Tag Archives: Labour Party

The 1923 General Election

 

Junior Imperial League Gazette

Junior Imperial League Gazette, Dec 1923, p.7 [PUB 199/2]

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, surprised many when she announced her intention to call a UK general election to be held this Thursday, 8 June 2017. The ‘snap’ election came as a shock not least because, as she acknowledged in her announcement, since becoming Prime Minister she had made it clear that she did not anticipate any election before the next scheduled general election in 2020. A combination of Westminster ‘game playing’, which might weaken her government’s hand in Brexit preparations and negotiations, and the fact that talks would otherwise reach a critical stage in the run up to the next scheduled election, led Mrs May to conclude that it was in the national interest to hold an election after all and by so doing remove possible uncertainty or instability with regard to the country’s future. So the electorate is being asked to provide Mrs May and her Conservative government with a direct mandate to settle the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, leaving it “free to chart its own way in the world” (regaining control of our money, laws, and borders with the opportunity to strike our own trade deals). Surely few can have missed the campaign mantra ‘strong and stable leadership’ versus a ‘coalition of chaos’ (Labour propped up by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalist Parties).

So, as we look forward to the results of this week’s ‘snap’ general election it might be interesting to look back to a previous ‘snap’ election, specifically the general election called by Stanley Baldwin in 1923.

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Parliament Week 2016: Britain and Europe: Britain’s second attempt to join the EC, 1966-67.

‘Now, the question is asked – will France veto us, and should we be deterred from application for fear that they will? I think the situation in 1967 is markedly different to what it was in 1963.’ (MS.Wilson c. 873)

Speaking here at the Labour Party Conference, the Foreign Secretary George Brown was undoubtedly wrong. Britain’s second attempt to join the European Communities (EC) in 1967 would end, ultimately, in the same ignominious failure as its first – shot down by a French veto, wielded by General de Gaulle. However, Brown was certainly right about one important thing: both Britain and Europe were very different in 1967 to how they had been just four years previously.

Britain’s three painful attempts to join the European Union’s predecessor are, today, almost totally forgotten by the general public. Yet they can serve an important role in informing current discussions, not least as a reminder of why Britain was so keen to join the union in the first place.

MS.Wilson c. 873, iii.3: ‘Britain and the EEC’ speech to PLP

1963 and 1967: Similarities and Differences

Considering the embarrassment of Britain’s failed attempt to enter the European Economic Community in 1963, it is perhaps surprising that the issue returned to public discussion so quickly. Between 1958 and 1963, Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government had attempted to get Britain into the association but had been humiliated, in 1963, when the French president General de Gaulle vetoed British accession outright. In contrast, Britain’s 1967-68 attempt, unflatteringly dubbed ‘the Probe’, under the Labour government of Harold Wilson looks very similar. Yet this is not how it seemed to contemporaries.

Britain was a very different place in 1967 to what it had been under Macmillan. For one thing, the attitude of the Labour Party – traditionally the less ‘European’ of the two – had changed profoundly. Under Hugh Gaitskell, Labour had vigorously opposed entering the Common Market. In government after 1964, their new leader Harold Wilson led a surprising volte-face.

This reversal was even more remarkable given Wilson’s own initial stance. In a speech given in 1962, the draft of which is preserved in the Bodleian, Wilson had voiced scepticism at the stance taken by ‘the Six’ EEC members and, especially, the Belgian statesman Paul-Henri Spaak:

Now, M. Spaak began by saying “We [the British] forget that we are the askers”. [Perhaps not his intention, but] Seemed to suggest [the only posture fr. wh. the British can negotiation is one of suppliance] we should adopt a suitably suppliant tone. This is not our position at all… We in UK are also centre of a trading system – older, less integration, not based on any T[rea]ty or Constitution, yet an effective + identifiable trading area [community, outward looking] without wh. would be a gt. deal poorer…(MS.Wilson c. 873)

MS.Wilson c.873, iii.3: ‘Problems of Western Foreign Policy’ (undated speech at Wilton Park).

Partially, Wilson’s rethinking can be seen as an attempt to outflank his rival – the pro-European, Conservative leader Ted Heath. But it was also a reaction to Britain’s changing circumstances.
Importantly, British industry was in ever-faster relative decline. Lack of investment, as well as poor labour relations, led to economic stagnation in contrast to more dynamic continental economies, such as West Germany, which had access to the European market. In 1945, GDP per capita was about 90 percent higher in Britain than in continental Europe; by 1967, the difference was just 6 percent. Soon, Britons would be poorer than Europeans.
What really prevented British industry from reaching the ‘white heat’ to which Wilson aspired was a lack of markets. Britain’s own European Free Trade Area (EFTA) could simply never compete with the Common Market set up within the EC. ‘All EFTA countries now seem to accept that the goal is that they should all sign the Treaty of Rome’, noted a Conservative Party report in 1966 (CRD 3/10/2/3). Likewise, the Commonwealth was clearly failing to live up to the expectations of those who hoped that it would one day form a viable trade block of its own. In short, Britain needed Europe or – as a Conservative report concluded – entering Europe was ‘the only immediately practicable way of revitalising British industry’ (CRD 3/10/2/3).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘EFTA + Appreciation for Association to EEC’ (28 Oct 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘EFTA + Appreciation for Association to EEC’ (28 Oct 1966).

