In December 1910 London printers were locked out in retaliation for their demand for a 48 hour week. In an attempt to communicate their side of the story, they produced a strike sheet called The World. Will Dyson, a socialist from Australia, began contributing cartoons for the strike sheet. The following month The World was renamed the Daily Herald. The first issue of 13,000 copies sold out. Over the next few weeks sales continued to increase.
Rowland Kenney was one of those who worked for the newspaper during this period: "That one room was the Editorial Department. It contained either two or three tables, two chairs and a telephone on the floor in one corner and the day's newspapers. There was not a piece of copy paper or a pencil, blue or otherwise; nothing. So on my suggestion Seed slipped out and bought a parcel of scribbling pads and other material. Then we began to discuss our news service!"
When the strike ended in April the printers stopped publishing their newspaper. However, the striking printers had shown that there was a market for a left-wing newspaper and several leaders of the labour movement, including George Lansbury and Ben Tillett, joined together to raise the necessary funds. George Bernard Shaw donated £300 to the cause. Francis Meynell was brought in as the business manager of the newspaper. Ken Coates has pointed out: "It set off... as a co-operative Labour daily, staunchly unofficial and rebellious, a veritable hell raiser."
The Daily Herald reappeared on 15th April, 1912, and Will Dyson was recruited as the newspaper's cartoonist. His editor, Charles Lapworth, gave him a full page and complete freedom on how to fill it. Dyson's cartoons created a sensation. He was acclaimed by one critic as the best cartoonist seen in Britain since James Gillray. Sometimes they were so powerful that the editor decided to let it take over the whole of the front page. Within a few weeks sales of the Daily Herald reached 230,000 a day.
Martin Walker, claims in Daily Sketches: A Cartoon History of Twentieth Century Britain (1978) that when attempts were made by the Hearst Press to lure Dyson away, a special fund was created, allowing the newspaper to pay him £20 a week. "one of the angriest and most ferocious cartoonists ever to sketch a line."
Writers who contributed to the Daily Herald during this period included Henry Brailsford, George Lansbury, William Mellor, Evelyn Sharp, Norman Angell, Gerald Gould, William Norman Ewer, George Douglas Cole, John Scurr, Morgan Phillips Price, Hannen Swaffer, Vernon Bartlett, Havelock Ellis, Henry Nevinson, G. K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. The Countess Muriel de la Warr was the main source of funds for the newspaper. According to Lansbury she "has always been one of the first and most generous of our friends; there has never been a crisis overcome without her help."
Another investor was Henry Devenish Harben, the grandson of Henry Harben, the chairman of the Prudential Insurance Company. Harben left the Liberal Party after Herbert Asquith and his government refused to introduce legislation to give women the vote. On 14th February, 1913 Harben wrote to Emmeline Pankhurst about his financial support of the newspaper: "It would have been a disaster if the only daily paper which has furiously championed militancy in both the women's and the labour movements, had been allowed to die, and I was at work till after eleven last night to advert this." Sylvia Pankhurst claims that this money was used to acquire the Victoria House Printing Press.
The Daily Herald was the only national newspaper that fully supported the actions of the women fighting for the vote. Most days, the newspaper gave a whole page to news and views on the subject. Will Dyson felt very strongly about this issue and produced a series of cartoons attacking the way the government was treating the suffragettes.
Whereas newspapers usually condemned strikers, the Daily Herald encouraged workers to take industrial action. Evelyn Sharp recalled that "These were the days when universal revolution seemed more imminent than subsequent events proved it to be in this country." As one critic pointed out, the cartoons of Will Dyson "featured boldly drawn figures representing clear symbols of the noble, wronged worker verses brutal, evil employers." Some Labour politicians believed that Dyson was going too far with some of his cartoons.
George Lansbury, a socialist and a Christian, complained when Dyson portrayed capitalist as devils. Others were worried when his drawings began to attack the Labour Party for not being radical enough. Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the party, was a particular target of Dyson's scorn. At a joint conference in October 1912, the TUC and the Labour Party decided to give their support to another newspaper, The Daily Citizen.
In 1913 George Lansbury became concerned about the way the newspaper was treating individuals. Lansbury told Charles Lapworth, the editor of the newspaper: “Hatred of conditions by all means, but not of persons”. When he refused to change his approach, Lapworth was sacked.
