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The picture above shows Oliver Baldwin, son of the Conservative party leader Stanley Baldwin, campaigning in the October 1924 election in Dudley, a West Midlands coal-mining and iron-founding town at the heart of the Black Country.

Oliver Baldwin was himself a candidate in the election. He was, indeed, a candidate for Dudley. But what was unusual about his candidacy was that he was the Labour candidate. The photograph shows him campaigning in the back-to-back housing of Dudley, which was, according to Baldwin, a ‘dreary, poverty-stricken place’, electorally corrupt, and ‘very backward politically’. The Topical Press Agency, or perhaps the photographer John Warwick Brooke, ironically captioned the photograph as Baldwin ‘canvassing his next-door neighbours’. Needless to say, Baldwin did not live next door. He shared a farmhouse in Oxfordshire with his lover Johnnie Boyle, who had in turn been provided with it by his brother-in-law Lord Macclesfield.

The photograph is certainly fascinating.

This is not a group engaged in general interaction. If it were, they would be standing in a loose semi-circle and we would have to study the photograph closely before being able to pick out the candidate. By the 1950s, photographs of that sort – the candidate ‘sharing a joke’ with the voters, or getting down to their level – would become commonplace. Eventually they would become a campaigning cliche.

But the photograph here shows a pre-democratic situation. It is not a general interaction, but an encounter between two sides, divided by the vertical of the fence-post into a wary stand-off. There is no difficulty whatsoever in picking out the candidate. He looks directly at them, and they, directly and indirectly, look back at at him.

oliver_baldwin_closeupOliver Baldwin has also dressed down for the encounter. He has removed his jacket and also his shirt collar. Indeed, his shirt is open at the neck. To meet the ‘respectable poor’, he has chosen, for himself, not to be ‘respectable’. His trousers do no look especially well-tailored. They resemble workman’s heavy wool trousers of the kind you can now buy in Shoreditch at inflated prices, and are held up with a rough leather belt. However, Baldwin’s hair, presumably harder to change for the occasion, is elegantly waved, and his moustache is neatly clipped. He is a tall man, certainly; perhaps half a head taller than anyone else in the photograph. His hands are pushed deep into the pockets of his workman’s trousers, in the confident manner of his class. His gaze is downward, the line of the nose almost perfectly vertical. Baldwin, in common with many other Labour candidates from the middle- and upper-middle classes, had been an officer in the trenches, and his gaze seems to resemble that used in military inspections it had evolved in a conscript army: not fierce or severe, but professionally concerned. His brow is slightly furrowed, in the manner described by Raymond Williams as the gaze of concerned ‘man management’: ‘the calmly apprising eyes (narrowed about an eighth of an inch; more would look suspicious), the gentle silences, the engaging process of drawing the man out’. ‘Having taken these surroundings, having really got the feel of his people, he will point the way forward’.

Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (London, 1961), 333.

The constituents are also intriguing. They, in contrast to Baldwin, seem to be wearing their Sunday best clothes. Their expressions – although we should always be wary of expressions in newspaper snapshot photography – suggest a mix of responses. The daughter, if that is who she is, looks excited and eager to please. Her smile is certainly the largest.

The man, wearing jacket and tie, is more smartly and less effortfully dressed than Baldwin. But he does not look nearly as much at his ease. He is not making eye contact with Baldwin. He looks towards the women in the family. Perhaps he is concerned how they will appear to Baldwin or to the press photographer. Perhaps he is concerned for them in this artificial, contrived situation.

The older women, however, look more wary. There is a marked contrast between the assurance of Baldwin’s expression and the strain in theirs. He looks directly down at them. But the older women do not directly face Baldwin. In each case, the head is half-turned towards him, creating a sharp line of muscular tension in the neck. In one case, furthermore, the glance comes only from the corner of the eyes, a line of gaze characteristically indicating suspicion and unwillingness to face straight towards an interlocutor. While Baldwin’s hands are pushed deep into his pockets, her hands grasp the wooden fence, her left arm is placed protectively across the line of his gaze, and there is more tension in her face than his.

