Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Leaflet entitled 'Socialism exposed!', 1914

image from Red Clydeside collection

From the 1880s onwards, the growing influence of organised labour and the spread of socialist ideas in general became a cause of concern for the two established political parties in Britain. However, the Liberal party and the Conservative party differed fundamentally in their approaches to meeting the challenges presented by a newly invigorated and confident Labour Movement.

On the one hand, the Liberal Party began to adopt pro-working class policies in an attempt to retain working class support. At an ideological level also, some Liberals reworked liberal doctrine into what they called 'New Liberalism' which largely abandoned the early 19th century liberal hostility towards state regulation of the economy and advocated sweeping welfare measures to solve the 'social question'. The Conservative Party's answer to the rise of organised labour was quite different, rather than attempt to accommodate working class aspirations within Conservatism they determined to combat the forces of labour, forces which they viewed as a threat to the British way of life.

The Conservative Party was confident that they could not only maintain their core vote but could increase it if they stood firm in the face of a political onslaught by trade unions and socialist parties. The Conservative Party's message emphasised that socialism was a threat to the 'British' way of life and that socialist doctrine was undemocratic, unchristian, anti-monarchy, anti-capitalist and opposed to individual freedoms and individual reward. In spreading this message the Conservatives entered a twenty year period of dominance from 1886 to 1906 and forged the crucial link between Conservatism and patriotic pride in nation and empire.

Source: McFarlane Papers, Glasgow University Special Collections