News and some history

Dear fellow members and friends

Any offers for rides from May onwards? All will be gratefully received!

Isn’t it odd how you sometimes come across things when you least expect them? I’m ploughing through the ILP weekly New Leader for 1930 as part of my research for the book I’m writing on the interwar ILP and, looking for quite different things, I came across a piece spread over two issues occasioned by the publication of Robert Blatchford’s autobiography, My Eighty Years. I haven’t looked at that since the 1970s, but my (very fallible) memory of it is that he gave surprising little space – relatively speaking – to the Clarion, the foundation and editing of which is for most of us his most significant achievement. Perhaps I’m wrong about that.

Anyway, the article was very much focused on the early days of what the writer called “the inimitable ‘Clarion’” including of course mention of The Bounder – who will be giving an account of his cycle ride from Dieppe to Le Havre in my regular Clarion extracts feature in a few weeks’ time.

The author of the article was Fred Jowett (1864–1944) a founder and lifelong member of the ILP. “Jowett of Bradford”, as he was known, was to become one of the more distinctive, and distinguished, MPs of the twentieth century. Another famous son of Bradford, J B Priestley – in the preface he contributed to Fenner Brockway’s biography of the then recently deceased Jowett – thought that, although Jowett might have been wrong sometimes, he was never “stupidly or ignobly wrong”. He was, Priestley went on, “a great man of a new kind, which the history books have not caught up with yet.” Always at odds with the Labour establishment, and the wider British one, Jowett was not a charismatic rebel but, as Priestley put it, “If he was not a ‘spectacular figure’ then so much the worse for spectacular figures and the foolish crowds who applaud their antics.” The consistent theme in Jowett’s life was his determination to make parliamentary democracy work in a way that brought the executive under the control of the elected representatives of the electorate, and the elected fully accountable to their constituents. For him this was an essential condition for socialism. His experience as a Bradford city councillor from 1892 was a key formative influence. His central idea about parliamentary reform was based on this. He advocated replacing cabinet rule by a committee system similar to what was then practised in local government.

Jowett was a regular Clarion contributor in the 1900s but parted company with Blatchford over the First World War, which he opposed. He was elected as Labour MP for Bradford West in 1906 and retained the seat in the elections of 1910 but lost it – as did other prominent members of the ILP who had opposed the war – at the “Khaki election” in December 1918. Re-elected in 1922 he served in the minority Labour government of January to November 1924 as First Commissioner of Works. In spite of his determined opposition to “cabinet government” Jowett accepted MacDonald’s invitation to join the government while apparently not expecting to be included in the cabinet. But he was. Like John Wheatley, the new Minister of Health, he refused to wear the customary morning dress and top hat to receive his seal of office at Buckingham Palace. In the same egalitarian spirit Jowett insisted on including the less-elevated members of the ministry staff in his inaugural reception.

Jowett was only in office for such a short period but he managed to leave a permanent mark of his tenure, notably in getting the words “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone” inscribed on the statue of Edith Cavell outside the National Portrait Gallery, and supporting the then controversial Epstein sculpture of Rima for the W H Hudson Memorial in Hyde Park. Defeated at the October 1924 election he was elected again for Bradford East in 1929, losing the seat again in the Labour debacle of 1931. In the meantime he had not been invited to serve in MacDonald’s second government.

I didn’t mean to go on so long – but I think, whatever our own particular views, we sometimes need to be reminded about people like Jowett – and of course of papers like the Clarion.

Ian

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