Baldwin failed to win Dudley in 1924. It was, he later wrote, a ‘personal campaign of beer, lies and bitterness’ which ended in a narrow victory for the sitting MP, the Conservative and Unionist Cyril Lloyd, chairman of Hingley’s, one of the large local iron-working and chain-making firms.

In his autobiography, The Questing Beast (1931), Baldwin claimed that the constituency had been so ‘hopeless’ that no one else had been prepared to take it on after the previous Labour candidate had polled fewer then 2,000 votes. In fact, the situation was not so hopeless. Labour had narrowly taken the seat in a by-election in 1921, and the low vote in 1923 had been the consequence of a Liberal intervention. Nonetheless, Baldwin continued to nurse the seat through the second half of the 1920s, and was rewarded in 1929 when he took it, on a swing of 8% (about twice the national swing to Labour) and a 3,000 majority.

How should we understand Labour candidacies like that of Oliver Baldwin? Until recently they were barely known about, and the accounts that have appeared in the last few years, such as those of Martin Pugh and Kevin Morgan, suggest that show that Labour was – at least in some places – a weak party. It was financially vulnerable to rich candidates who bought their way in to candidacies, and culturally deferential to the upper classes.

I have thrown doubt on the aristocratic embrace argument elsewhere, and I do not think that the wealth argument is very persuasive either. By and large, Labour candidates who were not working class did not spend more than the working class candidates. Baldwin, for example, did not spend much on Dudley: 38% of the legal maximum in 1924 and 27% in 1929. On each occasion his opponents spent a great deal more. This point can be generalised too. As I discuss below, candidates from middle- and upper-class backgrounds spent on average less than candidates from working-class backgrounds. Of course, the seats they contested were often poor prospects, not worth spending a lot on. But then the safe seats, which often went to working-class candidates, did not need high expenditure.

I think that the best way to understand the Labour candidates of the inter-war years is to look at Labour representation over a longer period. The interwar period is the third stage of a longer process by which the Labour Party had first tolerated, or even relied on such candidates; and then quite deliberately excluded them.

This three-stage explanation – disposal, exclusion and readmittance – is one of the cases I discuss in my book Other People’s Struggles.

 

DISPOSAL

The first stage begins with a little-known debate that took place as the trade unions started to make their political break away from endorsing Liberal candidates in elections. The British labour movement began, as social movements emerging into a hostile environment often do, with a certain reliance on adherents. The degree of reliance was not, in comparative terms, especially great, because so many of the things that, elsewhere, only adherents could supply, were in Britain either not needed, or available to the labour movement from its own resources. Nonetheless, the labour movement did rely on ‘friends of labour’ for some specific purposes, especially advocacy in parliament and the press, and advice on questions of law and political strategy. The first important transition I discuss, which ran roughly from the late 1870s to the late 1890s, is that by which the labour movement disposed of its adherents in those areas in which it did not need them, and its growing control of the relationships where it still did.

This was not a simple process of extrication from external sponsorship, because the question of who spoke for Labour was cross-cut by disagreements over political alliances. Most of the trade unionists wanted to continue to work with the Liberals, but to exclude middle-class people from their own organizations. They wrote the rules of the Labour Electoral Association (LEA) to keep middle-class ‘friends of labour’ out. In this they were opposed by socialists and the advocates of independent labour – such as Keir Hardie – who wanted to break with the Liberals and run independently, but were obliged (or wished) to take the money and political support of middle- and upper-class socialists. The LEA wished to organize independently on the basis of class, but was willing to fight elections alongside members of other classes in the Liberal Party. Hardie and his fellow socialists of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), by contrast, wished to fight independently of the Liberals, but were willing to collaborate with members of other classes in order to do so. Both sides were therefore, of necessity, working with other classes while asserting their independence of them, and angrily accusing their rivals of dependence. Each side had its corresponding vulnerability to counter-accusations of bad faith. The LEA believed that class interests could be harmonised, but nonetheless excluded members of other classes from its own organisation. The socialist organizations, on the other hand, combined their belief in the inevitable clash of class interests with a paradoxical willingness to work politically with those of other classes.

