All entries for September 2010

September 30, 2010

Resurrection of the Red Peril?

To WomenThe election of Ed Miliband as the new Labour Party leader has been portrayed by many as a break with New Labour centrism and a return to a more socialist or left-leaning Labour Party. One aspect of the press coverage has been a return to old-style "Red Peril" coverage - with the party leader being regularly described as "Red Ed", the union's friend.

This 1925 parliamentary bye-election leaflet, issued by the Unionist Party candidate for Walsall, provides a less subtle example of 'socialist threat' propaganda. Aimed at the recently enfranchised women voters, it declares that "socialism destroys marriage", will end the monarchy, stamp out religion, destroy the home, make divorce freely available, and introduce compulsory military and industrial conscription for all.

This "cool, dispassionate statement of the Socialist [i.e. Labour Party] Programme" was produced only eight years after the Russian Revolution and reflects fears of a revolutionary uprising in Britain, as well as portraying the Conservative and Unionist Party as the defenders of 'the institution of marriage'.

This document is included in the new resources for the History undergraduate module 'Gender, History and Politics in Britain'.

Click on the 'thumbnail' for a larger image.

September 23, 2010

Whither banking?

Banking handbill

"Bankers have created over £7,000,000,000 of money by owing what they lend or spend"

Banking really hit the headlines in 2008 when, apparently, the entire global system came close to collapse, and debate about what to do about banks and bankers has rumbled on ever since, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg being one of the latest contributors.  This document, which dates from 1945, illustrates the fact that it has often been a controversial matter in the past as well.  Its author was Edwin Wright, who described himself as a "Socialist ever since 1890".  Between 1952 and 1954, he sent three copies to the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress, each of which had a different set of annotations by Wright and was accompanied by further typescript and manuscript exposition in his rather idiosyncratic style.  One of these sheets is headed "our fraudulent banking system about which the Socialists have been fooled", and one of the handbill annotations reads: "nationalisation of the Bank of England has not altered this silly system.  Why not nationalise all banks!"  There is no copy of a reply from the TUC on the file and a note on one of Wright's letters suggests he was just sent a brief acknowledgement.

[From a TUC file on banking, 1931-1954, which also includes a somewhat more sober memorandum advocating the nationalisation of banking "submitted by an experienced bank official"; document reference MSS.292/452/2(link to on-line catalogue)].

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September 16, 2010

Ban the Bomb?

Writing about web page

CNDVersions of the current debate over defence expenditure - whether to replace Trident nuclear weapons or to instead spend the money on conventional weapons - have been going on for as long as Britain has had the bomb.

This Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) leaflet reflects the opinions of the strong anti-nuclear lobby of the early 1980s, and was part of the campaign of non-violent resistance against the deployment of NATO / US nuclear missiles on British soil.

Other documents relating to peace movements in Britain, including CND and anti-war groups, are included in the online exhibition 'Protest and Survive'.

Click on the 'thumbnail' for a larger image

September 09, 2010

PR in the UK

Proportional representation leaflet

Leaflet issued by the Proportional Representation Society (PRS) explaining the single transferable vote system used in elections to university constituencies, November 1918

Last Monday MPs held their first debate on the bill which would lead to the holding of a referendum in May 2011 on the introduction of the alternative vote system to Westminster elections.  'First past the post’ voting has been universal in such elections for decades, but this leaflet shows that a proportional system was tried on a limited basis just after World War I.   

The new method of voting was to be used in the constituencies of Oxford, Cambridge, the combined English Universities (Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield), Dublin and the Scottish universities.  In March 1919, an analysis of these elections was published in Representation, the PRS journal, under the title ’The first trial of proportional representation in the United Kingdom’.  Among the features noted were the first election of a Liberal (who was also the “Teachers’ Candidate”) to a Scottish university seat since 1885 and the first contest at Oxford since 1878, which confirmed “the testimony of other countries that there are few uncontested constituencies under a P.R. system.”  Apparently the voters did not have any difficulty with the new system, despite its comparative complexity.  This may have been due to the fact that having attended university they were, in theory at least, of above-average intelligence.  

This document is in a file about parliamentary elections in the archive of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) held at the Modern Records Centre.  Other papers in the file reflect the AUT’s concern about issues, such as higher education funding and teachers’ pensions, which are still matters of debate today.  [document reference MSS.27/3/46 (3 of 3) (link to on-line catalogue)] .

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September 02, 2010

Escape to the Country


The late 19th and early 20th century saw a boom in day-trippers choosing to explore the British countryside, aided by recently invented forms of public or personal transport such as the bicycle, charabanc and motorbike.

This is the front cover of 'Cycling' magazine for 27 October 1921, and features an advert for the Raleigh all steel bicycle. The advert emphasises the freedom that a bike can bring, but peddles a nostalgic and highly idealised view of the British countryside - filled with helpful, bonneted old crones in thatched cottages, ready and waiting to direct lost young townies along empty roads.

A rather more jaundiced view from a 1928 issue of the same magazine is included in the online resources for the undergraduate History module 'Britain in the Twentieth Century'.

Click on the 'thumbnail' for a larger image

September 2010

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