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Independent Labour Party

Independent Labour Party (ILP). The party was established in 1893 at a conference in Bradford, composed of 120 delegates largely drawn from the industrial north and Scotland and chaired by Keir Hardie. By 1910 it had a membership of 28,000. Although the word ‘Socialist’ was deliberately excluded from its title, the ILP was still attacked by Liberal trade unionists. Chronic lack of union funding and modest successes at local and parliamentary elections led the ILP to take the initiative in forming the Labour Representation Committee in 1900. With the outbreak of war, a significant number of ILP members including Ramsay Macdonald adopted a pacifist stance. Some became involved in the Union of Democratic Control, thereby strengthening contact between Labour and left-wing Liberals.

The end of the war saw the ILP lose its seat on the NEC and much of its influence, as individuals could now join a Labour Party constituency association. However, under the skilful Clifford Allen, the ILP developed into a significant socialist pressure group. Its most important document was Socialism in our Time, which anticipated many of the later Attlee government reforms.

Disappointment over the second Labour government (1929–31) accelerated the leftward drift of the ILP and made many of its members rebellious in Parliament. As a result the party, under the Clydeside firebrand Jimmy Maxton, disaffiliated from Labour in 1932. The consequences of disaffiliation were far reaching. By 1935 the ILP, which assumed a neo-Marxist character, had fewer than 5,000 members, only a quarter of the previous figure. However, the party still played an important role in the Unity Campaign, hunger marches, and anti-fascist activities. In 1939 the party opposed an ‘imperialist war’ and its decline continued after 1945. Yet the ILP continued to exist and rejoined the Labour Party in 1975.

Lewis Mates

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