 

EXCLUSION

The chances of vicarious representation of workers by the middle-classes were dealt two further blows at the start of the twentieth century, which is the start of my second period. These were the labour alliance between socialists and trade unionists (1900), and the Progressive Alliance with the Liberals (1903). Where the Liberals were strong, there was little chance for any independent labour candidate at all, from whatever background. Where the Liberals were weaker, then such a candidate might stand a chance of winning, provided he attracted Conservative-inclined working-men. In two-member constituencies, the Liberals were sometimes prepared to run alongside such a candidate, or even in single-member ones stand down in his favour, provided he was pledged to follow the Liberal lead in Parliament. This normally meant a popular union official capable of attracting workers’ votes. The Liberals had no interest in making way for middle-class candidates who did not complement their own appeal and whose anti-Liberal speeches suggested they would be unreliable MPs. The best prospects for the middle-class socialist arose where these calculations broke down, usually when local Liberals ran an unpopular employer or landlord, or imported a candidate with faddish views. But even here, things were difficult. Working-class Conservative-inclined voters were suspicious both of causes and plans for their betterment. It was hard for any candidate to get socialism across to such audiences, but the best chances lay with those who could translate it into the everyday and practical, such as populist workers and trade unionists, rather than middle-class socialists. In short, only bona fide workers would do if trade unionists and working class voters were to be seduced from their existing electoral inclinations. As a consequence, from 1906 to 1918, over 85% of Labour MPs came from working class backgrounds.

 

READMITTANCE

However, thereafter something quite puzzling and unexpected occurred. From 1922 to 1935, the average proportion of Labour MPs from working class backgrounds fell from 85% to 71%, and from 1945 to 1966, to 36%. The proportions among Labour candidates fell more sharply still, and in various important party positions, the middle classes came to be highly visible. This constitutes the third period of my analysis.

The core of my research in this third period is an original database of Labour candidates in the elections of 1924, 1929 and 1931. Almost all studies of the sociological character of British parliamentary parties examine elected legislators. But such data is distorted by a party’s overall electoral performance. If, as in Labour’s case, safe seats are contested disproportionately by one social group, then when the party does well it will appear more dominated by that group than when it does badly. This says something important about who was dispensable in the Labour Party, but it does not help us get a proper picture of its composition as a whole. For that we need to look at the entire pool of candidates. Social backgrounds have been explored by questionnaire for the Nuffield election studies since 1950, but not for earlier elections. However, it is possible to retrieve the data from various biographical sources in up to 95% of cases. Table 1 summarises the data I have retrieved from such sources for the elections of 1924, 1929 and 1931.

TABLE 1 SOCIAL CLASS OF LABOUR CANDIDATES 1924 - 1931

  192419291931
1.iLandowner0.50.70.4
1.iiCompany director2.62.42.6
1.iiiHigher professional9.4108.7
2.iFarmer0.91.30.4
2.iiSmall business owner or manager5.43.75.2
2.iiiLower professional23.325.427
3.iManual or non-manual supervisory8.59.89.8
3.iiSkilled manual41.538.238.1
4Semi-skilled manual55.45
5Unskilled2.62.62.2
Unspecified manual2.60.40.4
[number of known cases]424 cases539 cases459 cases
[% sample of candidates]512 candidates [82.8%]568 candidates [94.9%]509 candidates [90.2%]