By early 1914 the Daily Herald was achieving sales of 150,000 copies a day. The outbreak of the First World War resulted in a slump in sales. The mood of the British public changed and they now preferred the militaristic opinions of the other newspapers to the anti-war stance of the Daily Herald. Several of their writers, including William Mellor and G. D. H. Cole were imprisoned as conscientious objectors. The newspaper also suffered from the loss of Will Dyson who had joined the Australian army. To survive, the newspaper had to be published weekly, rather than daily during the war.
William Norman Ewer was sent to cover the Russian Revolution. His reports included an interview with Leon Trotsky. The Daily Herald held a meeting on 31st March, 1918, where it welcomed the revolution. Russian Revolution. According to Stanley Harrison, the author of Poor Men's Guardians (1974): "It was the first of a series of huge meetings in the Albert Hall to welcome the Revolution and demand in general terms that all governments follow the Russian example in restoring freedom. twelve thousand people filled every seat and five thousand were turned away."
William Mellor and G. D. H. Cole became important figures in the newspaper. A friend, Margaret Postgate, claimed that they formed "an almost perfect pamphleteering partnership" with Mellor's "greater natural understanding of the working-man's mind... and gift for straightforward eloquence." William Norman Ewer later wrote that by the end of the First World War the Daily Herald was "almost a national institution, a political force... its circulation was now nearer a quarter of a million."
In May 1919 the newspaper published a secret War Office instruction to commanding officers, requiring them to find out whether their men would help in breaking strikes and be ready to be sent "overseas, especially to Russia". The government threatened to prosecute but the following month Winston Churchill admitted the document was genuine. He also made a public statement that troops would not be used for strike breaking.
The Daily Herald also campaigned against British intervention in the Russian Civil War. The Trade Union Congress resolved that all action necessary, including a general strike, would be taken to prevent war. David Lloyd George and his government backed down but claimed that George Lansbury was in the pay of the Bolsheviks. Lansbury at once published the complete list of the persons and organisations who had provided the newspaper with money. The audited circulation figures of 329,869, convinced the government that Daily Herald had the support of the public and it withdrew its claims.
Philip Snowden, a leading figure in the Labour Party, was not convinced that the Daily Herald would be a success: "A Labour Newspaper is at a disadvantage from the point of view of establishing a circulation by feeling under an obligation to maintain a higher moral standard than that observed by ordinary newspapers. The directors of a Labour newspaper regard it as inconsistent with their principles to give prominence to sensational news... they have a mission to carry out. They have a gospel to preach. To them a newspaper is primarily a medium for propogating their ideas. The ordinary newspaper is conducted on entirely different lines. It is primarily a commercial venture. It has no scruples which are allowed to interfere with the success of its appeal for popular support."
Ernest Bevin disagreed with this assessment: "We may be certain that there is such a growing working-class consciousness that a large clientele is awaiting serious literature. Labour's press must be a real educational factor, provoking thought and stimulating ideas. In addition it must not be full of the caprices of princes, the lubricities of courts and the sensationalism produced by display of the sordid. All these things are but passing phases and are the products of an evil system which is rotten at the base."
In 1919 the Daily Herald became the first newspaper to accept adverts for birth-control clinics. The circulation manager argued that the income of about £35 a week was outweighed by damage to the paper's standing. However, the newspaper continued to be the only newspaper to carry these adverts for the next ten years.
The newspaper's left-wing stance meant that they suffered an advertisers' boycott. It was forced to raise its price to twopence, twice the price of any daily paper of comparable size, on 11th October, 1920. The newspaper succeeded in raising sales to 40,000 during the 1921 miners lockout. It also ran a national collection which brought in £20,000 for the miners' children.
In September 1922 the Trade Union Congress took over the Daily Herald. George Lansbury left and the experienced journalist, Hamilton Fyfe, became editor. Clifford Allen was appointed as a member of the management team. According to Huw Richards, the author of The Bloody Circus: The Daily Herald and the Left (1997), Allen would be a major influence on the newspaper for the rest of the 1920s. Fyfe recruited writers such as Morgan Philips Price, Henry Nevinson and Evelyn Sharp to write for the paper.
In the 1923 General Election, the Labour Party won 191 seats. Although the Conservatives had 258, Ramsay MacDonald agreed to head a minority government, and therefore became the first member of the party to become Prime Minister. MacDonald had the problem of forming a Cabinet with colleagues who had little, or no administrative experience. As MacDonald had to reply on the support of the Liberal Party, he was unable to get any socialist legislation passed by the House of Commons.
