Arthur Henderson

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For the 1940s government minister, see Arthur Henderson, Baron Rowley. For other people, see Arthur Henderson (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Arthur Henderson
Arthurhenderson.jpg
Leader of the Opposition
In office
1 September 1931 – 25 October 1932
Monarch George V
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by Stanley Baldwin
Succeeded by George Lansbury
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
7 June 1929 – 24 August 1931
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by Austen Chamberlain
Succeeded by 1st Marquess of Reading
Home Secretary
In office
23 January 1924 – 4 November 1924
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by William Bridgeman
Succeeded by Sir William Joynson-Hicks
Personal details
Born 20 September 1863
Glasgow, Scotland
Died 20 October 1935(1935-10-20) (aged 72)
London, England
Political party Labour
Religion Methodism

Arthur Henderson PC (20 September 1863 – 20 October 1935) was a British iron moulder and Labour politician. He was the first Labour cabinet minister, the 1934 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and served three terms as the Leader of the Labour Party. He was popular among his colleagues, who called him "Uncle Arthur" in acknowledgement of his integrity, devotion to the cause and unperturbability. He was a transition figure whose policies were closer to the Liberal Party for 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[edit]

Arthur Henderson was born at 10 Paterson Street, Anderston, Glasgow, Scotland in 1863, the illegitimate son of Agnes Henderson, a domestic servant. Agnes later married and she and her young son moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England.

Henderson worked in a locomotive factory from the age of 12. 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. This had a major impact on Henderson and he became a lay preacher. In 1884, Henderson lost his job and concentrated on his education and preaching commitments.

Union leader[edit]

By 1892, Henderson had entered the complex world of Trade Union politics, when he was elected as a paid organiser for the Iron Founders Union, and was also 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 it would lead to more strikes.

The Labour Party[edit]

Arthur Henderson

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), and in 1903, Henderson was elected treasurer of the LRC, and was also elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Barnard Castle following a by-election.

In 1906, the LRC changed its name to the Labour Party and won 29 seats in the general election of that year (which was a landslide victory for the Liberal Party).

In 1908, when Hardie resigned as Leader of the Labour Party, Henderson was elected to replace him, and was leader for two fairly quiet (from Labour's perspective) years, before resigning in 1910.

Cabinet Minister[edit]

1910 Arthur Henderson.jpg

In 1914, the First World War broke out, and the then-Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, resigned in protest. Henderson was elected to replace him, and in 1915, following Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith's decision to create a coalition government, became the first member of the Labour Party to become 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 job of Minister without Portfolio. Other labour and union representatives to join Henderson in Lloyd George's coalition government were; John Hodge and George Barnes. John Hodge became Minister of Labour whilst Barnes became Minister of Pensions.[1] Henderson resigned in August 1917 when his idea for an international conference on the war was voted down by the rest of the cabinet; shortly afterwards he resigned as Labour leader.

The coupon election and the 1920s[edit]

Henderson lost his seat in the "coupon election" of 14 December 1918, an election announced within twenty four hours of the end of hostilities in World War I that resulted in a landslide victory for a coalition formed by presiding Prime Minister Lloyd George[2] Henderson returned to Parliament in 1919 after winning a by-election in Widnes. After his election, he became Labour's chief whip, only to lose his seat in the 1922 general election.

Again, he returned to Parliament via a by-election, this time representing Newcastle East, however he lost this seat in the 1923 general election, but returned to Parliament two months later after winning a by-election in Burnley. He was appointed Home Secretary in the first ever Labour government (led by MacDonald). This government was defeated in 1924, and lost the following election.

Henderson was re-elected in 1924, and he refused to challenge MacDonald for the party leadership, despite calls from other MPs to do just that. Worried about factionalism in the Labour Party, he published a pamphlet called Labour and the Nation, in which he attempted to clarify the Labour Party's goals.

In Moscow Vladimir Lenin held him in very low regard. In a 10 February 1922, letter to the Soviet Foreign Affairs Commissar Georgy Chicherin in relation to the Genoa Conference, Lenin wrote pejoratively:[3]

"Henderson is as stupid as Kerensky, and for this reason he is helping us....

Furthermore. This is ultrasecret. It suits us that Genoa be wrecked... but not by us, of course. Think this over with Litvinov and Ioffe and drop me a line. Of course, this must not be mentioned even in secret documents. return this to me, and I will burn it. We will get a loan better without Genoa, if we are not the ones that wreck Genoa. We must work out cleverer maneuvers so that we are not the ones that wreck Genoa. For example, the fool Henderson and Co. will help us a lot if we cleverly prod them....

Everything is flying apart for them. It is total bankruptcy (India and so on). We have to push a falling one unexpectedly, not with our hands."

(emphasis added)

Foreign Secretary[edit]

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 War. Diplomatic relations were re-established with the USSR and the League of Nations was given Britain's full support. The government was able to function properly, even without a parliamentary majority. However this did not last. The Great Depression plunged the government into a terminal crisis.

The MacDonald "betrayal"[edit]

The crisis began in 1931 when a key committee discovered that the budget was facing a serious deficit. This generated a crisis of confidence in the British financial system which threatened the pound's position on the Gold Standard. The Labour Cabinet agreed that it was essential to maintain the Gold Standard and that the Budget needed to be balanced, but divided seriously 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 office. On 24 August 1931 it was announced that MacDonald was forming an emergency National Government with members of all parties in order to tackle the crisis. However the Labour Party repudiated this government, and the National Executive expelled from the party MacDonald and all other Labour members who supported him (Henderson cast the only vote against this). Henderson now became leader of the party as it became ever more hostile to the Government. With the economic and political situation still uncertain, the National Government decided to call a general election, and in the largest landslide in British political history, it won an overwhelming majority. Labour was reduced to just 46 MPs, and yet again Henderson lost his seat. The following year he relinquished the party leadership.

Later career[edit]

Henderson returned to Parliament after winning a by-election (Clay Cross). Uniquely, he was elected to Parliament a total of five times at by-elections where he had not been the previous MP, and he holds the record for the greatest number of comebacks from losing a previous seat.

He 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. In 1934 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On 3 April 2013 his medal was stolen during a raid at the lord mayor of Newcastle's mansion house.[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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hopkins, eric, A Social History of the English Working Classes, 1815-1945, Hodder and Stoughton 1979. p219
  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. ^ BBC News: Nobel Peace Prize medal stolen in Newcastle 3 April 2013, accessed 3 April 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • Hamilton, Mary Agnes. Arthur Henderson: A Biography (1938) a detailed, favourable account by a colleague
  • McKibbin, Ross. "Arthur Henderson as Labour Leader," International Review of Social History (1978) 23#1 pp 79–101
  • Riddell, Neil. "Arthur Henderson 1931-1932," in Leading Labour: From Keir Hardie to Tony Blair, edited by Kevin Jefferys, (1999)
  • Thorpe, Andrew. "Arthur Henderson and the British Political Crisis of 1931," Historical Journal (1988) 31#1 pp. 117–139 in JSTOR
  • Winkler, Henry H. "Arthur Henderson" in The Diplomats 1919-1939 edited by Gordon A. raig and Felix Gilbert, (1953).
  • Winter, J M. "Arthur Henderson, the Russian Revolution, and the Reconstruction of the Labour Party," Historical Journal (1972) 15#2 pp 753–73. in JSTOR
  • Wrigley, Chris. Arthur Henderson (1990) 210pp; scholarly biography

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