The New Leader

In 1888 Keir Hardie established The Labour Leader. In 1893 Hardie helped to establish the Independent Labour Party in 1893. It was decided that the main objective of the party would be "to secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". Leading figures in this new organisation included Robert Smillie, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Mann, George Barnes, Pete Curran, John Glasier, Katherine Glasier, H. H. Champion, Ben Tillett, Philip Snowden, Edward Carpenter and Ramsay Macdonald. He used The Labour Leader to develop policy, to give advice on how to conduct meetings, and how to organize groups such as Socialist church groups and Sunday School classes. (1) Hardie continued to publish and edit The Labour Leader until 1904, when he sold it to the Independent Labour Party "amid much argument over the financial settlement". (2)

I1916 Katharine Glasier was appointed as editor of the The Labour Leader. In 1917 the government prohibited the export of the newspaper. By 1918 Glasier had increased circulation to 62,000, but she disagreed with the newspaper prominent columnist Philip Snowden, about his attitude towards the Russian Revolution. The strains of the editorship plus the stress of nursing her terminally ill husband, John Bruce Glasier, led to a nervous breakdown in April 1921 and her resignation as editor. (3)

New Leader

Clifford Allen, and Ramsay MacDonald, two senior figures in the Independent Labour Party, decided that a new approach was necessary. In a letter written by MacDonald to Allen he wrote: "A very catholic paper but organ of the ILP thus not a mere partisan dogmatic sheet but a definitely coloured one... General conception of handling: Not too much fixed feature and mortgaged pages. Every issue should be varied and interesting to a type that has intellectual interests of what may be called a gentlemanly, democratic and the whole, amateur kind... A club running a movement: genial; confident; cultured; gallant; attractive: knowing the type which it wants to get hold of and keep, and speaking to it, instructing it, amusing it, making it fruitful all the time." (4)

Allen told MacDonald he was considering employing Henry Noel Brailsford as editor. MacDonald rejected the idea: "I hope you will think over very carefully the question of Brailsford's editorship. A friend of his talked to me last night and began by remarking upon how tremendously prosperous and successful he was. I cannot see him editor of an ILP paper." (5)

Henry Noel Brailsford editor of the New Leader
Henry Noel Brailsford editor of the New Leader

The National Administrative Council of the Independent Labour Party agreed with Allen and Brailsford was appointed as editor. To appease MacDonald one of his close friends, Mary Agnes Hamilton, was appointed assistant editor. (6) Leslie Plummer, then on the staff of the Daily Herald, was recruited as business manager. It was Plummer who suggested that the newspaper should be called the New Leader. MacDonald wrote to Allen complaining about this new name. (7)

Clifford Allen wrote to all the branches of the ILP calling for all members to support the newspaper: "The paper must be, each week, a review of current topics as able, as well-written, as any of the more expensive weeklies, and with the same national outlook. A mere party organ will never circulate outside its own party... If there is one aspect more than any other in our progamme on which the New Leader will lay stress, is the control of the workers in industry." (8)

Brailsford employed several talented writers including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Hugh Dalton, Norman Angell, E. M. Forster, Henry Nevinson and C.E.M. Joad. Illustrators for the newspaper included Käthe Kollwitz, Jack B. Yeats, Muirhead Bone and Clare Leighton. Allen worked closely with Brailsford to produce a new type of political newspaper where the standard of typography and design was as important as its editorial contents. Each issue contained original woodcuts that illustrated articles about politics and culture. As Arthur Marwick pointed out: "With its wood-cuts, literary contributions, and authoritative articles by the giants of the nineteen-twenties on philosophy and science, as well as more purely political matter, it was a magnificent experiment in providing for the whole man." (9)

Fenner Brockway was also a strong supporter of the new newspaper: "Brailsford produced a paper of great literary and artistic merit, loved by school teachers for its Nature Notes, adored by artists for its woodcuts, and revered by intellectuals for its theoretical features." However, he was aware of the dangers it presented: "Brailsford was appointed editor with a salary of £1,000 a year, a Fleet Street manager was brought in at £750, and an editorial and business staff of considerable proportions was appointed." (10)

