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The rise of the Labour Party had more to do with class consciousness than socialism. Discuss.

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Introduction

Tony Marsden - Somerville College - PPE BPG, John Davies. The rise of the Labour Party had more to do with class consciousness than socialism. Discuss. At the 1900 election, 15 individuals stood as Labour Party candidates, and 1 stood as Independent Labour. The Independent Labour candidate was not elected, only two of the other Labour campaigners entered Parliament that year (Keir Hardie and Richard Bell), and in all Labour candidates took just 1.3% of the total vote. At the 1918 election, Labour fielded 395 candidates, returned 68 Members of Parliament, and picked up 22.3% of the total vote. This period clearly heralded the rise of the Labour Party, as a Parliamentary force to some extent but to an even greater degree as a popular party among the electorate. Two popular theories attempt to address how this surge in popularity came about. The first holds that the advent of socialism was swelling in electoral appeal, as a popular remedy for the continuing social ills of Edwardian Britain. The second theory suggests that socialism had little relevance alongside the factor of class consciousness and identification amongst the working class voters of the time. In assessing the validity of the two theories, it is most helpful not to look at the two theories separately and then conclude which has the greater merit. Rather, more is to be understood from looking at the nature of Labour Party politics at the same and then highlighting those factors which would appear to have contributed the most toward the rise of the Party. ...read more.

Middle

The influence of the Independent Labour Party should not be overstated in the founding of the LRC, however, as its influence in 1900's discussions was negligible. Socialism certainly had some appeal. At the time, the market seemed too arbitrary to address the social problems of the day. Its flaws were at best problematic and at worst terminal according to many intellectuals, and for the first time living standards were not perceived to be rising as a result of capitalist non-intervention. Socialism offered order and control, and as such was one considered solution to the British social problem. Other intellectuals, such as the young civil servant Sidney Webb, were in favour of the advances of public administration into public life. This is because it would raise the civil servant's role and powers, replacing the capitalist whose intentions were without such altruism but were motivated instead by personal accumulation of wealth and status. Another argument is that socialism had a role to play following the death of Gladstone. Many radicals had clung on to Gladstonian promises of radical solutions, even though he failed to meet many of these radical promises. As Edwardian Liberalism struggled to sustain this radical appeal, there came a niche amongst certain voters that had once been occupied by Gladstonians and socialism was well placed to gain a foothold. One important question for the period is to ask just how socialist the Labour Party was. In 1906, 22 of the 30 Labour MPs were trade unionists and eight were sponsored by the ILP. ...read more.

Conclusion

MPs could speak to an audience more aware of its common social position and its separation from the wealthier classes. This, however, is not sufficient explanation for the Labour Party's rise at the time. A great many non-Labour politicians sought to woo to this social class, not least because it now constituted a great proportion of the electorate. It could only be by a combination of factors that the working class responded increasingly to the Labour politicians' arguments, some of which are already outlined above. Further to this, though, the Labour politicians themselves were highly class-conscious and spoke to the proletariat voters from a position much less removed from working class life than previous candidates had been. While class consciousness did have some considerable importance in establishing and subsequently advancing the Labour Party's cause, the role of socialism cannot be overlooked. There was a popular and intellectual disenchantment with laissez-faireism, and the lack of market control was in some quarters blamed for the continuing social decay throughout areas of Britain. Therefore, some turned to socialism as the ideological solution and the Labour Party espoused this more than any of the other parties. Distinguishing between the appeal of socialism and the role of class consciousness is difficult, largely because socialism itself is a class conscious ideology and class consciousness is a futile force without something through which to channel itself. And therefore, I would conclude the discussion by indicating the mutual interests of social and class consciousness: while socialism depended on greater class consciousness at the time to foster support, class consciousness was better able to articulate itself through the political movement of socialism. ...read more.

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