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Primitive Methodism Essay

Burt, Doughty, Fenwick, and Wilson continued to serve as MPs throughout this period. Similarly, Arch remained an MP until 1900. Another thirteen MPs, either active Primitive Methodists or closely associated with the Church, were elected during this period. Of these new MPs, at least twelve were or had been local preachers; ten were trade union leaders, primarily in the coal industry. Initially, three were Labour Party members, the others Liberals.

However, five of the Liberals transferred to the Labour Party after 1909 when the MFGB affiliated to that Party and, technically, they were obliged to do so. In total, fourteen of the eighteen MPs were trade union leaders or activists (78%), twelve in the coal industry (66%). Significantly, six of them (33%) were residents of Durham or Northumberland, where Primitive Methodism considered itself ‘the established church’. David Shackleton, elected in 1902, was the first Labour Party member with connections to the Church.

Although William Parrott, a Yorkshire Miners’ agent, had considered standing for the Labour Representation Committee in Leeds, he ultimately preferred to represent the Liberals in Normanton; consequently, the second of the Primitive Methodist MP to take the Labour whip in 1906 was John W Taylor, an ILP member and colliery mechanic’s agent from Durham. However, several others – James Haslam, William Harvey, Albert Stanley, John Johnson, and Enoch Edwards – followed suit after the MFGB’s affiliation to the Labour Party.

Some of these did so reluctantly or without any significant alteration to their political principles. When the MFGB was considering affiliation to the Labour Party in 1908, Haslam and Harvey described the new Party’s members as ‘quacks’ who advocated ‘unadulterated socialism’. Unsurprisingly, in 1910, four ‘militant’ ILP executive members complained about this influx of pressed recruits. They protested that the Labour Party had been infected with the ‘curse of compromise’ and ‘treated to a grotesque exposition of Primitive Methodist politics’ that had created a ‘masquerade of mistaken identities’.

Ironically, this weakening of Socialist influence within the Labour Party, the import of Christian MPs who embraced Liberal values, undeniably made the Party more congenial to the Church. Despite the ILP militants’ objections, these former Liberal MP were firmly committed to social reform. Haslam’s objections to ‘unadulterated socialism’ did not prevent him from supporting the nationalisation of canals and railways. In 1910, he expressed some sympathy with ‘the people who preached Socialism’ although he considered the Liberal Party was still the most realistic vehicle for reform.

Harvey was also firmly committed to social reform, although he had reservations about the creation of a separate Labour Party. When speaking at a Chapel Bazaar, he declared that: Methodism meant more to him than singing yourself away to everlasting bliss or talking about golden streets or jasper walls. It was more important to him that the streets of Chesterfield should be well paved than that the streets of heaven should be.

It was more important to him that the children should wear shoes and clothes than talking about what angel’s robes were; that they should have good water than that they should talk about the streams that make glad the city of God. Take care of earth and heaven will take care of itself. Haslam continued to speak on both Liberal and Labour Party platforms until his death, even suggesting in 1912 that, if he were to step down as an MP, he would support a Liberal candidate as his successor.

Haslam’s successor, Barnet Kenyon, prevaricated between sitting as a Liberal member and signing the Labour Party constitution. Kenyon had hoped for the same latitude as Haslam. However, denied this, he remained a Liberal. Similarly, Burt, Fenwick, and Wilson refused to stand as Labour candidates. However, in 1914 the Northumberland Miners insisted that the Burt and Fenwick’s successors must accept the Labour Whip. Although one of these, Cairns, had supported the principle of independent Labour representation for some years, he may only have joined the Labour Party consequent to his union’s decision.

Similarly, another future mining MP, William Carter, was also required to transfer his party allegiance. However, the Osborne judgement of 1909, which denied trade unions the right to use their funds for political purposes, appears to have reconciled him to Labour so that, by 1918, his support was wholehearted. Few of the MPs who sat during this period described themselves as Socialists. Taylor and Thomas Richardson were exceptional in doing so.

In combination with Joseph Batey, another Primitive Methodist elected as an MP in 1922, Richardson opposed John Wilson and the conservatism of Gladstonian Liberalism within the Durham Miners’ Association. Unlike Wilson, they supported the campaign for a minimum wage – although they remained concerned about the implications for Durham of the MFGB and Labour Party’s commitment to an Eight Hours Bill. Taylor and Richardson were early members of the ILP. Thomas Richardson, was a friend of the ‘new theologian’ Rev R. J.

