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Liverpool Labourism and Irish Nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s

A. Shallice
issue number: : 

"Who was responsible for the crimes and attrocities committed in Ireland? The guilty were not Irishmen; they were not Indians or Egyptians. The men who did these things were the sons and brothers of British trade unionists. As one who had a right to speak to Labour, he said that not until they ceased to make munitions of war, build machine guns and armoured cars, and send their kindred to mow down innocent and defenceless people, those people must regard them-(selves) as the foes of peace and enemies of liberty. Within the last few days, Irishmen had loaded munitions of war on Irish steamers. They must put an end to that and refuse also to ship munitions to India and Egypt". (Speech by Cllr P.J. Kelly at the Liverpool Stadium as reported in Liverpool Daily Post, 26.4.20, four days before onset of strike by Liverpool dockers to try to gain the release of Sinn Fein internees in Wormwood Scrubs).

It is a commonly held belief that the political labour movement on Merseyside has been historically weak. The Labour Party only gained control of Liverpool Council a generation after the equivalent triumphs in other English conurbations. Its rule since 1955 has not been uninterrupted. And for the last five years the Liberal Party has played the leading role locally. The argument runs that spasmodic industrial solidarity, volatility and open riot are the counterpart to a weak, fractious, subordinated Labourism. Even Merseyside's present demise, as a test-case for the social dislocation consequent upon rigid monetarism, can be understood as much by the working class's lack of resistance as by examining its exaggerated dependence on the transnational corporations.1 Central to the argument is the primacy of ethnicity, as a force to disunite the class and which 'pervaded' the Liverpool Labour Party.

To suggest that ethnicity did play such a role is to beg the question as to how and why that mobilising force was so tenacious. It wasn't solely to do with one-third of the population being Irish at the beginning of the century, or the one-third who were Catholic in the 30s; or the importance and strength of Orangeism and the general low-church religious climate which provided the bedrock for the 'No-Popery' cries of Liverpool Toryism. Glasgow had all these attributes, and more. The importance of ethnicity is more directly rooted in the character of the local economy. Constant uncertainty was the lot of the Liverpool working class, whether dockside or factory-based, male or female, tradesman or labourer, as virtually without exception, the local economy was dominated by forms of casual employrnent.2 In the late 19th century, there was an absence of any socially-significant labour aristocracy, no craft-based industrial organisation and a complete lack of a Liberal political tradition.

And yet that whole perspective is in many ways, grindingly English. It suggests a 'model' for the evolution of working class politics in Britain against which other experiences stand, and, in Liverpool's case, dramatically fall. But did that tradition and organisational completeness, encompassed in the phrase 'Labourism', ever challenge the problem of most of its own electorate, let alone those people which classic Labourism never attempted to reach? So much of the 'forward march of labour' in Britain is constructed around the achievement of 'independent labour political organisation'. The year of 1900 stands out not only because it marks the beginning of the century when labour attained a voice in the political arena— but because in February the Labour Representation Committee was formed. Maybe we in Britain have so little to celebrate that 1900 competes in oconography with 1871, 1905 and 1917. But for many in this country, now and in history, the triumphs of independent labouritics were illusory. For the Irish, as ever, the benefits of that 'independence' were nil. Much has been written on how working class mass action prevented the British government entering into the war against the Soviet Union in 1920, but British labour did not prevent the Black and Tans' rampaging in Ireland, as P.J. Kelly made dear at the Stadium. Labourism in Britain has never confronted the problem that the working class in Britain had specific oppressions to fight, in addition to exclusion from ownership and control of the means of production. It sought allies in relation to its electoral needs. The rhythms of Liverpool labour politics between the wars cannot be understood without seeing the primacy of the contradiction between Irish Nationalism and British Labourism—with the permanent backcloth of underemployment. The politics of many exiled groups often stress the class alliances within their community resulting from necessary defence. The Liverpool Irish were little different in the formative years in the second half of the 19th century. And as the leading base of the Irish in Britain, many of the Irish Nationalist Party leaders were at pains to prevent the dissolution of such a seemingly impressive monument. But by the close of the century, and those turbulent years up to 1914, tensions within the ghettoes of Scotland Road and Northumberland Street could not so easily be maintained. In 1899 a municipal by-election in South Scotland ward took place with George Lynskey, leader of the local INP, facing the challenge of Francis Harford, one of two brothers who later were the voice of Catholic Liverpool (and provided the city's first Catholic Mayor bearly fifty years on!). The issues at stake were parochial but centred around whether the existing INP councillors were defending the interests of the Irish working men and women in the city. Lynskey, it was felt, was more interested in his legal career than with the survival of the electorate. Harford claimed that Lynskey in council had:

