A topical piece of political ephemera from a century ago. 1910 was a year of two general elections - the Liberals emerged on top in both, the last elections when they were returned as the largest party of Parliament,. But a key theme of the early decades of the last century was the political rise of Labour.
This postcard lists the 14 ILP candidates in one of the 1910 elections - I haven't yet worked out which one, but imagine from the wording that it's the earlier one, in January.
It includes a fuure Prime Minister, J. Ramsay Macdonald, and several future cabinet ministers and a coming party leader, George Lansbury. Also on the list is the iconic pioneer of Labour parliamentarism, Keir Hardie.
Not all Labour candidates were members of the ILP. These candidates were the nerve centre of the emerging Labour party.
In all, 40 Labour MPs were elected in January 1910 and 42 in the year's second general election in December.
A very nice piece of political memorabilia..
And an election message on a disc
Just under twenty years after that postcard, Ramsay Macdonald - after a brief spell as Prime Minister in the mid-1920s - led Labour into the 1929 election. It resulted in a minority Labour government, and a second period for Macdonald in Number 10.
This disc dates from the 1929 election campaign - bought for £2 from Noel Lynch's treasure of a bric-a-brac shop, The Green Room, on Archway Road. On one side, Macdonald speaks on unemployment, and on the other on world peace.
It was so cheap because although this 78rpm disc is in one piece, it's so scratched and cracked as to be unplayable. Still, if you want to hear him, then click here. And there's a bit more about Macdonald's oratory, and this record in particular, here.
An early trade society
The articles of the United Societies of Skinners - agreed in 1815 and printed in Nottingham the following year. It establishes the criteria for entry into the trade (eldest sons of skinners and those with a full apprenticeship can be considered 'a fair man'), and sets down how the various local societies operate. This is a broadsheet, a little larger than A3 size - a remarkable survival from two centuries ago.
A touch of the Keir Hardie's
Of all my political ephemera, this is perhaps my favourite. And unlike just about everything else on this page, it wasn't bought as a choice piece - I found it as a bookmark in a rather tawdry book in an old second-hand shop (Miles's in Leeds, which - as I recall - was just behind the Town Hall).
At first, I hugely regretted that someone, at some stage in this handbill's precarious existence, had torn a corner off as a pipelight or for some other trivial reason. But it's now, in my eyes, part of the item - bestowing personality and, as you would expect from something so ephemeral, indicating just how remarkable it is that something so fleeting has survived at all.
Keir Hardie, blessed with a memorable name, was perhaps the key figure in Labour's decision to seek a separate Parliamentary group. His election to Parliament in 1892 is regarded as the beginning of an independent Labour presence at Westminster.
The 'Labour Leader' was a key early Labour journal which Keir Hardie edited from 1888 right through to 1904, when he sold it to the Independent Labour Party.
I suspect this handbill dates from 1894 when the 'Labour Leader' moved from monthly to weekly publication.
An ILP grammar lesson
This wonderful handbill was produced by the Independent Labour Party in 1919 - a very clever and effective way of getting over the message about what 'common ownership' meant - and what it didn't mean.
So 'Our Coal Mines' but 'My Garden'. 'Our Factories' but 'His Cigar'. 'Our Land' but 'Your Hens'.
And, pointedly: 'Our Government (which we can change when we wish).' For remember - universal suffrage had not been fully achieved in 1919, though women had by then been given the vote.
Declared ungrammatical are such terms as 'My Servant' or 'My Profits' or 'My People'.
The early ILP had a gift for simple propaganda - a tradition which dated back to Robert Blatchford and the 'Clarion' movement - which many later political organisations never managed to emulate.
It is wonderful that such a modest handbill has managed to survive. I picked it up at a bookstall ninety or so years after it was published for an incredibly modest £6. And it's in pristine condition.
Two early socialist meeting handbills
Two hugely resonant handbills. On the left, from the year the Social Democratic Federation first came to public attention, an outdoor meeting in the perhaps unlikely setting of Tunbridge Well addressed by one of the most prominent of the early SDFers, Hunter Watts. On the right, the Socialist League's William Morris talking on "How Shall We Live Then" at the Vine Street Radical Club in central London.