MacDonald was disappointed that he did not get more support from the Daily Herald. He wrote to editor, Hamilton Fyfe: "My major objection to the whole paper is that it shows nothing but incapacity from beginning to end, and instead of being a great Party organ giving us spirit and uplift, it is a miserable, cantankerous, narrow-minded and pettifogging propaganda sheet." Fyfe replied: "The Herald is the organ, not of your Government, not of a Party, but of the Labour Movement. In that Movement there are many currents of opinion."
Over the next four years the Daily Herald increased its circulation. Daily sales rose from below 300,000 to over 400,000 in December 1923. By 1925 it had stabilised at around 360,000. However, that year the newspaper lost £11,882. In 1925 Fyfe decided to introduce the new craze for crossword puzzles but said that "cross words will pass. we shall be bored by them and seek out new inventions."
According to Huw Richards, the author of The Bloody Circus: The Daily Herald and the Left (1997), Ramsay MacDonald wrote to the editor, Hamilton Fyfe, showing concern about the "communist sympathies" of William Norman Ewer. On 17th September 1925, Clifford Allen, who was on the board of directors, sent a memo arguing: "He (Ewer) should be removed at once." Fyfe refused to sack Ewer claiming that "he was the best journalist on the paper, among the best in London and kept his views out of the paper."
The Daily Herald had difficulty attracting advertising. According to a memo sent to the editor on 21st January, 1926, this was blamed on its attitude towards the commercial world: "I should be glad if you could discourage editorial attacks on known advertisers... they only make our task harder and the securing of advertisements for the Daily Herald, even at the best of times, is far from easy ... Is there not ample scope for editorial vigour in concentrating on capitalism and its attendant evils, without the necessity of referring to individual advertisers?"
During the General Strike interest in the newspaper increased. On 12th May 1926, the newspaper sold 713,000 copies. However, after the strike was called-off, sales fell to 450,000. Hamilton Fyfe was unpopular with some members of the trade union movement. Ernest Bevin wrote: "The editor has not the real co-operation and confidence of the staff and this is not due to any lack on the part of staff to co-operate, but purely a temperamental weakness of the Editor, it is made worse by the fact that his judgment is unstable and erratic, that he has not the knowledge of the different phases of the movement that several members of the staff possess and is too susceptible to personal influence."
Fyfe was unwilling to accept attempts by the TUC to control the content of the newspaper and he left on 31st August 1926 with a £750 payoff. Frederic Salusbury was appointed editor-in-chief and William Mellor became the new editor. Mellor, like most of the newspaper's working-class readers, was very interested in sport and therefore the Daily Herald increased its coverage of football and cricket.
Mellor was to the left of Fyfe and this pleased some of the staff. One memo written in 1926 said: "His wide, unbiased and very thorough knowledge of the movement enables him to correct errors of policy and fact... it is because of the personal affection of the staff for him, his journalistic ability and his knowledge of the movement that under such conditions of stress he is able to carry out this unequal task. In the periods that he has acted as Editor he has created a different atmosphere in the office."
Christopher Andrew argues in The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) that Nikolai Klishko had started a spy-ring headed by William Norman Ewer in London. According to Andrew the Daily Herald foreign correspondent was working with John Henry Hayes, the MP for Liverpool Edge Hill (1923-1931). They managed to recruit three members of Special Branch, Inspector Hubertus van Ginhoven, Sergeant Charles Jane and Albert Allen. All three men were arrested and Allen admitted that: "Any move that Scotland Yard was about to make against the Communist Party or any of its personnel was nearly always known well in advance to Ewer who actually warned the persons concerned of proposed activities of the Police."
The three men were dismissed from Special Branch but it was decided not to prosecute them of Ewer. Guy Liddell, a senior MI5 officer, wrote in his diary that the trial would bring back memories of the Zinoviev Letter. As the arrests took place before the 1929 General Election Liddell argued "the general belief is that it was thought to be bad politics that have a show-down... it was felt generally that another Zinoviev letter incident should be avoided."
In 1930 the TUC sold a 51 per cent share of the newspaper to Odhams Press. Mellor was elevated to the Odhams board and given a management position and Will Stevenson, a Welsh ex-miner, became the new editor. William Norman Ewer claimed that Stevenson was "a very nice mannered person, methodical, but not an innovator." Attempts were made to make it a more mainstream publication. This was a great success and by 1933 the Daily Herald became the world's best-selling daily newspaper, with certified net sales of 2 million.