising. Between 1910 and 1914 Britain was rocked by mass movements of workers demanding a living wage and women demanding the vote.

Amid all this, MPs voted to pay themselves the large salary of £400 per year. Payment for MPs was one of the measures Labour had demanded as the price of its support for a Liberal government.

This cartoon by Will Dyson attacks Labour MPs for being more concerned with lining their own pockets, turning their backs on those who elected them and snuggling up to Liberal toffs at a time when real wages were falling.

Many Labour MPs attacked Dyson’s cartoons for carrying criticism too far.

The Daily Herald, in which this cartoon appeared, was a radical and popular paper that began life in 1910 as strike sheet for locked out London printers.

Within weeks of its launch as a daily in 1912, its circulation rose to 230,000 a day. It was the only national paper to champion strikers, votes for women and Irish nationalism.

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