SOURCES: The Times Guide to the House of Commons (London, various dates, 1919-1931); S.V.Bracher, The Herald Book of Labour Members (London, 1923 and 1924); Labour Who’s Who: A Biographical Directory to the National and Local Leaders in the Labour and Cooperative Movement (London, 2 eds., 1924 & 1927); Joyce M. Bellamy, John Saville and others (eds.), Dictionary of Labour Biography (Basingstoke, 13 vols, 1972 – ); G. J. Mayhew, ‘The ethical and religious foundations of Socialist politics in Britain: the First Generation and their Ideas’, (PhD, York, 1983), appendix, 618-89; British Political Party General Election Addresses: The National Liberal Club Collection from Bristol University: Part 2, 1923-31 (microfilm, 16 reels) (Brighton, 1986); 1929 election addresses, Conservative Party Archive, Bodleian Library, Oxford, CPA PUB 229/5/1-19; W. Field, British Electoral Data, 1885-1949 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], November 2007. SN: 5673, supplemented by F. W. S. Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1918 – 1949 (London, 1977).

Some caution is needed concerning the reliability, comparability and class categorization of largely self-reported data. Nevertheless, the broad pattern can be stated with confidence. The proportion of candidates from working class backgrounds is much lower than it was before the war. According to Neal Blewett, 84% of Labour’s candidates in 1910 were working class. In the enlarged campaigns of the postwar period, the candidate base is much more diverse, with a significant middle class presence, but of a particular type. Farmers and landowners were present in only small numbers (1 to 2% of candidates). Only about a further 6 to 8% of Labour candidates came from business backgrounds, and most of these were skilled manual workers running small businesses on their own account, such as self-employed printers and builders. This absence of significant business leadership helps to explain why it would have been impossible for Labour to have become a plausible party of industrious producers, as the Liberals with their Labour allies in some parts of the country had tried to be before the First World War, and as some Conservative businessmen-politicians and a few ‘patriotic’ trade unionists hoped to be at its end.

Neal Blewett, The Peers, the Parties and the People: the General Election of 1910 (London, 1972), 230.

Middle class Labour candidates came from the higher and lower professions and other semi-professional ‘white collar’ employment, especially journalism and political organization. In 1929, around 35% of Labour’s candidates fell into these categories. This was an early stage of a process that, for the post-1950 period, has been well documented. But it is certainly striking that the penetration of the party by professional candidates, so unsuccessful before 1918, got so far so quickly. It is, however, mistaken to subsume these quite specific developments into an undifferentiated, rising professionalism. There were frequently significant breaks with normal professional career paths among the ‘professionals’, as I shall term them. If they were lawyers, they did more work for the unions or industrial claimants than any of their colleagues. If they were lecturers, they as often taught workers as undergraduates; if writers, they were journalists for the labour press rather than men of letters. If doctors, they worked in poor districts, not Harley Street. The clergy were not orthodox clerical professionals, but displaced radicals who had often been held back by irate parish councils or bishops. The precise angle of this break varied. Labour professionals ranged from those who had done no more than undertake pro bono work for unions or party, to those who had become ancillary workers of the labour movement.

The latter group converged occupationally with the ‘workers’ – Labour candidates of working class origin – of whom almost all had become trade union officials, labour organizers, co-operative society workers or party agents. However, such ‘workers’ were not orthodox professionals either. Their skills were neither acquired through training or validated by qualification, nor did they have much value outside the world of labour. Although now occupationally distanced from the workplace, the ‘workers’ had not thereby become ‘bourgeois’. As I have shown elsewhere, working class Labour MPs rarely acquired significant personal wealth, and neither altered their modes of living, nor succumbed easily to an ‘aristocratic embrace’. This was largely because they recognised that mere historic ‘resemblance’ was no longer a sufficient condition of representativeness. The labour movement had provided for its representatives what wage labour could not: not just better pay and conditions, but also a career structure and working practices governed by relationships of trust. While many ‘workers’ still claimed to speak directly for the working class, this claim needed to be shored up not only through re-engagement with their social origins, in speeches and autobiographical writing, but also by conspicuous demonstrations of service beyond the union. Labour’s candidates therefore shared not common social origins, but a common dilemma: how to speak for a labour interest from which almost all stood at a distance.