Campbell and greatly influenced by his views. In 1902, Richardson established one of the largest ILP branches in the country, while Batey ultimately became a dominant figure in the Durham Labour Party County Executive. William Lunn, who joined the ILP as early 1893 and became an MP in 1918, was a focus of opposition to the older generation of Yorkshire miners’ leaders. He was a foil to men such as William Parrott and Ned Cowey, fellow Primitive Methodists within the Yorkshire Branch of the MFGB and committed Gladstonian Liberals.

Vernon Hartshorn, another Primitive Methodist miner and future Labour MP, fulfilled a similar role in the South Wales coalfield. However, some of these trade unionists branded as Socialists, transferred much of their Liberal heritage into the Labour Party. Howell suggested that Taylor – a former Liberal who rejected the Party but still embraced many Liberal tenets – and Thomas Richardson were ‘politically moderate’. Furthermore, their ‘values could have been accommodated within a Liberalism more progressive than that of Durham’.

Their primary motivation in instituting ILP branches in Durham was their perceived need for independent Labour representation, considering that Wilson and his ilk did not represent their interests. Despite Wilson’s suggestion that his opponents within the DMA were influenced by syndicalism, Webster asserts that, ‘Strikes and militant syndicalism were not part of [his opponents] vocabulary. ’ Abnormally, Frank Hodges, a former Primitive Methodist miner in South Wales who became a Labour MP in 1923, briefly embraced syndicalism before the Great War.

However, he rapidly rejected the creed in favour of Guild Socialism. The latter, although drawing on some syndicalist ideas, advocated gradual reform and, consequently, was more acceptable to Christians. The Welsh Liberals also labelled Hartshorn a dangerous revolutionary, yet the syndicalists within the South Wales Miners’ Federation considered him a reactionary. However, Hartshorn and Hodges represented a significant break with conciliatory stance of the first generation of Primitive Methodist MPs and miners’ leaders.

Typically, an increasing number of younger Primitives embraced the Labour Party and a form of ethical Socialism, which embodied much of their former Liberalism. In a Magazine article of 1912, Rev William Younger highlighted this generational shift by asserting that ‘almost all the [Primitive Methodist] young men, both ministers and laymen, have reached a position far in advance of their immediate predecessors. The majority of them are favourable to a socialistic ideal. ’ Likewise, Burt realized that many younger trade unionists considered him ‘a back number’ as early as 1891.

The older generation of Primitive Methodist trade union leaders and MPs had established labour organisations and a Lib-Lab presence in Parliament, but some of their younger co-religionist and union activists believed they had outlived their usefulness. William Harvey’s preferred inscription for his tombstone, a reference to Acts 13:36, acknowledges this: ‘He served his day and generation, and then fell asleep’. Those of his generation who transferred their nominal allegiance to the Labour Party subsequent to the MFGB affiliation did not convert to Socialism.

However, Taylor, Thomas Richardson, Batey, Hodges, Lunn, and Hartshorn, a new generation of Primitive Methodist miners’ leaders, embraced independent Labour representation and ethical Socialism. They were dissatisfied with the Lib-Labism of their unions’ leadership – although other factors may have played a part. By 1912, even Fenwick, while denigrating ‘revolutionary’ Socialism, and rejecting nationalisation of the mines as a solution to the industry’s problems, cited the Wesleyan Labour MP Philip Snowden’s brand of Christian Socialism positively; he was prepared to co-operate with Socialists who accepted progress ‘must be slow and steady’.

Some future MPs remained satisfied with Liberalism. Such were Thomas Casey, a trade union leader, and Thomas Fenby. Although Casey, who represented skilled workers, was atypical of the younger trade unionist MPs, most of the later Liberal MPs, such as Fenby, were employers. However, many Primitive MPs who sat later joined the Labour Party during this period, usually rejecting their former Liberal allegiance: Alfred Hill, Thomas Cape, Ben Spoor, Jim Simmons, and Alfred Waterson among them. Few of the Labour converts expressed any reasons for their abandonment of the Liberals.

However, Spoor’s membership coincided with the reviled Education Act of 1902, which supported Church schools from the rates bills. According to his local minister, the Sermon on the Mount provided the basis of Spoor’s Socialism – but, as he focused on education as a local politician, the 1902 Act may have driven him from the Liberal fold. Several of his Durham co-religionists also shared his interest in education and served on the education committees of local councils or on School Boards: Johnson, Thomas Richardson, and Taylor.

Certainly, as discussed later, the Liberal Party’s failure to answer their educational grievances resulted in Primitive desertions to Labour. Simmons, first elected in 1929, is the only one of this group who has left us a clear reason for his transference from Liberalism to Labourism. Brought up in a family of house painters with a strong attachment to the Liberal Party, Simmons began to transfer his own allegiance in 1909 while involved in a Model Parliament.

