Margaret McKay was elected Labour MP for Clapham in the 1964 general election. She had been active on the left for some 40 years.
She came from a very political family, with an Irish Republican grandfather and a rebel socialist mother. Margaret started work in a local cotton mill when she was 12 years old.
She became involved in the trade union movement while working and in 1927 was part of a union delegation that visited Moscow for the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Russian Revolution.
On her return home, she joined the Communist Party. In March 1929, she led the Bradford textile workers taking part in the hunger march to London protesting at mass unemployment.
She later went to work for the Communist International in Moscow in 1931. Here she became friendly with Vladimir Lenin’s widow, Natalia Krupskaya.
She broke with the Communists over their sectarian “Third Period” turn which she thought was playing into the hands of the Nazis. She then joined the Labour Party.
Margaret was very much on the left of the party and was very heavily involved in the work of the Socialist League. The Tribune newspaper was founded to provide the League with a voice. The organisation was suppressed by the party leadership in 1937.
She threw herself into trade union organising, becoming a full time organiser for the Transport and General Workers Union, often at odds with the union’s right wing leadership.
In 1951, she became the TUC Women’s Officer, again making herself unpopular by encouraging TUC staff to unionise. By the early 1960s, she hoped to become an MP and was elected in 1964.
Her first speech in the Commons was about the terrible menace of industrial disease, referring to her father “who was dead at the age of 29 from contracting tuberculosis from working in the spinning mills”.
Once in the Commons, she was one of a handful of Labour MPs who took up the Palestinian cause after the 1967 Six Day War that saw the Israelis occupy the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza.
This war saw the expulsion of over 300,000 Palestinians, in what is known as the Naksa—and Israel remains in illegal occupation to this day.
McKay campaigned for the Palestinians. She actually set up a replica Palestinian refugee camp in Parliament Square. She wore Arab dress when speaking on the issue in the Commons.
Those Labour MPs attempting to speak in support of the Palestinians were relentlessly heckled by their own side and faced intimidation and accusations of antisemitism outside.
Labour ministers were outraged by her uncompromising campaigning for the Palestinians. And McKay always ferociously rejected accusations of antisemitism.
The Labour prime minister at this time, Harold Wilson, was a staunch Zionist. Once he retired from office, he actually wrote a history of Zionism and modern Israel, The Chariot of Zion.
In it, he boasted that it was impossible “for a political party to be more committed to a national home for the Jews in Palestine than was Labour”.
As for Margaret McKay, she was deluged with hate mail, including parcels of excreta. A campaign was organised against her in her constituency with the full support of the Labour leadership.
She later identified another Labour MP, Robert Maxwell as a key figure in the campaign. He actually was a Mossad Israeli secret service agent, and went on to become the biggest thief in British history. Maxwell robbed the Mirror Group pension fund of some £400 million.
His funeral in Israel was attended by both the then Israeli prime minister and president and the heads, past and present, of Israeli intelligence.
The Labour leadership allowed McKay’s deselection in 1970, but she resigned in disgust anyway. She lived out the rest of her life in Abu Dhabi, still campaigning for the Palestinian cause.
Protesters told Socialist Worker why they were marching