Monday, 20 February 2012

The Palace and the Pit - from Keir Hardie speeches and writings - Forget your 'royal' baby

In June, 1894, occurred the terrible disaster at the Albion Colliery, Cilfynydd, South Wales, when over 250 men were killed.  About the same time President Carnot, of France, was assassinated and the Duchess of York gave birth to a son, the present Prince of Wales.
Mr A.G. Gardiner, in a character sketch of Keir Hardie in his book, 'Prophets, Priests and Kings', wrote of Hardie's antipathy to royalty: 'He hates the Palace because he remembers the Pit.'
In an editorial article in a special edition of the Labour Leader, June 30th, 1894, Keir Hardie wrote the following article, entitled 'Snobbery' : -
'The Welsh holocaust puts everything into the shade this week.  Two hundred and fifty human beings, full of strong life in the morning, reduced to charred and blackened heaps of clay in the evening.  The air rent with the wail of the childless mother, the widowed wife and the orphaned child.  Woe, woe unutterable everywhere, all through that fair Welsh valley.  Only those who have witnessed such scenes, as I have twice over, can realise what they mean.  Only those who know, as I know, that these things are preventable and solely due to man's cupidity, can understand the bitterness of feeling which they awaken.  We are a nation of hypocrites.  We go wild with excitement and demand vengeance when some hungry half-mad victim of our industrial system seeks to wreak his vengeance on the society which is murdering him by inches; and we piously look heavenward and murmur about a visitation of providence when two hundred and fifty miners are blown to bits because society places more value on property than it does on human life.  Coal must be got cheap - even if 1200 sturdy miners are murdered yearly in the process - twelve hundred hearths made desolate.
Never, surely, did the innate snobbery of respectable British society show itself to worse advantage than on Monday of this week.  At a quarter to four on Saturday last 251 men and boys were killed by an explosion in the Albion colliery Cilfynydd, near Pontypridd, in the Taff Valley, Wales.  That same evening at ten the Duchess of York was delivered of a son at the White Lodge, Richmond.  On Sunday evening about half-past nine, President Carnot, on his way to the theatre, was stabbed by an assassin, and died shortly afterwards.  Monday's papers were full of these things.  in every case the London morning press on its placards made announcement of the events, though in every case the murder of the French President took precedence.
The Daily Chronicle and the Daily Telegraph evidently consider the birth of a prince of more importance than the murder of 251 Welsh miners, as the items were disposed of in the following order -