But if Britain had changed profoundly, so too had Europe. The EC had begun to move in a new direction – one that emphasised the power of national authorities within a ‘Europe des états’ – and this suited the British. Likewise, the new Common Agricultural Policy removed the problem of continuing Britain’s heavy subsidies to farmers which had been a major obstacle in the 1958-63 negotiations. Perversely, much of this change had been brought about by the same man whom the British reviled for his earlier veto.

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘Preliminary Report by the Industrial Sub-Group’ for the Committee on Europe (c. Nov-Dec 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘Preliminary Report by the Industrial Sub-Group’ for the Committee on Europe (c. Nov-Dec 1966).

As a Conservative briefing put it:

The British attitude towards…General de Gaulle has…often become tinged with elements of hypocrisy and envy. Hypocrisy because sometimes he has done certain things straight-forwardly which we have done deviously and envy because sometimes he has done things successfully which would like to have achieved ourselves. (CRD 3/10/2/1/1)

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Brief for Mr Heath for the Television Programme ‘Britain in Search of a Continent’ on 9th June’ (8 Jun 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Brief for Mr Heath for the Television Programme ‘Britain in Search of a Continent’ on 9th June’ (8 Jun 1966).

Negotiations

Uncertain of their position – and, especially, the opinion of de Gaulle – Wilson chose to approach the European negotiations cautiously. Stuart Holland, an Oxford academic, was despatched to gauge the French government’s mood through a personal contact, Pierre Joxe. The results appeared encouraging.

This low-key approach did not find favour with the more pro-European Conservative Party:

The Labour Party appear to want to start the negotiations by sending someone round Europe drawing up a list of all the difficulties. And this is justified by earthy metaphors about not buying goods before you have inspected them. This is not a deal to buy a second-hand car. You do not go around Europe kicking at bits of the Common Market for all the world as if you were looking for rust under the mudguard in the hope of being able to knock £5 off the purchase price.  (CRD 3/10/2/1/1)

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Statement on Britain and Europe’ (27 Mar 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Statement on Britain and Europe’ (27 Mar 1966).

Britain officially submitted its application to join the EC in May 1967, joined by its traditional non-EC trading partners: Ireland and Denmark. Everything seemed to be going well.
Then, on 27 November 1967, de Gaulle walked into a press-conference and, apparently out of the blue, vetoed British EC membership. It was yet another humiliation.
But the mood in Britain had changed in favour of Europe – and, importantly, the British government refused to withdraw its application for membership. Other members of the ‘the Six’ were also becoming increasingly sympathetic to British entry and impatient with de Gaulle’s personal agendas. Negotiations would eventually be re-opened in 1970 and would culminate, in 1973, with Britain finally fulfilling the twenty-year hope of entering the European Communities.

Source: Daddow, O. J. (ed.) Harold Wilson and European Integration: Britain’s Second Application to Join the EEC (London, 2016).

Guy Bud

The 1975 Referendum on Europe

Car campaign sticker

[Car campaign sticker, CCO 508/11/9-16]

The United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community (as it then was) on 1 January 1973 after negotiations by the Conservative government led by Edward Heath. In the run up to the subsequent 1974 General Election the Labour Party pledged, in its manifesto, the United Kingdom’s first nationwide referendum on whether to stay part of the Economic Community on renegotiated terms or to completely part company. With a Labour victory, the new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, followed through on his promise and a referendum was held on 5 Jun 1975. The outcome was an overwhelming victory (67%) for the ‘In’ campaign.

The 1975 vote in favour of Europe did not, however, end the debate on the United Kingdom’s membership of what is now a much expanded European Union.  As we await the results of a second referendum on whether to ‘remain’ or to ‘leave’ on 23 June, the Conservative Party Archive provides much research material to those interested in exploring the Party’s position with regard to the 1975 EU referendum and toward the EEC/EU more generally during this period.

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Denis Healey obit.

The recent death of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey at the age of 98 reminded me of a curious connection in the Roy Jenkins archive. Not only were Healey and Jenkins Labour Party and ministerial colleagues but in 1986, The Times commissioned Jenkins to revise what turned out to be Denis Healey’s very premature obituary.