Each therefore distinct – even marginal – in their respective social classes, these two groups – ‘workers’ and ‘professionals’ – dominated the Labour Party in and out of Parliament. Between them they accounted for over three-quarters of the candidates in 1929 and over four-fifths of the parliamentary party. Table 2 divides constituencies into five bands of equal size, defined in terms of the safety of the seat, and shows the percentage distribution of each group’s seats.

TABLE 2: CANDIDATE BACKGROUNDS BY SAFETY OF CONSTITUENCY

HopelessMarginalUnlikelyWinnableSafe
1924Professionals15.128.124.520.911.5
1924Workers4.39.116.729.740.2
1929Professionals24.126.720.919.48.9
1929Workers14.312.719.921.131.9
1931Professionals1429.325.620.710.4
1931Workers6.711.418.125.738.1

CAREER PATHS

Furthermore, the ‘professionals’ grew in status as well as numbers. Using biographical data, it is possible to track their career paths. They were energetic organisers, especially where the unions were weak. They often acted as party officers and conference delegates, even where they only represented a tiny section of the local party. They were prominent in party journalism and publicity work. They dominated the new policy committees set up in 1918, especially in those areas where the unions lacked interest. And perhaps most surprisingly, to anyone familiar with the party before 1918, they achieved significant influence at the top of the party. The parliamentary party executive was quickly peopled with them. Even on the National Executive Committee (NEC), ‘professionals’ were successfully nominated and elected to represent the affiliated societies, women’s section and divisional parties, despite the fact that the unions dominated the voting. When Labour formed governments in the 1920s, the ‘professionals’ did exceptionally well. In 1929, the chances of an MP acquiring a government post of some kind were about equal for ‘workers’ and ‘professionals’. At the top, the Cabinet posts were handed out with a fairly scrupulous regard to the claims of the trade unions. Further down, the ‘workers’ were more prominent among the junior payroll posts, such as the Whips’ Office, and the ‘professionals’ among the junior ministers. The pattern of appointment to vacancies that arose as Labour governed suggests that the ‘professionals’ were likely to be a growing presence, as indeed they were after 1945.

Why did this happen? The longer historical account I provide shows that this was both a substantial break in the party’s trajectory before 1918, and that the break was unexpected. It is not easily explained by the party’s new electoral strategy, nor by its supposed penetration by pushy middle-class aspirants. The crucial distinction to appreciate, I argue, is that between the middle class presence, which rose, and its self-positioning, which remained diminished, and if anything subject to tighter control through new party structures and rules.

 