  1. Prosecuted basket girls at the behest of the corporation.

  2. Agreed to houses being demolished in the ward without any new housing being build for those subsequently homeless.

  3. Allowed land to lie vacant, undeveloped.

  4. Voted for the erection of a council destructor in the heart of the ward.

  5. Voted for stables to be built in Collingwood Street:

  6. Voted for the removal of the coasting traffic from the Pier Head to Seaforth.3

These claims contain a negative of the social profile of the local Liverpool Irish community. Economically, the men were dependant on the docks for employment and the women on street selling. They were housed in disgraceful tenements which in many cases they were forced to endure for the sake of proximity to the docks. And the whole ward acted as a receptade for all the services that were too odorous for the other, worthy citizens to endure. But more potently, one of their 'own' was instru mental in maintaining, and worsening, those conditions. Lynskey responded, getting women who had claimed that he had prosecuted them to recant in public. 4 Claims were met with abuse. The Daily Post suggested that 'all intelligent voters and tradespeople in the ward are said to be in his favour'.5 On the eve of the election, two rabbits were produced out of Lynskey's hat. McGhee, now an MP, but more importantly ex-president of the NUDL and Edward McHugh, ex-secretary of the NUDL spoke at a 'crowded meeting' in the ward. Their presence was hardly accidental. They still carried stature. McHugh was reported as saying that:

'...he felt it impossible to overstate the services rendered by Mr. Lynskey to the union and nothing fouler had ever come to his knowledge than the scandalous statements that were being circulated in opposition to him by the disturbers of good order in Scotland ward... The opposition to him (Lynskey) was an opposition against cleanliness of conduct and principle in public life'.6

Harford won by 100 in a 56% poll. He was no angel, a cloth merchant, who soon with his brother would start talking the language where all opposition is 'against cleanliness'. But that one contest, and others that followed in the next 18 months, illustrated that the Liverpool Irish electorate were becoming active, beyond purely personal wrangles. And it is also relevant that increasingly the 'galaxy of respectful people' contained lawyers, clergy, publicans and trade union officials. The dynamics of the unionisation of the casuals had a trajectory beyond the ghetto. The cornerstones of class alliances within the Liverpool Irish community were crumbling. And by the years immediately after the armistace, trade unionism was only one of those points of rupture: the matrix of Catholicism and Nationalism was facing the challenge of Bolshevism and Republicanism. And the Liverpool Labour Party was keen to extend its electoral base.

It is worth investigating further, for a moment, the ideologies of the two organisations that by the end of the 1920s had been fused into the one entity — under the banner of the Liverpool Labour Party. What were the underlying conceptions of the activitists and local leaders of the INP and the Labour Party, prior to 1918?

Waller has recently argued that the shift in the INP, clearly articulated in 1899 and attaining dominance in the early years of the new century, was due to the 'Liverpool - born' Irish, the second generation, voicing the more immediate needs of the Liverpool Irish community. 7Waller believes that such people were more interested in employment and housing than the fate of Ireland. This is indicated by the social position of many of the councillors and aldermen whose status was dependent on the fortunes of Liverpool. 'Honest John' Connolly, the first Irishman to hold public office in the city, made his way as a fruit broker and then dabbled in property speculation in New Brighton, leaving £78,000. Taggart, working at Tates' on 30/- per week when first elected, became a union official in the 1890s and proceeded to his fortune as an estate agent. Austin Harford, Francis's brother, left £76,000 in 1946. 8 The politics of the INP echoed the nature and class basis of its leadership. Catholic Home Rulers to a man, constitutionalists in principle conceiving of politics as a way of 'getting things done' and 'preserving the flock', they were terrified and outrages by the 1916 Rising, followed Redmond et al in their deunciations and by 1918 were seeing Sinn Feiners behind every plot. In 1920, A. Harford told the AGM of the United Irish League that in Liverpool, the two questions most sacred to the INP were 'the education of their Catholic children and the housing of their people'. 9

