Blatchford alienates two very different groups of readers
Until the late 1890s Blatchford had been supported pretty uncritically by most readers of the paper. But then, first with the outbreak of the South African (or Boer) War in 1899 and later with his attacks on organised religion and belief in his books God and my Neighbour in 1903 and Not Guilty: A defence of the Bottom Dog two years later he upset two rather different sets of readers.
The war, which lasted from 1899 to 1902, was opposed by most of the Left – including the Liberals and above all Lloyd George who came to national prominence at this time as an opponent of the war. Blatchford’s socialist allies in the Social-Democratic Federation were particularly active in opposing the war.
There were a number of factors which led to this apart from simply an opposition to war in general though that certainly played an important part.
That the, apparently mighty, British Empire was waging war against two small republics – Transvaal and the Orange Free State – naturally led to sympathy for the underdogs. The suspicion – not without supportive evidence – that designs on the gold and diamond mines of South Africa played an important role was another factor. Later on Emily Hobhouse’s exposure of conditions in the concentration camps set up by the British added to what for many was already a scandalous war.
Most people have probably heard of the famous nationalistic celebrations following the lifting of the siege of Mafeking, but less well known are the violent attacks by supporters of the war on anti-war meetings including those of W T Stead’s Stop the War Committee. Stead was one of the founders of investigative journalism who would later be one of the most prominent figures to go down on the Titanic. The Manchester Guardian was another outspoken opponent of the war.
Blatchford, of course, had spent some of his most formative years in the army and – as would later be the case in 1914 – found it impossible to do other than support a war in which British soldiers were involved – often with fatal results.
This position of supporting the war alienated quite a few readers of the Clarion as one would anticipate. Then a few years later, his atheistic writings brought a lot of criticism from those who still adhered to some form of religious belief.
Blatchford introduced God and my Neighbour like this:
I was not perverted by an Infidel book. I had not read one when I wavered first in my allegiance to the orthodoxies. I was set doubting by a religious book written to prove the “Verity of Christ’s Resurrection from the Dead.” But as a child I was thoughtful, and asked myself questions, as many children do, which the Churches would find it hard to answer to-day.
Both Blatchford and the Clarion survived these controversial episodes. But there is little doubt that his appeal was at least temporally dented.
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