ELECTION ADDRESSES

The diminished self-positioning is best revealed through a further examination of candidate manifestos. I have contrasted the election addresses of the Labour and socialist candidates in 1895 with the Labour Party candidates in 1929. Of the 568 Labour candidates in 1929, I have identified election addresses for 346. Of these, 124 come from ‘professionals’ and 139 from ‘workers’. I have analysed them to assess the proportion that cite ‘social resemblance’ (‘I am like you’), ‘service’ (‘I have served you’) and ‘sacrifice’ (‘I have given something up for you’). In 1895, ‘professional’ Labour candidates tended to justify themselves using the language of ‘sacrifice’, while ‘workers’ cited ‘social resemblance’ and ‘service’. By 1929, however, the self-presentation of Labour candidates had converged and standardised. Background was mentioned much less. Of my sample of 346 Labour manifestos in 1929, over three-quarters provide no significant information on the candidate’s social origins at all, contenting themselves with presentation of the party’s policies and criticism of their opponents’ record. In the manifestos of ‘professionals’, claims of ‘sacrifice’ were now a minor theme. Only three manifestos made such appeals, citing respectively sacrifice of social position, popularity and financial security. More frequently, ‘professionals’ saw nothing in their background needing apology, and employed justification by works. 36% of their manifestos cited a record of public service. The three main categories were, in descending frequency, local government, health work, and social investigation. Tellingly too, by 1929, ‘workers’ also deployed themes of ‘service’ in their manifestos, and to almost the same degree. ‘Social resemblance’ – the representative grounding of the uncrystallized social movement – was now a minor theme. ‘I have lived amongst you, and I know your needs’ sufficed for older candidates in industrial seats. But elsewhere ‘service’ was now the representative grounding required by a more crystallized social movement. The proportion of ‘workers’’ manifestos in 1929 invoking ‘service’ is 34%, almost exactly the same as it is for ‘professionals’. The proofs of service offered were most commonly work on tribunals, pay councils and industrial boards. But other forms of service were quite similar to those cited by ‘professionals’: local council committees, the defence of jobs, pensions and benefits, and the pursuit of improvements in health and housing. War had brought the ‘workers’ into many of the same bodies cited by the ‘professionals’, in defence of the living standards of workers and their communities. After 1919, demonstrated especially in local government, such services formed the core of the party’s appeal. Indeed, the party’s 1928 statement Labour and the Nation, drafted by R. H. Tawney, argued for the ‘deliberate organisation of the resources of the whole community in the service of all’, and appealed to ‘all who bring their contribution of useful service to the common stock’.

The General Election, July 1895: The address of every candidate as sent out to the various constituencies (London, 1895); British political party general election addresses: the National Liberal Club collection from Bristol University: part 2, 1923-1931 (microfilm, 16 reels), (Brighton, 1985).

 

PARTY LOYALTY

In essence, then, ‘service’ became an acceptable substitute for ‘resemblance’ both for ‘professionals’ and for ‘workers’ alike. It defined a shared party culture. This common party culture persisted once successful candidates reached Parliament. Labour MPs’ claims to represent now rested on what they did, and not on a pre-emptive claim about what they were. Linking data on social backgrounds with the data of the parliamentary division lists allows us to compare the backbench activities of Labour MPs. I have used the data on backbench dissent gathered by Mark Stuart and Philip Cowley to see whether the workers and professionals differed once they got into the House of Commons. My analysis shows that by 1929, Labour was not only the most socially diverse parliamentary party, but also the most politically cohesive. Dissent was generally low. In 948 Commons divisions between 1929 and 1931, 177 of the 288 Labour MPs did not cast a dissenting vote at all. This is unusually high for a governing party without a majority. But more importantly still, there is no significant correlation between social background and backbench dissent, and this holds true wherever the line is drawn between the middle-class and working-class MPs. Rebelliousness among Labour MPs was also unaffected by social origins. The rebels came from diverse social backgrounds. What the rebels had in common were not their social origins but factional alignments, overlain with personal dispositions, friendships and other contingencies.

Mark Stuart and Philip Cowley, Dissension in the House of Commons, 1924 and 1929-1931 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], July 2002. SN: 4520.

Within Parliament, ‘professionals’ and ‘workers’ alike were guided by a single code, which valued hard work, dedication, respect for boundaries and procedure, and loyalty to collective decisions. For both ‘professionals’ and ‘workers’, such a code avoided messy questions of authenticity – who was really or really still a worker? – with a new question of performance. As the code applied to ‘workers’, the primary offences were to ‘forget where you came from’, social climbing, and succumbing to an aristocratic embrace. As it applied to the ‘professional’ adherents of the party, the sins were ‘intellectualism’ (the dismissal of practical experience), ‘irresponsibility’ (indifference to the consequences of one’s thinking or actions for ordinary people), ‘adventurism’, ‘ambition’ and ‘crankishness’ (the attempt to use the labour movement for, respectively, excitement, personal advancement, or a pet cause). These were superficially different offences. But at a deeper level they were the same offence, against a largely agreed code of service to the movement and the class.

