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Arthur Henderson

For the 1940s government minister, see Arthur Henderson, Baron Rowley. For other people, see Arthur Henderson (disambiguation).

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Arthur Henderson PC (13 September 1863 – 20 October 1935) was a British iron moulder and Labour politician. He was the first Labour cabinet minister, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934 and, uniquely, served three separate terms as Leader of the Labour Party in three different decades. He was popular among his colleagues, who called him "Uncle Arthur" in acknowledgement of his integrity, his devotion to the cause and his imperturbability. He was a transitional figure whose policies were, at first, close to those of the Liberal Party, and the trades unions rejected his emphasis on arbitration and conciliation, and thwarted his goal of unifying the Labour Party and the trades unions.

Early life

Arthur Henderson was born at 10 Paterson Street, Anderston, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1863, the son of Agnes Henderson, a domestic servant, and David, a textile worker who died when Arthur was ten years old. After his father's death the Hendersons moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in the Northeast of England, where Agnes later married Robert Heath.

Henderson worked in a locomotive factory from the age of twelve. After finishing his apprenticeship at seventeen he moved to Southampton for a year and then returned to work as an iron moulder (a type of foundryman) in Newcastle upon Tyne. He converted to Methodism (having previously been a Congregationalist) in 1879. He became a lay preacher, and after he lost his job in 1884 he concentrated on preaching.

Union leader

In 1892 Henderson entered the complex world of trade union politics when he was elected as a paid organiser for the Iron Founders Union. He also became a representative on the North East Conciliation Board. Henderson believed that strikes caused more harm than they were worth and tried to avoid them whenever he could. For this reason he opposed the formation of the General Federation of Trade Unions, as he was convinced that it would lead to more strikes.

The Labour Party

In 1900 Henderson was one of the 129 trade union and socialist delegates who passed Keir Hardie's motion to create the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). In 1903 Henderson was elected Treasurer of the LRC and was also elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Barnard Castle in a by-election.

In 1906 the LRC changed its name to the Labour Party and won 29 seats in the general election. In 1908, when Hardie resigned as Leader of the Labour Party, Henderson was elected to replace him. He remained Leader until he resigned in 1910.

Cabinet Minister

In 1914 the First World War broke out and Ramsay MacDonald resigned the Leadership of the Labour Party in protest. Henderson was elected to replace him.

In 1915, following Prime Minister H. H. Asquith's decision to create a coalition government, Henderson became the first member of the Labour Party to be made a member of the Cabinet, as President of the Board of Education.

In 1916 David Lloyd George forced Asquith to resign and replaced him as Prime Minister. Henderson became a member of the small War Cabinet with the post of Minister without Portfolio. (The other Labour representatives who joined Henderson in Lloyd George's coalition government were John Hodge, who became Minister of Labour, and John Barnes, who became Minister of Pensions.)[1] Henderson resigned in August 1917 after his proposal for an international conference on the war was rejected by the rest of the cabinet. He resigned as Labour Leader shortly afterwards.

The "Coupon Election" and the 1920s

Henderson lost his seat in the "Coupon Election" of 14 December 1918, which had been announced within twenty-four hours of the end of hostilities and which resulted in a landslide victory for a coalition formed by Lloyd George[2] However, Henderson returned to Parliament in 1919 after winning a by-election in Widnes. He then became Labour's Chief Whip, only to lose his seat in the general election of 1922.

Vladimir Lenin held Henderson in very low regard. In a letter to the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Georgy Chicherin, written on 10 February 1922 and referring to the Genoa Conference, Lenin wrote: "Henderson is as stupid as Kerensky, and for this reason he is helping us." [3]

Henderson returned to Parliament via yet another by-election, this time representing Newcastle East, but he lost this seat in the general election of 1923. He returned to Parliament just two months later after winning a by-election in Burnley.

In 1924 Henderson was appointed Home Secretary in the first-ever Labour government, led by MacDonald. This government was defeated later the same year and lost the general election that followed.

Having been re-elected in 1924, Henderson refused to challenge Ramsay MacDonald for the party leadership. Worried about factionalism in the Labour Party, he published a pamphlet, Labour and the Nation, in which he attempted to clarify the party's goals.