Circulation and advertising revenue steadily rose, till with an average weekly sale of 47,000, it eclipsed all other similar weeklies, including the Nation, the New Statesman and the Spectator. Considered by many as one of the most successful radical newspapers ever published, it unfortunately upset too many powerful people in the labour movement. Ramsay MacDonald and the other leaders of the Labour Party objected to Brailsford's attacks on their moderate, non-socialist policies. However, the left distrusted Brailsford's middle-class background and the high-salary he was being paid. A delegate from Sheffield at the National Conference argued that his £1,000 a year, was against the whole tradition of the ILP. (11)

At the ILP National Conference in October 1926 Emanuel Shinwell and David Kirkwood attacked the high salary given to Henry Noel Brailsford. He replied that "he did not understand why economic equality should be applied to him and not to others". The New Leader was also criticized at the conference. As one delegate pointed out: "The New Leader was a distinguished achievement, bringing credit to the Party among all who valued good writing, beauty and learning, but I had no doubt that the membership wanted a paper of another type - a paper not so much for the armchair as for the factory and the street." (12)

As a result of this discussion Brailsford resigned and Fenner Brockway, became the new editor. In April 1927 Clifford Allen dramatically resigned the chairmanship. He told Ramsay MacDonald that he had resigned on the grounds of ill-health. (13) However, he told James Maxton: "Your political actions at Liverpool were perhaps the most decisive factor in making me do what I did." (14)

Fenner Brockway (c. 1916)
Fenner Brockway, editor of the New Leader

According to Clifford Allen's biographer, Arthur Marwick: "Once again he (Allen) found himself ill and exhausted, and cut off from any direct contact with the cause he loved. He had also been forcefully struck, as if by a hard and bitter blow from a friend, by the near-impossibility of working in harmony with politicians of the left." (15)

James Maxton was the new leader of the Independent Labour Party. Fenner Brockway was a loyal supporter of Maxton and the New Leader moved to the left. Ramsay MacDonald was appalled by the idea of Maxton as leader of the ILP who he described as "a petty small-mindedness on personal matters and a cheap melodramatic appetite on propaganda" The leadership offered by the Maxton group was "one of the greatest calamities that can overtake us as it leaves us without real socialist propaganda." (16)

Patrick Dollan argued that Maxton was very different from Allen: "His faith is of the kind which the scriptures inform us will remove mountains". Maxton was "convinced that socialist society could be achieved within two decades and his activities are directed accordingly." Dollan continued that for Maxton "socialism is more religious than economic... he is the type who could not enjoy if others are without". (17)

Brockway agreed with Maxton that the New Leader should become a newspaper more suited to the factory floor. Under Maxton's chairmanship the ILP, Brockway recalls was "transformed overnight". (18) Philip Snowden resigned from the ILP and MacDonald was openly hostile. Beatrice Webb believed that the ILP was now in serious financial trouble: "Most of the larger subscriptions and the greatest interest have come from genuine admirers or persons wishing to ingratiate with MacDonald." (19)

The General Strike

The General Strike began on 3rd May, 1926. The Trade Union Congress adopted the following plan of action. To begin with they would bring out workers in the key industries - railwaymen, transport workers, dockers, printers, builders, iron and steel workers - a total of 3 million men (a fifth of the adult male population). Only later would other trade unionists, like the engineers and shipyard workers, be called out on strike. Ernest Bevin, the general secretary of the Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU), was placed in charge of organising the strike. (20)

The TUC decided to publish its own newspaper, The British Worker, during the strike. Some trade unionists had doubts about the wisdom of not allowing the printing of newspapers. Workers on the Manchester Guardian sent a plea to the TUC asking that all "sane" newspapers be allowed to be printed. However, the TUC thought it would be impossible to discriminate along such lines. Permission to publish was sought by James Maxton for the New Leader and George Lansbury for Lansbury's Labour Weekly and Daily Herald. Although all these papers could be relied upon to support the trade union case, permission was refused. (21)

Fenner Brockway was recruited to take control of the publishing of The British Worker in Manchester. He found the local printing unions willing to help but he was forced to use the Co-operative Printing Society, fifty miles away in Southport and the first Manchester edition of 50,000 copies appeared on Monday and was distributed as far south as Derby, west to Holyhead, east to Hull and north to Carlisle. (22)