'Their people' were not, however, so well disposed to see themselves as the 'INP's people'. Six weeks after Harford had spoken, 20,000 Liverpool dockers were on strike for the release of the internees. The war in Ireland and the savagery of the British government's policy, were still the most sacred questions to the Liverpool Irish working people. The Irish Workers' Vigilance Committee organised the dock strike, supported and co-ordinated by the Irish Self-Determination League. Harford, Sex ton and O'Connor, the [NI' MP for Scotland Division were united by their distaste for the intrusion of industrial methods into the sphere of politics. Sexton argued his disgust in the Commons on the first day of the strike:

'...the action will be entirely unofficial and irresponsible and will not be recognised by the authorised heads to the association to which I belong. I am vigorously opposed to the policy of direct action. I will protest and continue to protest as long as I live against the industrial weapon being used for political purposes'.

But he went on to voice his concern that:

'While I am taking every precaution... to prevent any dislocation of the trade of Liverpool and other ports, I fear that the spirit of the men is getting beyond our official control. I will tell you why. There is a very large number of Irishmen in Liverpool and in other ports who have very strong opinions on this question... 10 Not only was this related to the internees but also to the increasing use of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) to harrass any Irish people suspected of harbouring Sinn Fein sympathies, and eradicating solidarity actions in Britain with the Irish struggle.

And what of the Labour Party? Their annual report for 1907 illustrated the prevailing attitude: '...during the coming year, we hope to...educate more and more of those workers to abandon old prejudices, to forget side issues and ancient shibboleths and to turn their faces to the sun in the full realisation that the only freedom they can hope to win must come from their own ranks...etc, etc.'

A plague on all your houses. The Protestant working class was Tory dominated and bible-ridden; the Catholic working class was priest-ridden; and the mass of casually employed were, in any case, beyond redemption. Religious affiliation was seen as just another obstade to be overcome, so there was no understanding of the crucial role ethnicity played in determining life-chances. It was all viewed as a morass— structural discrimination was not a problem. It was hardly surprising that in the vicious sectarian riots in 1909, the Catholic/Irish looked to the INP for support. The Labour Party had studiously avoided any statement on the events of that summer. And when discrimination could no longer be set aside, the Labour Party rejoiced in sheer opportunism. In Kirkdale division the January 1910 election saw a Catholic, MacLean, nominated for the Labour Party; only for A.G. Cameron ('there-is-no stronger-Protestant-than-me') to take over in December. Both candidates were defeated. The Labour Party was ill-prepared to forge a strategy that could show the possibilities of socialist organisation for the Liverpool workers. Bodies had to be got onto benches, either in Dale Street or Westminster, preferably both. How they were to be placed there didn't matter.

In the years immediately following the outbreak of peace, how did the political parties cope with realignment? the military were again on the streets of Liverpool during the police strike. The railwaymen and the engineers were all involved in local and national disputes. And in 1921, 26 counties were granted united independence. In that same year the Liverpool Archdiocese welcomed Keating to the bishopric and the hierarchy adopted the Nationalist Party to combat 'divorce, interference in Catholic schools and the Revolution'. 11 The Church became overtly involved with politics again. And the IN? responded to one challenge—what solution is there for the unemployed in the post-war slump? Harford suggested his remedies:

'That a committee be established composed of the leaders of the different political parties in the city, representatives from the Dock Board, shipping and railway companies and other branches of industry and the Catholic and Anglican bishops... to scour every possible avenue with the object of finding work of every description for the unemployed...'

Harford, 'honestly believed that a committee of that kind could in three to four weeks save hundreds from drifting into starvation'. No mention of trade-union delegates now. One could be forgiven for thinking that this pre-dated forms of Catholic corporatism that were to become rife in other parts of Europe later in the decade. If this prescription failed, then the INP would support task-work for the unemployed as they had done in 1921, in response to the unemployed agitation.

In May 1920, soon after the successful dockers' strike, South Scotland ward LP made representations to stand their own candidate in the forthcoming November elections. 12 The Labour Party had never contested the INP strongholds. It was a sharp election, with Davie Logan carrying the Nationalist banner and Harry Gaslin campaigning for Labour. Logan's adverts in the Catholic Herald capture the prevailing atmosphere:

'Catholic and Irish electors!