The evening papers were even worse.  The Sun, Liberal (T P O'Connor's paper), the Star, Liberal, the Echo, Liberal Unionist, the Evening News, Tory, all came out with placards on which there was not a reference to the Welsh disaster, the murder of Carnot alone being noticed.  The Chronicle puts its account of the murder in a black border.  No black border is given to the account of the murder of the Welsh miners.  Three full columns are allotted to the former; only 2 and 1-5th to the latter.  The Star leading article is headed 'France - Our Sympathy'.  Not a word about the Welsh miners.  The Sun article is devoted in Tay Pay's best style to Carnot and the royal baby, with two fugitive references to the Welsh disaster.
And these are the papers from which the working classes expect political light and guidance.  Never in the history of British journalism was there anything more offensively snobbish than the display with which I am dealing.  Everyone would mourn with Madame Carnot, and rejoice in a subdued kind of way with the Duke and Duchess of York in the birth of their child, but it is to the sore-stricken poor of that Welsh valley, that the true hearts of this great nation will turn with its overwhelming sympathy.  For the lick-spittals of the press who have no ears for the cry of the poor widow and orphan, and who attempt to see in the birth of a child to the Duke and Duchess of York, an event of Divine significance to the nation, there can be nothing but contempt.  The life of one Welsh miner is of greater commercial and moral value to the British nation than the whole royal crowd put together, from the royal Great Grand-mama down to this puling royal Great Grand-child.'
What he wrote in the Labour Leader he did not fear to say boldly on the floor of the House of Commons in a speech opposing a motion moved by Sir William Harcourt (Hansard, June 28th 1894): -
Sir William Harcourt's motion read as follows: -
'That a humble address be presented to congratulate Her Majesty on the birth of a son to His Royal Highness the Duke and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York'
Mr KEIR HARDIE - "Mr Speaker, on my behalf and those who I represent I am unable to join in this public address.  I owe no allegiance to any hereditary ruler (interruptions) and I will expect those who do to allow me the ordinary courtesies of debate.  The resolution, Sir, proposes to congratulate Her Majesty on the birth of a son to the Duke and Duchess of York.  It seeks to elevate to an importance which it does not deserve an event of daily occurrence.  I have been delighted to learn that the child is a fairly healthy one, and had I had the opportunity of meeting its parents I should have been pleased indeed to join in the ordinary congratulations of the occasion.  But when we are asked as a House of Commons representing the nation to join in the congratulations, then in the interests of the House I take leave to protest.
There is one aspect of this question which concerns the House of Commons.  A Minister of the Crown is required to be present on this interesting occasion.  I submit, Sir, that such a proceeding is not calculated to enhance the dignity of this House in the eyes of the nation.  (Interruption and a voice, "Rot.")  The hon. gentleman may say "Rot."  If this hon. gentleman mixed freely with the common people as I do, he would have known their opinions on this question.  Sir, that point of view demands that a protest of some kind should be made in this House.  It is a matter of small concern to me whether the future ruler of the nation be the genuine article or a spurious imitation.  Now, Sir, this proposal has been made because a child has been born into the royal family.  We have the right to ask what particular blessing the royal family has conferred upon the nation that we should be asked to take part in the proceedings today.  We have just heard it said that Her Majesty had ruled for over half a century.  I would correct that, Sir, by saying that Her Majesty has reigned but has not ruled.  I remember, in reading about the proceedings in connection with the Jubilee, that one point made was that during the fifty years of Her Majesty's reign the Queen had not interfered in the affairs of the nation.  That may be reigning, but it is certainly not ruling.
Then, there is the Prince of Wales.  What high dignity has his Royal Highness conferred upon the nation?
Colonel SANDERSON (Armagh) - I rise, Sir, for the purpose of moving that the hon. member be no longer heard.
Sir WM. HARCOURT - I hope that the hon. and gallant member will not press his motion.  I do not think it would tend to produce the result he desires and which I think we all desire - namely, the prevention of disorder.
Mr KEIR HARDIE - I was about to observe that I know nothing in the career of the Prince of Wales which commends him especially to me.  The "fierce white light" which we are told "beats around the throne" sometimes reveals things in his career it would be better to keep covered.  Sometimes we get glimpses of the Prince at the gaming tables, sometimes on the racecourse.  His Royal Highness is Duke of Cornwall, and as such he draws £60,000 a year from the Duchy property in London, which is made up of some of the vilest slums.  (Cries of "Question.")
Mr SPEAKER - The hon. member must keep to the terms of the resolution.
Mr KEIR HARDIE - I will bow to your ruling, Sir, and proceed to the subject of the resolution.  We are asked to rejoice because this child has been born, and that one day he will be called upon to rule over this great Empire.  Up to the present time we have no means of knowing what his qualifications or fitness for that task may be.  It certainly strikes me - I do not know how it strikes others - as rather strange that those who have so much to say about the hereditary element in another place should be so willing to endorse it in this particular instance.  It seems to me that if it is a good argument to say that the hereditary element is bad in one case, it is an equally good argument to say that it is bad in the other.  FROM HIS CHILDHOOD ONWARD THIS BOY WILL BE SURROUNDED BY SYCOPHANTS AND FLATTERERS BY THE SCORE (Cries of "Oh! oh!") and will be taught to believe himself as of a superior creation.  ("Oh!" oh!")  A line will be drawn between him and the people whom he is to be called upon some day to reign over.  In due course, following the precedent which has already been set, he will be sent on a tour round the world, and probably rumours of a morganatic alliance will follow (Loud cries of "Oh!" "Order!" and "Question!"), and the end of it all will be that the country will be called upon to pay the bill.  (Cries of "Divide!")
As a matter of principle, I protest against this motion being passed, and if there is another member of the House who shares the principles I hold I will carry my protest the length of a division.  THE GOVERNMENT WILL NOT FIND AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A VOTE OF CONDOLENCE WITH THE RELATIVES OF THOSE WHO ARE LYING STIFF AND STARK IN A WELSH VALLEY, and, if that cannot be done, the motion before the House ought never to have been proposed either.  If it be for rank and title only that time and occasion can be found in this House, then the sooner that truth is known outside the better for the House itself.  I will challenge a division on the motion, and if the forms of the House will permit, I will go to a division in the hope that some members at least will enter their protest against the mummery implied in a resolution of this kind.
Mr SPEAKER - The question is that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to congratulate Her Majesty on the birth of a son to his royal Highness the Duke and her royal Highness the Duchess of York.
The putting of the question was followed by loud cries of "Aye!" from all parts of the House.  Mr Keir Hardie alone replying in the negative.  Mr Speaker declared that "I think the Ayes have it," but Mr Keir Hardie challenged the statement.  The House was cleared for a division.  On Mr Speaker again putting the question Mr Keir Hardie repeated his negative, but did not again challenge Mr Speaker's words.  "The Ayes have it."
The Address was accordingly agreed to.'
A Chamber full of deplorable crawlers of no sensibility.  Only one principled man.


  1. Thank you for this. There have been a few genuinely honourable people in the House of Commons over the years, but so few it's a tragedy.


  3. I hope people will agree with me that Jeremy Corbyn can be counted amongst those honourable people.