He joined the ILP sometime after 1911 when Churchill employed troops ‘in an attempt to cow the railwaymen who were on strike’: a labour issue. However, Simmons rejected Marxism, finding the Socialism of the ILP compatible with his particular interpretation of Christianity. For Simmons, Socialism was ‘based on giving, not getting’. Religious and Labour factors both played a part in his decision. For many of the younger Primitive politicians, Socialism was only a political manifestation of their religious beliefs – just as Liberalism had been for an earlier generation.

According to his fellow Primitive Methodist and union colleague William Straker, George Shield, who was elected in the same year as Simmons, ‘believed that through Socialism only could the ethics of Christianity be applied’. Similarly, Mr Holmes, an unsuccessful Labour candidate for a Hull constituency in 1907 and a former local preacher of seven years standing, abandoned his evangelical activities ‘to fight the battle for labour’. However, his Primitive Methodist adherence and religious commitment persisted. Politics was only another means for building the New Jerusalem in Hull.

During one political meeting, he ‘brought his vocal powers into use, commencing the singing of the “Doxology,” which the large crowd joined. ’ Despite Doughty’s exceptionalism in his adherence to the Unionist cause, the other middle class MPs – Morse, Mansfield, and Arthur Richardson – remained within the Liberal fold. However, although they were employers themselves, both Mansfield and Richardson emphasised their links to the Labour Movement and working class interests. Both the religious and secular press described Arthur Richardson, a tea merchant and grocer, as a Lib-Lab MP.

A popular attendee and orator at the Trades Union Congress, the Nottingham Trades Council, and other trade unions, including the Nottinghamshire Miners’ Association, endorsed Richardson’s candidacy and contributed towards his election expenses. He claimed to speak ‘for the Labour Party’ in a parliamentary debate of 1907, seemingly emphasising that the Lib-Labs were as representative of working-class interests as the arriviste Labour Party. In fact, between 1903 and 1905, Richardson and his election agent from the Nottingham Trades Council, flirted with the Labour Representation Committee, seeking their support.

Before the 1906 election, Richardson even appeared to consider standing as a Labour Party candidate but, ultimately, remained a Liberal. Richardson regarded free education and the trade union movement ‘amongst the greatest blessings enjoyed today’ and condemned those who refused to join a union but accepted any gains they achieved for their members. In this injunction, he included working women, actively supporting the Women’s Union of lace makers in Nottingham. Similarly, Mansfield, a pottery and tile manufacturer, was a Vice-President of the Liberal Labour League.

This organisation aimed to increase working class representation within the Liberal Party. The Church perceived itself as blind to class distinction and committed to full democracy. In 1906, Guttery expressed his pride that Primitive Methodism’s ‘wealthy members are loyal to democracy, and its poorer ones are sane in their aspirations. We have no social divisions amongst us, such as embitter other churches. ’ However, he warned that ‘Free Churchmen must allow no middle-class timidity or prejudice alienate them from a Labour Movement that is full of national hope and promise’.

The Church’s commitment to class collaboration and gradual parliamentary reform is evident in Connexional publications’ references to its MPs. To the Leader, the ideal Primitive Methodist MP was, perhaps, Charles Fenwick, whom it described in 1906 as ‘an advanced yet sane reformer’. It is noticeable that the subjects of the most detailed articles relating to the MPs elected in that year were Wilson and Fenwick: local preachers, Liberals, trade unionists, and moderates. Significantly, the Church obviously disapproved of Doughty after he crossed to the Liberal Unionist benches.

Although Primitive Methodist commentators were pleased to claim Burt and Shackleton as their own, despite Burt never having been a member of the Church and Shackleton’s indefinite connection, they were quick to deny Doughty. In 1906, when secular newspapers claimed that Doughty was still a Primitive Methodist, the Leader insisted that it was ‘some years since he [Doughty] has ceased to be associated with us’.

However, in the same edition that denied Doughty, Guttery claimed that J. Hodge, a former Presbyterian turned Wesleyan, and W Grace, a Baptist, were Church members; unlike the Liberal Unionist Doughty, they were trade unionists and Liberal or Labour Party members. Indeed, as he travelled upwards socially, Doughty distanced himself from his early Primitive Methodist allegiance and radical leanings. In 1907, he even dismissed his former Party as ‘Socialists’ bedfellows’ when they attempted to reverse the 1902 Education Act, a particular vexation for Primitive Methodists. Doughty’s apostasy was total: religious, social, and political.

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