11 July 2019

 – The Socialist Unity conference of 1911 and the formation of the British Socialist Party.

In the previous episode I wrote about Victor Grayson’s success as an ‘Independent Socialist’ in the Colne Valley by-election of 1907 and how he was taken up by the Clarion becoming part of their editorial team. Whether or not he was paid for this work I don’t know, but given that his brief stint as an MP took place (just) before the introduction of payment of MPs in 1911 he may have been.

By this time the Labour Party’s contingent in the Commons had grown to around 40 – partly as a result of the miners’ unions deciding to instruct their existing or prospective former ‘LibLab’ MPs to transfer their support from the Liberals to Labour. Of course this did little to change the mind-set of such MPs and a common complaint was that they only spoke in parliamentary debates when something that affected their union was at issue. Certainly all the leading figures, Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden and – by far the best of the lot in my view – Fred Jowett, were all ILPers who in all the cases just mentioned were founder members and -apart from their parliamentary duties active mainly in the ILP. Bear in mind that until the new 1918 Labour Party constitution there were no constituency parties and the way most people expressed their Labour commitment was by participating in the local ILP. Please also note that contrary to the impression given by some accounts the Labour Party didn’t have a formal leader until the early 1920s.

As ever in Left wing parties expectations and ambitions of Labour Party members greatly exceeded what it was possible to accomplish with what was still a small contingent of MPs – or so most of the leadership of the ILP which also doubled as the Labour leadership argued. But discontent continued with the Clarion very much taking part in this. The cause célèbre of 1910 was the publication of a pamphlet, known as ‘the green manifesto’ from the colour of its cover, with the title Let Us Reform the Labour Party. It was by four members of the ILP’s national body, its National Administrative Council or NAC.

What the ‘manifesto’ denounced, like so many ILPers in later years, as ‘Reformism’ then amounted to supporting the Liberal Government – the last one to date – in return for some concessions on matters of special interest to – largely – the unions. The manifestists wanted this abandoned in favour of Jowett’s policy of ‘voting on the merits of the question …regardless of consequences ‘ – what later became known as the famous ‘Bradford Policy’

This the four authors of Let Us Reform the Labour Party grandiloquently labelled ‘Revolutionist’ which even many who agreed with their general argumentative thrust thought a bit of an over-statement.

Unfortunately from the standpoint of getting their arguments seriously considered the authors made the fatal error of referring to themselves as members of the NAC – which they were,of course – on the title page of the pamphlet. The result was that their opponents in the ILP were able to divert the argument – what is known today as the ‘dead cat strategy’ – away from the substance of the issues to a debate lasting for many weeks on the democratic propriety, or lack thereof, of seeming to claim NAC approval when that body hadn’t even discussed, let along approved, the publication of the document. One of the authors, Leonard Hall, who often wrote for the Clarion, should have known better since only the year before he had made a big fuss and vehemently protested against the ILP putting out Keir Hardie’s My Confession of Faith in the Labour Alliance as an official publication of the ILP. The ILP’s official paper Labour Leader still somewhat resented by those who ran the Clarion, took the lead in expressing indignation with the manifestists while the Clarion did what it could to defend them and get the debate back onto the issues of substance

The scene was now set for the Unity Conference of 1911. The Social-Democratic Federation (always, please note, with a hyphen) had been the original organisation in the ‘Socialist Revival’ of the early 1880s. It had changed its name from ‘Federation’ to ‘Party’ in 1907 As we saw in an earlier episode of this series (16) the SDF in the ’90s had been keen to unite with the ILP and form a united socialist party. This had been thwarted largely by Hardie and the ILP leadership. As noted last time the SDF had made the fatal mistake of taking a ‘purist’ line and leaving the LRC in 1901. The new party formed in 1911 did not agree to affiliate to Labour until 1914

This party was the British Socialist Party (BSP) formed at the Unity Conference in 1911. In retrospect this was the second big mistake of the Social-Democrats. Most ILP branches did not join the new BSP though some did as did a lot of – mainly – younger people inspired by the the syndicalism advocated by the likes of Tom Mann and to a lesser extent by the ‘direct action’ of the militant suffragettes. As things turned out the BSP not only failed to unite the entire Left but from the start there were serious divisions within it over the attitude of what often called itself the ‘Old Guard of the SDF’ and many of the most active of the new recruits . Most of this was focussed on Hyndman, the virtual leader of the SDF since its very beginnings and his warnings about ‘the German menace.’ Once the war started the division between those who called themselves ‘internationalist’ and those who took the label ‘Pro-Ally’ and supported the war as a necessary evil naturally increased leading to a split in 1916. The majority of the BSP – the ‘internationalists’ – eventually formed the main ingredient of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920 while the ‘Old Guard’ became the most unequivocally opposed to the Bolsheviks of the entire British Left But I’m shooting on too far ahead.