 

CAMPAIGN SPENDING

This is therefore an account at odds with the idea of a party infiltrated by rich interlopers. I do not deny that there are examples of such interlopers to be found. But I do deny that they were typical. One way of testing the theory that middle-class candidates bought their way in to the Labour Party is to examine campaign expenditure for all candidates from the official returns. In each seat there is a ‘legal maximum’ for what may be spent by a candidate, and returns showing actual expenditure. Notoriously such returns do not capture spending between elections, or indirect spending such as the subsidy of an agent or the rental of party offices. But they do provide a useful snapshot of what could be done. Although there are certainly some examples of high spending middle- and upper-class candidates, there are also union-backed workers who spent up to the maximum. In 1929, indeed, ‘professionals’ actually spent significantly less on average – 37.7% of the legal maximum – than did the ‘workers’, who spent on average 45.5%. This partly reflects the relative insecurity of their seats, but not wholly so. The ‘workers’, on average, outspent the ‘professionals’ not only in the safe seats, where spending was in any case lower, but also in the marginal, unlikely and winnable seats where, as we can see from Table 2, candidacies were shared more evenly, and where spending was generally higher. The differences in spending in these less safe seats are not as great, and not statistically significant (around 47% for ‘professionals’ and 51% for ‘workers’ according to the definitions of ‘safety’ used). But they certainly do not suggest higher spending by the ‘professionals’. Since 1929 was an election in which the unions, bruised by the ‘contracting in’ provisions of the 1927 Trade Union Act, put in less than usual, these are noteworthy differences. They suggest that the typical case was not a rich individual flooding the local party with funds, but a ‘professional’ doing his or her best without union funds to keep the party banner aloft in often inhospitable territory.

Election expenses: Return to an address of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 25 July 1929, for Return of the Expenses of each Candidate at the General Election of May 1929, 16 April 1930, Parliamentary Papers 1929-30 (114) 755-853.

In this regard, Oliver Baldwin, with whom we began, is an interesting case. When he got into Parliament in 1929, Baldwin was disappointed with the Party’s performance. Labour’s trade union leaders were too stupid and deferential to the civil servants to mount any serious challenge to Treasury orthodoxy. In February 1931, he left the Labour Party to sit as an Independent, close to, if only briefly, the New Party founded by Oswald Mosley. The led to a fatal breach with the local party in Dudley, and Baldwin was effectively dropped by them, and by the Labour national officials, as soon as he resigned the party whip. He was evidently loyal enough to be offered another Labour seat in October 1931, although it was the unwinnable seat of Rochester and Chatham.

Baldwin’s relationship with the party is therefore certainly one of disjointness. To that degree, the photograph, with all its visible social asymmetries, does not lie. But it is not the whole story. For one thing, Baldwin seems not to have been typical of Labour’s ‘professional’ candidates, most of whom seem to have been much more loyal to the party leadership, energetic representatives of their constituents, and valued by the party for the professional contributions they could make. But for another, even he had to operate within the culture and rules the party had put in place by 1918. It was these that made it possible for the middle-class candidate to be readmitted to the Party. The relationship, in other words, is disjoint. But it is a quite specific form of disjointness: a service relationship, tightly defined by a party culture and structures which were made in common with candidates from very different social backgrounds.

This is paperdartlogo750_turqa summary of a longer piece which is also discussed in my book Other People’s Struggles. As ever, if you would like to read it, please click on the paper-dart icon and send me a message.

 

IMAGE CREDITS: JOHN WARWICK BROOKE, OLIVER BALDWIN, SON OF FORMER CONSERVATIVE PRIME MINISTER STANLEY BALDWIN, CANVASSING HIS NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOURS. HE IS CONTESTING DUDLEY FOR THE LABOUR PARTY (TOPICAL PRESS AGENCY, 1 OCT 1924), HULTON PICTURE ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES.