Clarion History – 4 The Earliest Days of the Clarion

I finished the last episode the with launch the Clarion in December 1891. The paper was to survive until the early 1930s and even then there was a TUC backed initiative – which sadly didn’t last very long – to pick up on the appeal of the original paper with the New Clarion. For a weekly paper of the political Left the Clarion had a decent circulation – never less than 30,000 and often twice or even three times that.

But in 1892 just after the paper was founded the question was whether it would survive till the end of the year. As a result of a critical article the Clarion was faced with a writ for libel from a railway company. Had Blatchford and Co been faced with significant damages that would almost certainly have been the end of the Clarion, but fortunately this didn’t happen and the crisis was weathered.

I mentioned last time that in the summer of 1891 Blatchford had been adopted as an ‘independent Labour’ parliamentary candidate for the newly-formed Bradford Labour Union. One result of the threat to the paper of the legal action was that he withdrew his candidature. He was never again to stand for any sort of public office, something whose possible significance I will return to in future episodes. [For more on this, if you have access to a library likely to have a copy, see the 1951 biography of Blatchford by Laurence Thompson – son of A.M Thompson who co-founded the paper – Portrait of an Englishman. The Life of Robert Blatchford – especially for the writ crisis pp 84-85.]

Bradford was not the only place where Lib-Labism had hit the buffers. The idea of independent (of the Liberals) Labour representation was spreading fast, particularly in the North. Throughout 1892 the Manchester-based Clarion played a significant role in the spread of local organisations campaigning on these lines. This is particularly true of the Manchester and Salford Independent Labour Party.

A distinctive feature of this organisation was what became known as ‘the Manchester Fourth Clause.’ Supported by the Clarion this committed members to abstain from voting for any non-socialist candidate in all circumstance – including where there was no socialist one standing. This became a significant issue for the national Independent Labour Party, founded in Bradford in 1893 which will be the subject of the next episode.


Next time The Clarion and the founding of the ILP


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