Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Keir Hardie was born in 1856, the illegitimate son of Mary Keir, a servant from Legbrannock in Lanarkshire. Mary Keir later married David Hardie, a carpenter and the family moved to the industrial city of Glasgow.
Hardie grew up in poverty and, from the age of eight, was a delivery boy for a baker. At the time he was the only wage-earner in his family. He was fired from this job because he arrived late to work, after looking after his dying brother. With no family income, the Hardies had to move back to Lanarkshire. From the age of 11, Hardie was working down the pits of Lanarkshire. He never went to school and he could not write until the age of 17.
Hardie married Lillie Wilson on 3 August 1879.
About this time, Hardie began to read newspapers and learn about trade unions. He set one up at the colliery where he worked and in 1880 led the first ever strike by Lanarkshire miners. As a result, Hardie was blacklisted by coal mine owners and became unable to find work. He subsequently moved to Cumnock in Ayrshire to become a journalist.
Although raised an atheist, Hardie was converted to Christianity, and became a lay preacher at the Evangelical Union Church . Christianity was to be the most important influence on his political career.
In 1886 he became the leader of the Ayrshire Miners Union and later the Scottish Miners Federation and he began to edit a paper called The Miner.
The Scottish Labour Party, MP for West Ham and the ILP
Originally a supporter of the Liberal Party, Hardie became disillusioned by William Gladstone's economic policies and began to feel that the Liberals neither would nor could ever represent the working classes in a way that he considered fair. Hardie believed the Liberal Party merely wanted the votes of the workers but that it would not in return offer radical reform for workers so he became a socialist and decided to run for Parliament.
In April 1888 Hardie stood as an Independent Labour Party candidate in Mid Lanark. He finished last but he was not deterred and he believed he would enjoy more success in the future. At a public meeting in Glasgow on 25 August 1888 the Scottish Labour Party was formed, with Hardie becoming the party's first secretary. The party's president was Robert Cunninghame Graham , the UK's first socialist MP.
Hardie was invited to stand in West Ham in 1892 (a working class seat in the East End of London). The Liberals decided not to field a candidate, but at the same time not to offer Hardie any assistance. Competing against the Conservative Party candidate, Hardie won by 5,268 votes to 4,036. On taking his seat on 3 August 1892 Hardie refused to wear the 'parliamentary uniform' of black frock coat, black silk top hat and starched wing collar that other working class MPs wore. Instead, Hardie wore a plain tweed suit, a red tie and a deerstalker hat. In Parliament he advocated a graduated income tax, free schooling, pensions, the abolition of the House of Lords and the women's right to vote.
In 1893 Hardie and others formed the Independent Labour Party, an action that worried the Liberals, who were afraid that the ILP might, at some point in the future, win the working-class votes that they traditionally received.
Hardie hit the headlines in 1894 when after an explosion at a colliery in Pontypridd which killed 251 miners, he asked that a message of condolence to the relatives of the victims be added to an address of congratulations on the birth of a royal heir (the future Edward VIII). The request was refused and Hardie made a speech attacking the monarchy, which resulted in uproar in the House of Commons and, in 1895, he lost his seat.
Hardie spent the next five years of his life building up the Labour movement and speaking at various public meetings; he was arrested at a woman's suffrage meeting in London, but the Home Secretary, concerned about arresting the leader of the ILP, ordered his release.
The Labour Party
In 1900 Hardie was elected Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil in the South Wales Valleys, which he would represent for the remainder of his life. Only one other Labour MP was elected that year, but from these small beginnings, Labour would grow and grow, eventually displacing the Liberals as the major force for reform.
Meanwhile the Conservative Unionist government became deeply unpopular, and Liberal leader Campbell-Bannerman was worried about possible vote-splitting across the Labour and Liberal parties in the next election. Labour and the Liberals struck a deal: the Liberals would not stand against Labour in 30 constituencies in the next election.
The election result was the biggest landslide victory in UK history: the Liberals swept the Conservatives (and their Liberal Unionist allies) out of previously safe seats. Balfour himself lost his seat, Manchester East, on a swing of over 20 percent. However, what would later turn out to be even more significant was the election of 29 Labour MPs.
In 1908 Hardie resigned as leader of the Labour Party and was replaced by Arthur Henderson. Hardie spent the rest of his life campaigning for votes for women and developing a closer relationship with Sylvia Pankhurst. He also campaigned for self-rule for India and an end to segregation in South Africa. During a visit to the United States in 1909, his criticism of sectarianism among American radicals caused intensified debate regarding the American Socialist Party possibly joining with the unions in a labor party .
A pacifist, Hardie was appalled by the First World War and along with socialists in other countries he tried to organise an international general strike to stop the war. His stance was not popular, even within the Labour Party, but he continued to address anti-war demonstrations across the country and to support conscientious objectors. After a series of strokes Hardie died in hospital in Glasgow on 26 September 1915.
Keir Hardie steered the Labour movement away from what he regarded as the damaging influence of Marxism, and towards a moderate, low church and trade unionist version of socialism that was practical, flexible and with time, helped create a socialist party that has been more electorally and politically successful than most socialist parties outside Scandinavia.
Hardie has de facto sainthood inside the Labour Party and is highly respected outside it. He also has the unusual distinction for a significant political leader of only ever rarely having been attacked in print after his death.
- Benn, Caroline (1992) 'Keir Hardie' London: Hutchinson ISBN 0091753430
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