The Clarion Cycling Club took part in the Unity Conference of 1911. In the 1930s when E Archbold completed the history of the SDF by H W Lee, its long-time general secretary, he included this passage about the conference.

Tom Groom, of the National Clarion Cycling Club, said that he and those who thought with him were anxious to avoid the use of phrases which might mean a great deal to those who used them, but had another meaning to others. Many people were not clear as to what “class war” in the resolution meant, and he did not recognise it exactly.

I need hardly say that Groom got very little support for this proposition. Later after the First World War had broken out he reflected on the failure from the Clarion standpoint of all the political organisations it had supported

          Some of us once joined the I.L.P. and thought that that was the movement. But the I.L.P. joined the Labour Party and the Labour Party joined the Liberals; so we came out. Then

         we joined the B.S.P, and thought that this was the Movement right enough. But the B.S.P. headed straight for the morass of politics, wasted a lot of time in ‘perfecting the irregular

          verb,’ passed a lot of impossible resolutions; and we came out of that.

Groom then went on to give a succinct summary of the distinctly Clarion approach to socialism. .The work of ‘the Movement’ was ‘to convert thousands and then still thousands more’ to a desire to live in a socialist society.. ’When that desire is great enough the professional politician will supply the goods, whether he calls himself Liberal, Tory or Labour Man. Our work is to create that desire.’

Ian                                                                 Next time. The Clarion and the outbreak of war in 1914


The Next Ride July 7th, 2019: Brighton Pier to Worthing Pier

27 June 2019

(cycle or rail return options)

Distance: 12 miles one way

We will meet at 10.30 outside Brighton Pier and take the National Cycle route 2 along the coast to Worthing Pier (which I haven’t visited since a Clarion ride in 2007).

The flat coastal route will take us past Hove Lawns, Shoreham Harbour, Widewater Nature Reserve and potential Worthing Beach swimming options (if warm). We will then have lunch on Worthing Pier.

For those who want to cycle one way, there are regular train services from Worthing back to Brighton.

The Cowley Club’s summer vegan beer festival will be an option for a post-ride half of ale when we return to Brighton.


The Last Ride 23rd June 2019

27 June 2019

Hove Park to Devil’s Dyke

Participating Clarionistas: Angela, Wendy, Richard, Dave & Nick

Angela’s Sunday cycle outing was planned as a short ride which wouldn’t take up the entire day. The route from Hove Park to Devil’s Dyke is steep, but a great way to reach the South Downs relatively quickly.

June 22, 2019: Hove Park to Devil’s Dyke

Both Angela & Richard fell off their bikes in unrelated accidents near the Devil’s Dyke summit, which luckily didn’t result in injury for either cyclist. I witnessed Angela’s fall into long grass and felt a little guilty that my first instinct was to take a few photographs. I have decided (so far) not to put my exclusive Angela accident photos on Flickr.

Our Devil’s Dyke pub lunch consisted of crisps, French Fries and double cooked chips. After discussing the merits of the pub’s chips, I was very pleased to find myself in a conversation about the work of Captain Beefheart when Richard mentioned it was 50 years since the release of the Trout Mask Replica LP (released June 16, 1969). Angela’s feminist critique of Killing Eve was also discussed before we started considering routes back to Brighton.

June 22, 2019: Hove Park to Devil’s Dyke

Angela and Richard decided to freewheel down the road from Devil’s Dyke towards Brighton. Dave came up with a more involved off-road cycle route, which both Wendy and myself were keen to try out.

Dave’s route took us on a diagonal path along the South Downs, dropping down to Saddlescombe (no time for a tea stop), then Waterhall and through Patcham old village. Dave pointed to the location where slide rules were manufactured in Patcham in pre-pocket calculator times before we joined London Road back into Brighton.

June 22, 2019: Hove Park to Devil’s Dyke

The off-road return was an occasionally steep (effective brakes required!), but enjoyable way to return to Brighton. I would be interested in doing something similar soon (perhaps a cycle ride across the South Downs?) during the summer months.

Thanks very much to Angela for organising the ride and to Dave for the ingenious post-lunch return.