Typescript of page 9 of Roy Jenkins' revised obituary of Denis Healey, © Roy Jenkins estate

Typescript of page 9 of Roy Jenkins’ revised obituary of Denis Healey, MS. Jenkins 440, © Roy Jenkins estate

Corrected typescript insertions for Roy Jenkins' revised obituary of Denis Healey, © Roy Jenkins estate

Corrected typescript insertions for Roy Jenkins’ revised obituary of Denis Healey, MS. Jenkins 440, © Roy Jenkins estate

This newly released file [see MS. Jenkins 440] contains multiple manuscript and typescript drafts of the obituary, as well as Jenkins’ notes and research, including photocopies from The Times regarding Healey’s famous phrase “they must be out of their little Chinese minds”.

Enclosed with the file is a letter from John Grigg, obituaries editor for The Times, calling the final version “a masterpiece in the genre”. It’s by no means the only acclaimed biographical work by Roy Jenkins. A life-long author as well as a life-long politician, he specialised in political biography. He wrote well-received books about Attlee, Dilke, Truman, Asquith, Gladstone, Churchill and Roosevelt and (not least) his own memoir, A Life At The Centre (1991). You can find drafts and related papers for his books and his journalism (including more obituaries) in the Roy Jenkins archive at the Weston Library. He also wrote five pieces for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, including articles on his former Labour colleagues Harold Wilson and Tony Crosland [DNB subscription required].

The Roy Jenkins archive

The catalogue of the papers of Roy Jenkins is now online and the archive is available for readers in the Weston Library. On 5 November 2014, the Bodleian Library will be celebrating the lives and archival legacies of Roy Jenkins and former UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan with a discussion between their biographers John Campbell and D.R. Thorpe and current Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten. This event is free and tickets can be booked online.jenkins-roy MS. Jenkins 542-545

Who Was Roy Jenkins?

Early life

Roy Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead (1920-2003) was a British politician, author, and latterly Chancellor of Oxford University. His father Arthur was a miner’s agent and mine union leader who in 1935 became the Labour Party MP for Pontypool in Wales and later parliamentary private secretary to Clement Attlee (whose archive is also in the Bodleian Library). Steeped in Labour politics, a parliamentary career was Jenkins’ ambition from a young age. He studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford, and served during World War II as an artillery officer and Bletchley code breaker. He didn’t wait long, though, before seeking a seat in Parliament – succeeding in 1948.

Member of Parliament and President of the European Commission

Jenkins’ career was illustrious. Under Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Jenkins became Minister of Aviation (1964), Home Secretary (1965-7, 1974-6), Chancellor of the Exchequer (1967-70) and deputy leader of the Labour Party (1970-2). A reforming Home Secretary, he oversaw the liberalization of the laws on divorce, abortion and homosexual activity, as well as abolishing theatre censorship.

After Wilson announced his resignation in March 1976, Jenkins failed in a campaign to become Labour Party leader and resigned to take up a position as President of the European Commission (1977-81). Upon return to the UK, and estranged from the Labour Party, Jenkins was a founding member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was elected as SDP member for Hillhead, Glasgow in 1982, losing the constituency in 1987 and leading the SDP into a merger with the Liberal Party – renamed the Liberal Democrats.

Life peer and Chancellor of Oxford

No longer an MP, Jenkins was elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1987, a position he held until his death. He was given a life peerage and was, from 1987, leader of the Lib-Dem peers in the House of Lords. Jenkins continued to exercise political influence, including as a mentor to Tony Blair.

Author and public figure

Alongside his political work, Jenkins had a distinguished career as an author, particularly of political biographies, including those of Sir Charles Dilke (1958), Asquith (1964), Gladstone (1995) and Churchill (2001), as well as his own autobiography A Life At The Centre (1991). Labelled the ‘last of the whigs’, he also led an active social life, was a prolific and well-regarded speechmaker, and held positions on numerous boards and committees, not least as President of the Royal Society of Literature.

Roy Jenkins’ archive

Jenkins’ archive reflects his working life as a politician in the UK and in Europe, as an author and journalist, and as Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Important sources which are now available to researchers include not only Jenkins’ own detailed daily appointment diaries – which, if you can read the handwriting, make it possible to find out where he was (and who he was dining with) at just about any given moment – but also the diaries of his father, Arthur Jenkins.

MS. Jenkins 22 - 1

Jenkins’ engagement diary entries 17-23 October 1966. Jenkins was Home Secretary when the double agent George Blake escaped prison on 22 October, which is noted in the diary.

MS. Jenkins 22 - 2

Jenkins’ engagement diary entries 24-30 October 1966.

Also available are 59 boxes of Jenkins’ meticulously ordered speech notes; his literary papers, including the drafts of many of his books and his journalism; and a rich collection of personal ephemera, including three boxes of orders of service for funerals, weddings and other commemorations which comprise a “Who’s Who” of British public life in the twentieth century. The archive also includes numerous photographs, including multiple boxes of press photos from Jenkins’ stint as President of the European Commission.

The archive is a rich one, and will be invaluable for students of modern British and European politics, political life, and the social history of the twentieth century generally.