The man for you is Logan; a trade union secretary who understands and sympathises with labour!

If, in the fight to secure for your children Catholic schools with Catholic Teachers under Catholic Managers, you want a fearless and unflinching champion, VOTE FOR LOGAN!' 13

Out of just under 5,000 votes cast, Logan won by just 400. The Catholic Herald editorialised: 'The foolish and gratuitous invasion made by the Labour Party on the Nationalist stronghold met, as was anticipated and as it deserved, with unmistakeable defeat. The Labour Party had neither the right nor justification for forcing themselves into a contest of this sort...' 14

One could be forgiven for thinking that Gaslin announced himself as a Bolshevik, out to burn the churches and introduce free love. In Fact, his candidature was under the banner of 'Catholic Labour', and it is not surprising that it was in that order!

The following year, Labour, with the issue of the Treaty presumably making it extremely undiplomatic to do so, even under its Catholic patronym, did not contest the Irish wards. 1922 saw the rub. The Labour Party agreed to nominate three candidates in the Scotland division. E. Campbell, the organising LP secretary in the constituency, explained why:

'We are justified in contesting these seats on the grounds that the Irish question has now been settled. These men are all Catholic Labour men and will suitably represent the workers of Liverpool... All the Catholic Labour candidates are receiving the support of the T&GWU'. 15

But it wasn't quite so easy. The LP EC met on 13 October to ratify the nominations.

Ald Billy Robinson, the leader of the LP group on council, summed up the case: 'He said the EC had to make up their minds on a question which would have far-reaching effects on Labour's position in Liverpool. The opinion was that we could not prevent these men running, even though it might affect us adversely at the moment'. 16

On 18 October, the EC recommendations were put to the full TC & LP body. It was decided, 61-27, to reject the report relating to the standing of candidates against the INP. Two days later, the EC met to reconsider their position and it was decided to readopt their original decision. A further EC was called, two days later again, with Jack Jones MP and Standing, the Northern Agent of the LP, present. It was clear that the national LP were hostile to any contestation, hoping to curry the Irish/Catholic vote in a more subtle way.17 The EC voted, nevertheless, to endorse the three candidates, but only by a narrow margin. The IN? retaliated by putting forward their own nominees in every ward which Labour was contesting. But already voices within the Catholic community were articulating a different line from the IN?. The Catholic Herald suggested:

'As regards the Catholic aspect, it is merely one of speculation. If Catholic Labour men are returned at the November election in place of the Nationalists, they ought, if they are sent to the council chamber as Catholics first, and Labour members afterwards, to assert themselves primarily as Catholics. On the other hand, if Labour representatives who are Catholics are well supported by Catholics and become a majority in the Labour benches, the Catholic interests will be sure of protection...'18

The Labour Party again failed to make any electoral headway, but straws in the wind suggested how the seemingly complete polarisation was to be overcome: socialism was to be relegated (had it even been on the agenda?) and Catholic dogma promoted.

In the intervening time, however, battle was joined. During the summer of 1923 the Labour Party rejected plans for a closer alignment with the NP, and added carefully that, '...the LP is always open to receive applications for membership from any person who accepts its principles and constitution'.19 All seven Catholic/Irish wards were to be contested in the north and south ends—Sandhills, North & South Scotland, Vauxhall, St Armes, Great George and Brunswick. A special manifesto was produced in each of these wards explaining why the LP was fighting. The INP made their own preparations. In South Scotland Logan was to stand for the first time under Labour colours—Catholic Labour colours. Despite his constant declarations of his faith, the INP coined this street ballad for Murphy, their man:

'We want the man we know

He's been ours through weal and woe

And he'll stand by his comrades night and day.