The Nottinghamshire Miners' Coal Queen
The programme of Nottingham NUM's annual demonstration in 1968 - when Nottingham had 36 NUM branches (some were workshops, but there would have been up to 30 mines). Mines were opening in the Nottingham coal field into the 1960s, though by 1968 the first signs of contraction were evident. The demonstratuion resolution stated: 'we view with great concern the run-down of the coal-mining industry in this Area'.
Today Nottinghamshire has just one colliery left - Thoresby. Another, Welbeck, closed last year (2010) - Welbeck's headstocks and winding gear, once so common in the coalfields, were demolished as recently as March 2011.
Back in 1968 the coalfield's annual demonstation was a big number - thirteen colliery bands, tableaux, show stands including caged bird and rabbits, and football, boxing and wrestling. An ATV announcer, Sheila Kennedy, added a little glamour to the guest list.
Inside the front cover of the programme is this charming, and very much of its time, photo of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Coal Queen 1967-68. She had a prominent place in the procession through Mansfield. And one of the highlights of the day was the selection of the following year's Coal Queen.
But this was a political event - and the key speakers were the NUM's Will Paynter and Labour's Michael Foot. This copy of the programme, which I bought from a second hand bookshop for £1, was almost certainly Michael Foot's.
Nottinghamshire was not the most radical of coal fields. The programme contained the words of two songs - the Labour anthem 'The Red Flag', and the hymn 'The Lord is My Shepherd', both being led on the day by the Thoresby Colliery Welfare Band (yes, the same pit that is now the lone survivor of a once flourishing local industry).
Commow Wealth in 1945
A Common Wealth party election pamphlet from 1945 - a radical left party which briefly had a presence in Parliament.
It was, in essence, a libertarian socialist pressure group, founded in the early 1940s by a Liberal MP, Sir Richard Acland, with support from the novelist J.B. Priestley and a former communist, Tom Wintringham.
Acland gave the party a presence in Parliament and during the war, CW won three Parliamentary by-elections against candidates from the Churchill-led coalition.
In 1945, Labour hoovered up most of the Common Wealth votes. It retained just one seat, Chelmsford, and this lone CW MP crossed the floor a year later to join the Labour party. It never again had a presence in Parliament, but didn't dissolve as a political party until the 1990s.
This election literature has a fake hoarding of Conservative anti-Common Wealth posters, 'What's Behind This?', the fold-out asks. That's answered by a Zec cartoon from the Daily Mirror on the reverse - it's big business and state control that's behind it.
Anti-statism was very evident in Common Wealth policies and propaganda, though it saw itself as a radical, progressive and indeed socialist movement.
Funding the wartime Daily Worker
A choice piece of political ephemera - a receipt boom for donations (each for threepence that's just over one penny of today's money) to the communist Daily Worker. Each of the receipts consist of a different cartoon, and a note of thanks on behalf of the paper from its fundraiser, Barbara Niven. The newspaper always relied on funding by supporters as much as on sales and farily modest advertising revenue
The receipt book dates from 1943, when the Communist Party of Great Britain - following Hitler's attack on Stalin's Russia - was strongly in support of the allied war effort. Earlier in the war, the party had denounced the confliict as an 'imperialist war' and the Daily Worker had, briefly, been banned.
Most of the cartoons are much more pro-war effort and anti-Hitler than they are in any customary sense communist. The paper always had good cartoonists.
The Communist Party ended the war with about 50,000 members and had two candidates elected to Parliament in the 1945 general election. In terms of popular support, this was the party's high watermark.
The Daily Worker changed its name to the Morning Star in 1966. The Communist Party of Great Britain voted to dissolve - or more accurately to become a pressure group called Democratic Left - in 1992.
Trade union membership cards
Trade union membership cards are personal and very resonant forms of political ephemera. You can buy them for very modest sums at flea markets - the ones featured were bought, for the most part, at the Monday flea market at Covent Garden.
