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Saturday, July 11, 2020

The job has transformed millions of lives – but 120th birthday is bittersweet – Jason Beattie

Today is a bittersweet moment for Labor as it marks his 120th birthday.

The party will proudly retrace its past 12 decades.

A movement founded by 129 delegates on February 27, 1900 has continued to transform the lives of millions of people for the better.

But he must also live with the awareness that in those 120 years he has been in power for only 30.

The work originated in a meeting of trade unionists, activists and social societies gathered at the Congregational Memorial Hall on Farringdon Road in London, who agreed to form a labor representation committee to give workers a voice in Parliament.

Led by Scottish trade unionist Keir Hardie, they only won 29 seats in the 1906 elections. But in 1924 the Laborers found themselves inside
government, with Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister.

James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), Scottish politician and British Prime Minister of Labor

Although the first Labor administration remains in office for only a few months, it has shown the difference that a left-wing party can make if you turn over the reins of power.

The benefits were expanded and a housing law was passed that included housing for thousands of low-income workers.

However the second administration of MacDonald from 1929 to 1931 was a less illustrious moment in the history of work.

In the “great betrayal” he divided the party by forming a national government with the Tories in order to ram a series of cuts unacceptable to most of his Labor colleagues.

A pattern has been set that has characterized Labor for so much of its history: short spells in government have been followed for long years in the desert.

The party did not return to office until 1945 when Clement Attlee surprised a confident Winston Churchill to win a landslide victory.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair poses with his wife Cherie outside 10 Downing Street in May 1997

Over the next six years Attlee and her stellar Cabinet of Nye Bevan, Ernie Bevin, Stafford Cripps, Ellen Wilkinson and Herbert Morrison rebuilt a country left in ruins and bankrupt by the war.

The flag industry has been revitalized
nationalization, thousands of jobs were found for returning soldiers, the welfare state was created and the NHS was founded.

Few governments in British history have been so prodigious or have left such a lasting legacy.

However, true to Labor’s past, he has not been able to consolidate his hold on power nor to crack down on divisions within his ranks. After the defeat of Labor in 1951, the plagues that still afflict the Labor Party broke out.

The party was divided between those like Bevan who thought Labor was true to its socialist roots and those like Morrison who wanted a more moderate path that offered them more opportunities to gain power.

Plaque marking the site of the Congregational Memorial Hall where the Labor Party was founded in 1900

It took another 14 years for Harold Wilson to be able to bring Labor back to government.

Although Wilson’s time in No10 was haunted by economic problems, this did not stop Labor from ushering in changes that would transform millions of lives.

The Open University was founded, homosexuality and abortion were legalized, the death penalty abolished, the law on equal pay was approved, the Race Relations Act introduced and 400,000 very necessary houses built per year.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s years have proved equally laborious.

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Between 1997 and 2010 the work lifted half a million children out of poverty, created Sure Start centers, brought devolution to Scotland and Wales, peace in Northern Ireland, introduced the national minimum wage and rebuilt schools and hospitals in the country.

History shows us that the party tends to burn intensely for a few years before retreating to its old habits of division and defeat.

But he also tells us that when in power he has the ability to bring about genuine and lasting change.

Change was never more necessary when 4.1 million children are in poverty, the record number is in zero-hour contracts and public services continue to buckle after a decade of cuts.

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