In spite of the Orange sword

You'll see Murphy win the ward

And he'll stand in the shoes of John O'Shea' 20

When in doubt, bang the sectarian drum. Billy Robinson, a convert to Catholicism, objected to Austin Harford calling him a 'Cromwell' considering he had five daughters at Notre Dame Convent. Robinson said that Harford was 'an astute Rip van Winkle who from 1916 onwards had slept the sleep of the just and left Irishmen to do all the fighting'.22 Beneath the insinuations as to who was the best Irishman, the best Home Ruler, the best Catholic, ran a logic. The arguments were not about Labour's policies, they were over Catholicism. It was not unusual to fmd a Labour candidates' manifesto as saying: 'Any Catholic knows that the principles enunciated in the encyclical of Leo XIII brought into play in the Labour world would make for the good of the English nation. For over 30 years I have been associated with St Vincents YMS and I am prepared at all times to give my services to the poor'.23

At a large meeting to inaugurate the INP's campaign Monsignor Pennington articulated the real fears of the Catholic hierarchy: '...there are a thousand Catholic interests which only Catholics in public positions could look after. If they became scattered amongst various parties their power would be gone. He hoped they would heartily support those men who had been true to them in the past and who, he was sure, would be true to them in the future' 24

Despite the efforts of the nascent Labour Party, the Nationalists won by a landslide in the seven dockside wards.

Municipal Election Results in seven Dockland Irish/Catholic Wards



LP vote
INP vote
LP wins
INP winsNo Contest


















The electoral ascendancy of the LP was only assured then by the late 20s, six years after the signing of the Treaty. For a good many years prior to 1921, the INP was more Catholic than Irish. By 1925 that tendency was crystallised by adopting the title 'Catholic Representation Association', under Keating's supervision, and clerical involvement in politics flourished. A priest defeated the sitting LP councillor in North Scotland by 3,456 to 617! Keating's death in 1928 saw the arrival of Richard Downey as Bishop. Downey disavowed using the word 'Catholic' and prevented priests adopting overtly political guises.26 The Nationalist/Catholic rump fashioned itself 'unambiguously' the Centre Party which was increasingly anti-Labour as the 30s progressed. The Labour Party meanwhile, as well as having at last a secure political base in the city, became the battleground for Catholic interests.

The years of depression and mass unemployment did not pass Liverpool by. But unemployment levels were certainly not as high as in those regions that were totally dependent on the export-orientated staple industries that were dramatically affected by the restructuring of the British economy. The Pilgrim Trust report, Men without work, argued that of all the towns it surveyed, long-term unemployment was not as prevalent on Mersyside, as say the Rhondda. But poverty was not absent. The city had the highest proportion of people dependent on public relief outside Glasgow. Unemployment was widespread—under-employment was the scourge. It was in this environment that the Liverpool Labour Party signally failed to provide a leadership to the working class in general and the unemployed in particular.

The 'Cathedral dispute' in 1930 ushered the rise to power within the Labour Party of the Catholic caucus. The council were selling off the site of the old workhouse on Brownlow Hill and tenders were put out. The Catholic church sought the site, but with a bid that was 20% below the market price. Plans were afoot to build the biggest cathedral outside of St. Peter's in Rome. The controlling Tory group were keen to establish a working relationship with the hierarchy and a majority supported the sale to the Catholic diocese. A minority of Tories responded to the attractions of a sectarian campaign which the Orange fringe were vigorously promoting. The Labour group on council were also divided. A majority, all Catholics, supported the sale. A large minority voted in line with local party policy which was that all council-owned land should be used for re-housing (the workhouse provided ideal premises for decanting while new homes were built). The issue was not a purely 'religious' question but, above all, was concerned with the theme of accountability of elected representatives to carry out party policy. For three months the group was split. It was reunited on instructions from the NEC which effectively underwrote the autonomy of the Labour group on council, leading to the dominance of the Catholic caucus locally, headed by Luke Hogan .27

The local party mirrored the national party in a number of ways. Throughout the 30s, especially after 1931, there was an avoidance of any activity that was not associated with achievement of power through electoral methods. Any extra parliamentary activity was eschewed. It reflected the NEC's and National Council of Labour's virulent anti-communism. And it failed to provide any focus by which the unemployed could campaign for their demands. But it was entirely different in that so much of its politics were governed by the needs and wishes of the Catholic hierarchy. Downey was not reneging on the principles that he had laid down in 1928—but he relied upon the structured power within the party that the Catholic block of councillors represented. They came from wards which were Catholic wards and they faced a party across the council chamber which still, under Tom White's despotic leadership, equated Toryism with Protestantism.