Foreign Secretary

In 1929 Labour formed another minority government and MacDonald appointed Henderson as Foreign Secretary, a position Henderson used to try to reduce the tensions that had been building up in Europe since the end of the First World War. Diplomatic relations were re-established with the USSR and Henderson offered Britain's full support to the League of Nations.

The MacDonald "betrayal"

The Great Depression plunged the government into a terminal crisis. The cabinet agreed that it was essential to maintain the Gold Standard and that the Budget needed to be balanced, but became divided over some of the measures proposed. Henderson found himself at the head of a minority of nearly half the cabinet who could not accept a cut in unemployment benefit. With the cabinet so clearly divided it decided to resign. However, on 24 August 1931 MacDonald revealed that he was forming an emergency National Government, with members from all parties, in order to tackle the crisis. The Labour Party repudiated this government, and the National Executive expelled MacDonald and his supporters from the party. Henderson cast the only vote against the expulsions.

Henderson now became leader of the party just as it became ever more hostile to MacDonald's coalition government. In the general election that followed MacDonald won the largest landslide in British political history, Labour was reduced to just 46 MPs and yet again Henderson lost his seat. The following year he relinquished the party leadership.

Later career

Henderson returned to Parliament after winning a by-election at Clay Cross, achieving the unique feat of being elected a total of five times at by-elections in constituencies where he had not previously been the MP. He holds the record for the greatest number of comebacks from losing a previous seat.

Henderson spent the rest of his life trying to halt the gathering storm of war. He worked with the World League of Peace and chaired the Geneva Disarmament Conference, and in 1934 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (On 3 April 2013 his Nobel medal was stolen from the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Newcastle.)[4]

Arthur Henderson died, aged 72, in 1935. Two of his sons also became Labour politicians. His second son, William, was created Baron Henderson in 1945, while his third son, Arthur, was made Baron Rowley in 1966.

The Labour History Archive and Study Centre at the People's History Museum in Manchester holds the papers of Arthur Henderson in their collection, spanning from 1915 to 1935.[5]

References

  1. ^ Hopkins, eric, A Social History of the English Working Classes, 1815-1945, Hodder & Stoughton 1979. p. 219
  2. ^ "Women and the Welsh Wizard" at guardian.co.uk
  3. ^ Handwritten note at the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History, fond 2, opis 2, delo 1,1119, published as Document 88 in The Unknown Lenin, ed. Richard Pipes, Yale University Press, 1996
  4. ^ "Nobel Peace Prize Medal Stolen in Newcastle," BBC News 3 April 2013
  5. ^ Collection Catalogues and Descriptions, Labour History Archive and Study Centre 

Further reading

  • Hamilton, Mary Agnes. Arthur Henderson: A Biography (1938), a detailed and favourable account by a former colleague
  • McKibbin, Ross. "Arthur Henderson as Labour Leader," International Review of Social History (1978) pp. 79–101
  • Riddell, Neil. "Arthur Henderson, 1931-1932," in Leading Labour: From Keir Hardie to Tony Blair, ed. Kevin Jefferys (1999)
  • Thorpe, Andrew. "Arthur Henderson and the British Political Crisis of 1931," Historical Journal (1988) pp. 117–139 in JSTOR
  • Winkler, Henry H. "Arthur Henderson," in The Diplomats, 1919-1939, ed. Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert (1953)
  • Winter, J M. "Arthur Henderson, the Russian Revolution and the Reconstruction of the Labour Party," Historical Journal (1972) pp. 753–73. in JSTOR
  • Wrigley, Chris. Arthur Henderson (1990), a scholarly biography

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Joseph Pease
Member of Parliament for Barnard Castle
19031918
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John Edmund Swan
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William Hall Walker
Member of Parliament for Widnes
19191922
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Christopher Clayton
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Joseph Nicholas Bell
Member of Parliament for Newcastle-upon-Tyne East
19231923
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Sir Robert Aske
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Dan Irving
Member of Parliament for Burnley
19241931
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Gordon Campbell
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Charles Duncan
Member of Parliament for Clay Cross
19331935
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Alfred Holland
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Jack Pease
President of the Board of Education
1915-1916
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1916
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Home Secretary
1924
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Foreign Secretary
1929–1931
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1931–1932
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George Lansbury
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New position
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1904–1912
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1905–1906
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1908–1910
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1912–1934
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1914–1917
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1929–1936
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Leader of the Labour Party
1931–1932
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