The Boiler Makers and Shipbuilders card dates from 1903 - the oldest of those shown. These were, as the Amalgamated Society of Engineers card from 1913 demonstrates, contributions cards, a record of the dues paid and proof that the member was 'paid up' and so eligible for benefits. The provision of sick and unemployment benefits was one of the prime functions of trade unions, especially before the creation of the welfare state.
Cards from the nineteenth century are much harder to come by. So too are travelling benefits cards, as used by tramping artisans - skilled workers paid by their unions to take to the road in search of work, so avoiding the temptation of undercutting the trade union rates.
Party cards are also difficult to find - though I have over the years collected a few.
A Socialist League celebration of the Paris Commune
Political ephemera - handbills, membership cards and similar - rarely survives. But it's often more resonant of the moment than the more manicured publications.
The handbill on the left was issued to promote a Socialist League meeting in March 1890 in celebration of the Paris Commune nineteen years earlier.
The imagery is so evocative. I don't know the provenance of the image of the Communards - it looks to be in the style of Walter Crane. It's rare in its internationalism - slogans in several languages.
The Socialist League was an organisation closely associated with William Morris - socialist, somewhat utopian in tone, and increasingly libertarian.
Socialists of the 1880s looked back to the Paris Commune of 1871 as one of the high water marks of the radical left, and every year held meetings to commemorate that popular uprising.
Luddites on the Scaffold
This is a fantastic broadside dating from 1812 marking the hanging of Luddite rioters.
It opens: 'The last Dying Speeches, And CONFESSIONS of the Westhoughton and Manchester Rioters ... for setting Fire to a Weaving Mill at Westhoughton, and ... for breaking open the House of John Holland ... in Deansgate, Manchester'. Those convicted, seven men and one woman, were executed at Lancaster on 13th June 1812.
The woodcut is a very simple gallows scene. the bulk of the text refers to those convicted and the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. Two short paragraphs in smaller print, probably last minute interpolations, give some sense of the scene at the execution: 'This morning the above unhappy sufferers were brought out upon the drop behind the castle, severally pinioned, to suffer the awful sentence of the law. ...'
'Milk for Spain'
A cardboard token which harks back to one of the more noble chapters in
British radicalism. During the Spanish Civil War, supporters of the
Republican side raised money to help ease the hardship faced by
civilians living in areas largely under siege from Franco's forces.
The Wikipedia article on the 'Milk for Spain' movement recounts: In
November 1937 a Milk for Spain fund was opened after an appeal to the
various co-operative societies and Labour Party branches around the
country. The response was overwhelming. The London
Co-op raised £877 alone. In addition to large contributions from
societies, anybody who shopped at a Co-op
store was able to buy milk tokens; the proceeds of which would go to
the Republican civilians. In particular, the milk was directed at
children of under four years old and invalids. As the rate of donations
from the societies gradually subsided, the selling of six-penny and
three-penny tokens in shops assumed growing importance.
Alexander Baron, in his Islington novel Rosie Hogarth,
wrote of the generisity of local support for the Republican cause in
the Spanish Civil War as 'one of those blind and beautiful upsurges of
human solidarity that sweep their class from time to time'. This is a
wonderfully evocative emblem of that time, place and movement.
A socialist song sheet from 1895, published by the Leicester Anarchist-Communists. There are a couple of William Morris songs, 'The March of the Workers' and 'No Master'. The anarchist David Nicoll contributes 'The Coming of the Light', to the Irish nationalist tune 'The Wearing of the Green', which rehearses all the themes of battle, struggle and opposition to tyranny which are common to many of the lyrics. There's also Edward Carpenter's anthemic 'England. Arise!':
England Arise! the long, long night is over, Faint in the east, behold the dawn appear; Out of your evil dream of toil and sorrow - Arise, O England, for the day is here
Wonderful that such a transient thing as a song sheet should survive!
A Liberal song sheet
The socialists didn't have all the best songs!
This is a liberal song sheet, given to me by Michael Steed. 'The more I look at this', he says in an accompanying note, 'the more I think it was probably put together by Mary Green with my assistance in 1965-6, and was the first circulated YL [Young Liberal] song sheet.'
That means that the Liberator song book, which published its 21st edition in 2010, is in direct apostolic succession from this duplicated and untitled sheet - foolscap in size, which means it's a little too big for my scanner to capture all of it.