Reginald Bevins, one in a long line of careerists who began his youthful days of fire-and-fury in the Labour Party to become the Post Master General in the Tory Party after the war, described the LP monthly council meetings in his autobiography The Greasy Pole (up or down it?):

'These were like an exercise in apartheid. The members used to segregate themselves according to their prejudices and especially according to their religion. In the front two rows sat the left-wingers and the militants of those days, the Braddocks, the Silvermans and others. Then a no-man's-land of four rows. Followed by two straggling rows of middle-of-the-roaders, including myself. Then another no-man's-land and finally, right at the back, a horde of Irish Roman Catholics. These men knew nothing of socialism, most of them had never even heard of it; they were Labour because those who voted for them were poor and because, despite the effluxion of time, the Irish Catholics still identified the Conservative Party with the bad behaviour of Oliver Cromwell and William of Orange. In those days the Irish always won because they were the big battalions'.

Despite the loaded racial stereotypes and the naked racism of Bevins, it is a more than accurate picture. It is not surprising that the history of the 'devil's decade' in Liverpool only spasmodically includes the Labour Party. It wouldn't, indeed couldn't, be used as a vehicle of working class resistance. But others were not too sure. And locally, the ideology of reaction utilised not the blackshirts and anti-semites in the BUF, but concentrated their attention on the Irish, and continued Irish immigration into the region. The official Anglican Diocesan magazine carried a series of 'exposures' into the resultant evils of Irish settlement; 28 and even The Times alerted its readership to the impending doom awaiting Liverpool:

'But about ten years ago the party (the INP) dissolved and the Irish were encouraged to support and, if possible, to dominate the local Labour Party. This aim has now been very nearly achieved, and if in the next few years political opinion should swing to the left, it is not improbable that the administration of the city may pass to a party, the majority of whom have not been truly absorbed into local life, and do not share the same responsibilities which guide local Labour Parties in other British cities. Certain American models make this prospect highly unattractive'.29

In other words, other cities had produced a Labourism that accepted traditional norms of politics which was 'acceptable' to the state. Liverpool Labourism, dominated by Catholics, could not be relied upon in the same way.

An examination of this thesis proves its fallibility. Davie Logan, following the reign of T.P. O'Connor in the Scotland Division, became an MP in 1929 and was the sole Labour MP in Liverpool from 1931 to 1935. He had been a councillor for the INP until 1922 and, no doubt having a nose for these things, joined the Labour Party five or six years before the majority came over. He was a pawnbroker on Scotland Road ('a true friend of the poor!') and founded the local chapter of the Knights of St. Columbus—real Bolshevik material... His contributions in the Commons were limited, confining himself to outbursts against the 'coolies, blacks and chinks' who were not only taking the jobs of Liverpool seamen but drove them from a diet of 'roast beef and plum pudding to curry and rice'. His knowledge of living conditions on Liverpool boats was superficial. His maiden speech opposed the repeal of the laws of blasphemy and he supported the revolt in the 2nd Labour Government which prevented the Labour Party raising the school leaving age. In 1932 he 'naturally' opposed divorce legislation, even when one partner had been declared incurably insane for five years. Three years later he opposed any spending of government monies on birth control information—not surprisingly, he or rather his wife, had had ten children.30 This then, was a leading figure in a party The Times was deeply anxious about.

And if this party was such a liability to the state, it was odd that it should be so hostile to a declared enemy of that state—the small but not insignificant Communist Party and the NUWM. Leading activists in both (frequently one and the same) were responsible for the agitation that took place against the means test locally which in September 1932 in Birkenhead caused the local council and the National government certain heart pangs. But the anti-communism of Hogan, Logan et al was not just directed at the CP—the left wing of the LP was under constant attack. In 1935 Bessie Braddock and Sidney Silverman were both expelled from the Labour group for voting against the freedom of the city being given to Tom White, the Orange boss of Liverpool. Bessie Braddock was again called to answer charges in later years for speaking on an NUWM platform in Scotland Road and for arguing in favour of birth control facilities being provided in Liverpool. It wasn't only the sectional nature of Liverpool Labourism that crippled it during the 30s, but its autocratic structure. The left-wing not only had to confront the politics of the Catholic right in the party, but the Catholic right outside the party; (Pastor Longbottom and the militant Protestants were also, needless to say, wary of anything that mentioned 'socialism'.) In 1933 for instance, Silverman was selected to fight a Parliamentary by-election in the Exchange division—solid Irish territory. The Sunday before polling day, the rump of the 'Centre Party' aldermen and councillors in the constituency circulated the following leaflet outside local churches:

'We are firmly and personally convinced that you, our working class people—men and women in Exchange—will be well advised to vote for Col. Shute (Tory) for the following reasons: 

1. Because, as Catholics, you cannot accept the extreme Socialist policy of Mr. Silverman. It is not sound—it is not good for our working classes.

