Keir Hardie

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KEIR HARDIE

Was the first (Independent) Labour MP elected in 1892 and leader of the Labour Party from 1906-1908, gave the first recorded speech of his political career in Irvine in 1887, as Secretary of the Ayrshire Miners’ Union.

In a biography by William Stewart, published in 1921, he mentions that Hardie gave his first recorded political speech in Irvine in October 1887 atthe age of 31. There was a demonstration on the Moor in May of that year, so I presume his speech in October would likewise have been delivered on the Moor, given the large numbers of people likely to have turned up to hear him speak.

You can find some of the text of his Irvine speech below and on pages 22, 23 and 24 of William Stewart’s book, which you can read in full online here:
https://archive.org/stream/jkeirhardiebiogr00stewiala#page/n9/mode/2up.

“In May, 1887, at demonstrations of the Ayrshire miners held on Irvine Moor and on Craigie Hill, the following resolution was adopted: “That in the opinion of this meeting, the time has come for the formation of a Labour Party in the House of Commons, and we hereby agree to assist in returning one or more members to represent the miners of Scotland at the first available opportunity.”

Shortly afterwards Hardie was adopted as the miners’ candidate for North Ayrshire, and immediately there developed a situation which has been repeated hundreds of times since all over the country, and which can best be shown by quotations from a speech delivered by Hardie at Irvine in October of that same year. It is his first recorded political utterance, and defines very clearly his attitude at that stage of his development. It shows that he was not yet prepared to fight on a full Socialist programme, and also that he was not unwilling to work through the Liberal Party, provided its methods were honestly democratic. He was, in fact, putting Liberalism to the test of allegiance to its own avowed principles.

He said, “The Liberals and Conservatives have, through their organisations, selected candidates. They are both, as far as I know, good men. The point I wish to emphasise, however, is this: that these men have been selected without the mass of the people being consulted. Your betters have chosen the men, and they now send them down to you to have them returned.

What would you think if the Miners’ Executive Council were to meet in Kilmarnock and appoint a secretary to the miners of Ayrshire in that way? Your candidate ought to be selected by the voice and vote of the mass of the people. We are told that Sir William Wedderburn is a good Radical and that he is sound on the Liberal programme. It may be all true, but we do not know whether it is or not. Will he, for example, support an Eight Hour Bill ? Nobody has asked him, and nobody cares except ourselves. Will he support the abolition of private property in royalties? Well, he is a landlord and not likely to be too extreme in that respect. Is he prepared to establish a wage court that would secure to the workman a just reward for his labour? Nobody knows whether he is or not.

Is he prepared to support the extension of the Employers’ Liability Act, which presently limits the compensation for loss of life, how- ever culpable the employers may be, to three years’ wages? Nobody knows. I am not surprised at the action of the Liberal Association in opposing me. This is what has been done in nearly every case where a Labour candidate has been brought forward. I have been asked what course I intend to take, and my reply is, the same as formerly. I will endeavour to have a Labour Electoral Association formed in every town and village in the constituency.

When the time comes for an election I will judge how far circumstances justify me in going forward. If the working men are true to them- selves, I will insist on a plebiscite being taken between myself and the Liberal candidate, and then let the man who gets most support go to the poll. If the Liberal Association refuses to take this course, working men will then see how much their professions of friendship are worth. I am not specially anxious to go to Parliament, but I am anxious and determined that the wants and wishes of the working classes shall be made known and attended to there. Meantime, I recommend my friends not to pledge themselves to either of the candidates now before them till they see what the future may bring forth.”

Information from The Old Irvine Facebook Page

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