Clarion History 22

27 June 2019

CLARION HISTORY 22 – The Labour Party and Victor Grayson

As I pointed out in an earlier episode about the 1895 election – a disaster from the socialist and especially ILP point of view with even Hardie losing his seat – the only way forward seemed more than ever to be Keir Hardie’s notion of a ‘Labour Alliance.’ This meant the political Left – above all the ILP itself – working with the – previously largely Liberal-supporting – trade unions. The socialist groups operated on a shoe-string. Relatively speaking the unions were well-off.

The eventual outcome of this strategy was the formation in 1900 of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) By no means all the unions took part – the miners, with their exceptional degree of influence and control in mining areas – remained LibLab supporting until after the 1906 general election which, aided by a not very transparent deal with the Liberals, gave Labour a parliamentary foothold. The official name was changed to Labour Party – a title already often used informally.

The Clarion approach was basically that of converting as many people as possible to socialism. The politics, which would probably be messy and sometimes not too admirable, could, the paper often implied, be left to take care of itself . The big issue of the time was whether Labour should explicitly commit itself to socialism rather than just pursuing the not very clearly defined working-class interests that the term ‘Labour’ implied. The oldest British socialist organisation, the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF) left the LRC after a year, frustrated by the failure to make a socialist commitment. This, it was later recognised by most SDFers, was perhaps the biggest mistake the SDF made. But that’s another story. What of the Clarion?

The attitude of the Clarion can perhaps best be illustrated by an editorial in the paper in March 1903 which asked:

If avowed Socialists are going to water down their principles and programmes for the sake of the fleshpots of Independent Labourism, what will be the difference between such conduct and that of the Liberal-Labour man who waters down his Labourism in order to gain the sops thrown by the Liberal Party?

Clarion confidence in Labour got, if anything, worse as time went on. Then in 1907 came something which gave those who demanded a more forthright attitude and approach great encouragement – actually rather more than would be justified by later events. When Sir James Kitson, the Liberal MP who had represented the constituency of Colne Valley since 1892 was ‘elevated’ to the peerage as Baron Airedale the local Liberals selected Philip Bright – son of the famous radical free trader John Bright – as the prospective replacement. The local ILP selected the 27 year old Victor Grayson.

So far, so good. But there was a snag. Colne Valley was part of the deal with the Liberals. Labour would not run a candidate there in return for being given a clear field in other constituencies. So the national executive committee of the Labour Party refused to endorse Grayson’s candidature.. The Colne Valley Labour League (C. V Socialist League the following year) supported Grayson as an Independent Socialist candidate. Much to most people’s surprise he won though with a percentage of the vote and a majority not unlike that of Labour in the recent Peterborough by-election.

Grayson was not a great success as an MP, attending the Commons only rarely, and he lost his seat to the Liberals in 1910. Meanwhile he had become part of the Clarion editorial team and wrote numerous articles for the paper. He later mysteriously disappeared in 1920 and his subsequent fate is unknown and has led to much speculation. Was he murdered or did he take on another identity? Those have been among the various speculations’

Grayson probably had relatively little to contribute except ardour for the cause though that’s always imporant. But he provided a symbol of the discontent of socialists with the Labour Party which has endured now for well over a century. The Clarion shared this discontent. Yet the fact that an inexperienced and virtually unknown man in his ‘twenties could become an overnight hero – and to some on the Left a legend for generations to come – on the basis of a narrow victory in a by-election and less than three years as an MP, must give pause for those – at the time and since – who dismiss the importance of electoral politics altogether.

Nor did the Clarion view of Labour get much better in 1910. Its suspicion of the party and union leaderships is well-reflected in its reaction to the publication of the autobiography of John Wilson a miners’ MP who remained a Liberal. Given that Labour Leader was the title of the ILP’s weekly and the Clarion’s rival the reaction of the to Wilson’s Memoirs of a Labour Leader can be seen as covering a much wider field than the author of the autobiography himself. The reaction was a bit Pavlovian.

Not to have been a Labour Leader and not to have written the story of your life, or have it written for you, argues a very commonplace character in these early twentieth century times. In the days of our youth the rewards for good conduct at Sunday School took the form of literature of the ‘Long Cabin to the White House’ class. Today the budding youth of the greatest Empire feeds its aspirations on ‘From Workshop to Westminster,’ ‘From Butcher’s Bench to Parliamentary Bar’, ‘From Cab Rank to Cabinet Rank’. Or some other impossible jumping of place to fame and glory.

Given all this it is not surprising that the following year, 1911, the Clarion supported, and indeed the Clarion Cycling Club took an active part in, one final pre-1914 effort at ‘socialist unity’ outside the Labour Party.