2. You cannot expect Mr. Silverman to further the just claims of our Catholic schools'.31

Oddly enough, among Liverpool Tories, Col. Shute was a Catholic. Less oddly, but still peculiar given the division he was standing in, Sidney Silverman was an atheist. It was not surprising that Shute won and Silverman declared the result, '...a triumph of religious prejudice over political conditions'.32

In the 1920s and 30s a form of working class politics emerged in Liverpool that had its roots in a duality of oppression—casual employment and ethnic discrimination. Both were consistent with the needs of capital accumulation, centering on the port, trade and processing. Within that context, socialist politics were marginal. But the heterogeneity of Liverpool Labourism can be traced to its initial uncertain challenge and later adaptation to local Catholicism. It is, as yet, an untouched aspect of historical research as to what effect nationally, Catholicism had on British Labourism. In Liverpool, it is clear that it gave birth to a particular legacy. A legacy which enlarged the gap between the working class and socialist politics and which reinforced not a syndicalist tradition, but an industrial tradition on Merseyside.

We were told five or ten years ago, that the 'bad old days' of Hogan, Logan, Braddock and Sefton were gone for good. But in the last few years, the local Labour Party has failed to provide a viable alternative in the worst-hit area of British capital's decline. And yet in all this devastation, Crawshaw, Dunn, Ogden and now Williams in Crosby, are alive and as yet well, in the Habitat-paradise of the SDP. And the left in the Labour Party is realising that all it is occupying is an empty shell. That legacy of the 20s and 30s may explain more than we like to think!



1 Merseyside Socialist Research Group, Merseyside in Crisis (1980).

2 E.L. Taplin, Liverpool Dockers and Seamen (1973). L.M. Grant, 'Women Workers and Liverpool Trade Unionism 1890-1914', in NWLHJ No 7.

3 Liverpool Daily Post, 21.4.1899.

4 LDP, 26.4.1899.

5 LOP, 28.4.1899.

6 Loc.cit.

7 P.J. Waller, Sectarianism and Democracy (1981).

8 Liverpool Record Office, Newscuttings, n.d.

9 Liverpool Catholic Herald, 6.3.1920.

10 Parliamentary Debates, 28.4.1920.

11 Quoted in P.J. Waller, op.cit.

12 Liverpool Labour Party, EC minutes, 14.6.20.

13 LCH, 30.10.20.

14 LCH, 6.11.20.

15 LCH, 14.10.22

16 Liverpool TC&LP minutes, 13.10.22.

17 More revealing is the letter from E.P. Wane, LP National Agent to W.J. Loughrey, joint whip of INP:

"I am desired by Mr. A. Henderson MP to acknowledge the receipt of your letter. We deplore with you the unfortunate circumstances in Liverpool and before receipt of your letter we had taken steps to bring the Liverpool LP to a better frame of mind in relation to the municipal elections. Today we have consulted our special committee and have wired to both the chairman and secretary of the Liverpool LP strongly advising that the conflicts between Labour and Nationalists in regard to the Municipal elections should be abandoned. I trust that our advice will be taken and I want to assure you that we have done our utmost to prevent a conflict between the Nationalists and our own people as there is every reason, in the interests of democracy in this country, for these two forces being united". (LOP, 28.10.22).

18 LCH, 21.10.22.

19 Liverpool LP EC minutes, 25.7.23.

20 LDP, 20.10.23.

21 LDP, 22.10.23.

22 LOP, ibid.

23 LCH, 27.10.23.

24 LDP, 15.10.23.

25 Liverpool Municipal Year Books, 1923-30.

26 Quoted in P.J. Waller, op.cit.

27 Liverpool TC&LP minutes, Feb-May 1930.

28 See Liverpool Diocesan Review, May 1931, and Jan, Feb, March 1934.

29 Times, 5.8.36.

30 Quoted in P.J. Waller, op.cit.

31 LDP, 16.1.33.

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