The first title is the Liberal anthem 'The Land Song', harking back to Lloy'd George's People's Budget of 1909 and the keenly contested elections of the following year. 'Red Fly the Banners-Oh' is much more of a socialist song, which Tariq Ali remembers singing in the 1960s. 'Johannesburg' is a powerfully expressed denunciation of racism in South Africa and Britain - the Young Liberals were noted above all for the pioneering direct action protests against apartheid.
The Siege of Sidney Street - 3rd January 1911: in postcards
On 3rd January 1911, Winston Churchill deployed scores of armed police and soldiers to flush out a group of armed robbers holed up in a house in Sidney Street in Stepney. Churchill, then home secretary in a Liberal government, went along himself - wearing a splendid top hat - to see the action. The house at 100 Sidney Street eventually caught fire. The bodies of two Latvian revolutionaries ('anarchists' in the parlance of the popular press and the postcard publishers) were found in the burn-out remnants of the building. A third man, 'Peter the Painter', disappeared - his real identity has been the subject of excited speculation and conspiracy theories ever since.
The 'anarchists' had, the previous month, killed three policemen while trying to rob a jeweller's shop in Houndsditch. The incident created great alarm about alien extremists bringing gun crime to the heart of London.
The first two decades of last century were the great era of political postcards - Joe Chamberlain and David Lloyd George, two great populist politicians, were the most widely featured. But incidents such as the Sidney Street siege were also hugely popular with the postcard makers. To judge by the numbers surviving, tens of thousands - perhaps more - of these cards must have been sold.
In case you think this bizarre, I remember visiting New York in the aftermath of 9/11 and being astonished a by the nunber of postcards on sale on the streets harking back to the tragedy. Of course, I bought a good selection.
A Labour Movement Mystery
I bought the postcard above for 50 pence. The reverse is blank - nothing at all to indicate provenance or date. My instinct tells me that this is a labour movement group - perhaps at a conference, or trade union meeting. I have at various times imagined that Tom Mann and Will Thorne are among those featured - but in truth I am not too confident about the identification. Do let me know if you can identify those in the photograph or have some idea about the event. firstname.lastname@example.org
An Anti-Suffrage Handbill
An appeal to the men of England to resist the 'tyranny' of 'petticoat government'.
This anti-suffragette handbill was issued by the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage. It probably dates from just before the First World War.
'Don't make yourselves and your country the laughing stock of the world', it warns, 'but keep political power where it ought to be - in the hands of men.'
There are few more obvious examples of an unsuccessful political campaign. But the anti-suffragist movement was nationwide in scope, and consisted of much more than a few fusty crackpots.
'Play up and save your country', the leaflet exhorted. 'Save Suffragist women from themselves, and other women from Suffragists.'
'"VOTES FOR WOMEN", NEVER!'
Saddam's Pack of Cards
Do you remember how during and immediately after the Gulf War, American troops were issued with a pack of cards to help them identify the most wanted members of the defeated Ba'athist regime? Well, these are the four aces from the pack. Saddam was the ace of spades. His sons were the ace of clubs and the ace of hearts. The ace of diamonds was Saddam's secretary.
I bought this pack of cards from a stall in New York - it's not a Pentagon original I'm sure, but a copy hastily assembled to sell to tourists.
There were any number of copycat packs of cards, addressing everything from Presidential elections to campaigns to restrict state spending. I am sure someone, somewhere is collecting them.
A Coalition Mug ... or Two
Am I a mug ... for getting this mug? Well, I quite like the tacky instant memorabilia. And this prize item is not for my morning cuppa, but put away behind glass as a collectors' piece of the future.
Don't be surprised that Nick is looking alarmed. You would if the Prime Minister was sticking his nose in your ear.
But whether this coalition turns out to be a passing fancy, or the remoulding of British politics, this is an iconic piece of political ephemera.
A blast from the past - Fred Bakunin was, fleetingly in the mid-1970s, a popular rallying cry in Oxford student politics.
I seem to remember that he did tolerably well in one Students' Union election - politics as carnival! It hardly changed the world but it was quite fun. .