The Next Ride: Sunday 23 June 2019 Hove Park to Devils Dyke

15 June 2019

Meet Hove Café at 10 Am for coffee and departure at 10.15 to Devil’s Dyke. A nice gentle ride to the top via the scenic route and then a whizz down Dyke Road.


The Last Ride 9th June 2019

14 June 2019

Hove Park to Shoreham

David ,Wendy, Sikka ,Mick ,Ann and Tessa all met at the Hove Park Cafe at 10am.

Hove park to Shoreham 9th June

It was a lovely sunny morn. Refreshed with coffees, breakfast baps( think that was just me!) off we went cycling up and up through many houses, in amongst them to my surprise was the Dyke railway trail bursting onto the green and lush downs. Still climbing up and up,we eventually swish down to the delightful Wild flour cafe, nestled into the South Downs way path. We left Ann and Mick there to enjoy an early tasty looking lunch.

Hove park to Shoreham 9th June

We rode up another hill to reach the Poynings turn off. A lovely cycle through country lanes to Henfield where we stopped in the Plough for lunch. While waiting for our roasts, the conversation turned to David’s experience of being involved in Morris dancing while living in Bangkok (!) egged on by the group, (hankies hastily found) he proceeded to give a demonstration along the path in the garden. Enthused by his talent, Tessa and Sikka     also took it in turns and danced along the path.


Hove park to Shoreham 9th June

After being thrown out of the pub for being disorderly and frightening customers (not) we where all a bit tired and Graham decided it was good idea to shorten the ride and skip going on to Partridge Green. So we got on to the Downslink and headed to Shoreham.

Hove park to Shoreham 9th June

David and Graham decided they wanted more hills so they peeled off to ride up Coombe road. I peddled on only to have my battery conk out just under the Shoreham flyover ( do I hear some titters??!)

It really was a red run and lots of fun.


I classified this as Red (Challenging) due the road section from Partridge Green to Shoreham.  On the day we chose to go south from Henfield on the downs link which made it a Double Blue Run (Moderate at 8-9 mph). 23 miles at an excellent average of 8.9 mph



14 June 2019

Downs Link Pop-Up Ride 2-3rd June

On the 2nd Chris and John (David’s neighbour) cycled from Shoreham up to Guildford on the Downs Link and myself, David and Prudence travelled up by train to meet for our overnight stop at the local Premier Inn

In the evening we had an excellent meal out at the local Red Rose Indian Restaurant followed by pints of Hogs Back TEA beer at the Row Barge pub on the banks of the Wey (until 11.30pm!).

Downslink Ride 3rd June 2019

We started out from the hotel in Guildford at 9.45am after a full English breakfast, and found ourselves on the river Wey towpath at the start of the Downs Link10 minutes later, when one of our group decided that she wanted to see the cobbled High Street with a tour of Guildford.

Downslink Ride 3rd June 2019

Having completed our tour which involved cycling the wrong way down a steep cobbled one way street (A bit like the Hovis Ad) Chris guided us down the river and onto the railway part of the Downs Link south of Shalford.

Our planned first stop at The Milk Churn at Rudgwick was a disappointment as it is closed on Mondays, so we headed for Christ’s Hospital after a diversion to inspect and discuss the Double Bridge. So it was that 20 miles down the trail we discovered the delightful Bax Castle pub, and enjoyed its sunny garden, bouncy castle, cheesy chips and Ringwood Brewery Boon Doggle.

Downslink Ride 3rd June 2019

Downslink Ride 3rd June 2019

Pedalling on we stopped at West Grinstead Station for a half hour rest, where we also discovered a new stop for a future ride, the Orchard Garden and its restaurant. Arriving at Stan’s Bike Shack we found that was also closed so we continued on to the Red Lion Inn, Shoreham at the end of our ride, where we enjoyed well earned pints of Greene King Yardbird in the garden on arriving at around 5 pm.

So the 38 mile journey took seven and a quarter hours at an average speed of 5.25 mph, cycling for 4 hours 15 minutes at 8.9 mph (a speed all of us can easily do on the flat), with more than three hours for discovery, food and drinks, rest, toilet stops, photography and discussion.

Graham and David (Most of the words)

What I thought would have been quite a challenge turned out to be the best and most enjoyable Clarion ride that I have ever been on. Such was the feeling of esprit de corps and joie de vivre that en route I found myself behaving like a child on a bouncy castle. The next morning I even had energy for tennis and a full day of activities.

I’m already looking forward to the next ride along the length of the Downs Link, perhaps in the other direction?