Production of the Manchester edition continued up to Saturday, 15th May. "Until the strike was called off", Brockway later reported, "the British Worker was immensely popular. The disappointment with the settlement reacted against the paper, as the organ of the TUC, but there was still a good demand. The attitude of the workers towards the British Worker in the later stages was reflected in the action of the printing chapel, when they were asked whether they would put through a Monday morning edition. They replied that they would not do it for the TUC but would do it as a favour to the firm." (23)

Maxton was devastated bt the defeat and wrote in the New Leader that the General Strike had been "an enlightenment to the latent power of the working class". A defeat for the miners now would bring "only a temporary truce until Labour rallied its forces for another trial of strength". This would depress wages, increase unemployment and prolong stagnation: "Whether defeat or victory, it seems to me that the Living Wage policy of the ILP must be accepted by the Labour Movement as of first importance in immediate Labour policy." (24)

Primary Sources

(1) Fenner Brockway, Labour Leader (12 November 1914)

Although conscription may not be so imminent as the Press suggests, it would perhaps be well for men of enlistment age who are not prepared to take the part of a combatant in the war, whatever be the penalty for refusing to band themselves together as we may know our strength. As a preliminary, if men between the years of 18 and 38 who take this view will send their names and addresses to me at the addresses given below a useful record will be at our service.

(2) Fenner Brockway and Clifford Allen, Labour Leader (3 December 1914)

Whilst there may not be any immediate danger of conscription, nothing is more uncertain than the duration and development of the war, and it would, we think, be as well of men of enlistment age (19 to 38) who are not prepared to take a combatant's part, whatever the penalty for refusing, formed an organisation for mutual counsel and action. Already, in response to personal appeals, a large number of names have been forwarded for registration, and many correspondents have expressed a desire for knowledge of, and fellowship with others who have come to the same determination not to fight. To meet these needs 'The No-Conscription Fellowship' has been formed, and we invite men of recruitment age who have decided to refuse to take up arms to join.

(3) Isabella Ford, The Labour Leader (30th September, 1915)

His (Keir Hardie) extraordinary sympathy with the women's movement, his complete understanding of what it stands for, were what first made me understand the finest side of his character. In the days when Labour men neglected and slighted the women's cause or ridiculed it, Hardie never once failed us, never once faltered in his work for us. We women can never forget what we owe him.

Student Activities

The Middle Ages

The Normans

The Tudors

The English Civil War

Industrial Revolution

First World War

Russian Revolution

Nazi Germany

United States: 1920-1945


(1) James Keir Hardie, From Serfdom to Socialism (1907)

(2) Kenneth O. Morgan, James Kier Hardie : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (January, 2011)

(3) Chris Wrigley, Katharine Glasier: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (September, 2004)

(4) Ramsay MacDonald, letter to Clifford Allen (11th May, 1922)

(5) Ramsay MacDonald, letter to Clifford Allen (13th May, 1922)

(6) Minutes of the National Administrative Council of the Independent Labour Party (10th August 1922)

(7) Ramsay MacDonald, letter to Clifford Allen (24th August, 1922)

(8) Clifford Allen, letter to all branches of the ILP (14th September, 1922)

(9) Arthur Marwick, Clifford Allen: The Open Conspirator (1964) page 79

(10) Fenner Brockway, Inside the Left (1942) pages 144-145

(11) Report on the Independent Labour Party Conference in 1923 (page 48)

(12) Fenner Brockway, Inside the Left (1942) page 187

(13) Gordon Brown, Maxton (1986) pages 296-297

(14) Fenner Brockway, Towards Tomorrow (1977) page 69

(15) Arthur Marwick, Clifford Allen: The Open Conspirator (1964) page 104

(16) Ramsay MacDonald, letter to Clifford Allen (3rd November, 1925)

(17) Patrick Dollan, Socialist Review (April, 1926)

(18) Fenner Brockway, Towards Tomorrow (1977) page 70

(19) Beatrice Webb, diary (April, 1926)

(20) Julian Symons, The General Strike (1957) pages 137-138

(21) Margaret Morris, The General Strike (1976) page 241

(22) Fenner Brockway, Inside the Left (1942) pages 189-190

(23) Christopher Farman, The General Strike: Britain's Aborted Revolution? (1972) pages 174-175

(24) James Maxton, The New Leader (29th October, 1926)