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Early life and career
Wheatley was born in Bonmahon, County Waterford, Ireland, to Thomas and Johanna Wheatley. In 1876 the family moved to Braehead, Lanarkshire, in Scotland. Initially, he worked as a miner in the Baillieston district, as his father had done in Ireland, and was then briefly a publican, but he later ran his own successful printing business which specialised in publishing leftist political works, many of which Wheatley wrote himself such as How the Miners Were Robbed (1907), The Catholic Workingman (1909), Miners, Mines and Misery (1909), Eight Pound Cottages for Glasgow Citizens (1913), Municipal Banking (1920) and The New Rent Act (1920).
A deeply religious man and practising Roman Catholic, he was influenced by early Christian-socialist thinkers, and in 1907 he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He founded and was the first chairman of the Catholic Socialist Society.
He sat as a councillor on Glasgow's city council, becoming one of the best known in the city, before being elected to the House of Commons in the 1922 General Election for Glasgow Shettleston. He was a great supporter of Celtic Football Club.
The Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, sometimes disapproved of Wheatley's debating methods as well as his friendship with James Maxton, who was suspended from the Commons on one occasion when he called Conservative MP Sir Frederick Banbury "a murderer" for a proposed cut in child-welfare. Wheatley however worked closely with his ILP colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, especially James Maxton.
He was known as the intellectual behind the ILP activities. Along with many of the other ILP MPs, especially those from Clydeside, Wheatley found himself drifting from the Labour leadership under MacDonald. Wheatley remained a widely respected political figure and when MacDonald became Prime Minister in January 1924, he appointed him as his Minister of Health. Wheatley is best remembered for his Housing Act, introduced in this period, which saw a massive expansion in affordable municipal housing for the working-class.
Wheatley criticised MacDonald's moving Labour to the right and consequently found himself unappointed to the Labour Government formed after the 1929 General Election. He refused to support many of the measures proposed by MacDonald's government and along with Maxton (by now Wheatley's leader in the ILP) became one of the Labour-left's leading critics. On 9 May 1924, H. G. Wells led a delegation to ask for birth control reforms. The delegation asked for two things: that institutions under Ministry of Health control should give contraceptive advice to those who asked for it; and that doctors at welfare centres should be allowed to offer advice in certain medical cases. Wheatley held strong views against birth control and refused to support the campaign.
Death and legacy
John Wheatley died on 12 May 1930, one week before his 61st birthday.
Wheatley Housing Group (Scotland's largest registered social landlord) and John Wheatley College (now Glasgow Kelvin College) in Glasgow are named after him. His nephew, John Thomas Wheatley, became a Labour MP for Edinburgh in 1947 and Lord Advocate.
Spartacus Educational Biography http://www.spartacus-educational.com/TUwheatley.htm On-line teaching aid by John Simkin
John Wheatley by Ian Wood (Manchester University Press 1990)
The Life of John Wheatley by John Hannan (Spokesman Books 1988)
No Mean Affair by Robert Ronsson (Foxwell Press 2012)
- http://economicdemocracy.org/miners.html John Wheatley, 1907
- "Wells Champions Birth Control". The Globe (Toronto). 10 May 1924. p. 3.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by John Wheatley
- "John Wheatley: The Labour lion who led", Richard Leonard, Tribune, 12 May 2010
- "Was John Wheatley really a working-class hero?", Robert Ronsson, New Statesman, 29 August 2012
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for Glasgow Shettleston
Sir William Joynson-Hicks
| Minister of Health