“K is for good old Keir Hardie,
Who fought out the working class fight”
So sang Alex Glasgow in the original Socialist ABC. And fight it he did. Keir Hardie was born into poverty in Lanarkshire in 1856. He started working at the age of seven and from the age of ten worked in the Lanarkshire coal mines. He led strikes before becoming a full-time union organiser of the Ayrshire Miners’ Union in his twenties.
He believed that the working class needed its own party and helped to found the Scottish Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party and the Labour Party. Hardie was briefly MP for West Ham South, but a speech attacking the monarchy contributed to his defeat in in 1895. Hardie spent the next five years as a labour movement activist. In 1900 he organised the meeting of trade unions and socialist organisations that established the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). Later that year he was elected as MP for Merthyr Tydfil and held the seat until his death in 1915.
The LRC became the Labour Party in 1906, and Keir Hardie became its leader. He stepped down in 1908 and spent his remaining years campaigning for causes like women’s suffrage, self-rule for India, and opposition to World War I. He died in 1915 while attempting to organise a pacifist general strike. Keir Hardie has been described as “Labour’s greatest pioneer and its greatest hero.”
And now we are lumbered with Keir Starmer. He has tried to burnish his working-class credentials as the son of a toolmaker, while neglecting to tell us that “my dad” owned his own toolmaking business and that Starmer’s upbringing was impeccably middle class. He went to a grammar school that went private and his fees were paid by a charitable trust. From there he went on to study law, becoming a QC, then head of the DPP, for which he received a knighthood. He became a Labour MP in 2015 and Labour leader in 2020. Since then Starmer has reneged on every one of the ten socialist pledges he made as part of his leadership campaign.
He has overseen a campaign to drive out the left from the Labour Party, withdrawing the whip from Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott amongst others. Starmer’s economic policy is indistinguishable from the Tories. He refuses to support strikes or a wealth tax. He has wrapped himself in the Union Jack and gives unconditional support to NATO and to Israel in their genocidal war against Palestine.
Keir Hardie had his faults and held some contradictory positions such as opposing immigration (“God made Scotland for Scotchmen, and I would keep it so.”) while supporting home rule for India. He opposed racial segregation in South Africa but when he visited South Africa he said, “We do not say all races are equal; no one dreams of doing that,” but went on to argue that there should be equal rights for all. He was a pacifist but once WW1 had started he did not believe it should end until Germany returned to its own borders.
But there is a crucial difference between the two Keirs. Hardie was a man of principal. His political beliefs were shaped by his roots in the working class and maintained out of conviction even when they made him unpopular. He never sold out. Starmer is an establishment figure, a scheming politician without principles. He says whatever is necessary to further his career. He lies and makes promises he has no intention of keeping. He feigned friendship with Jeremy Corbyn before betraying him. Starmer’s ambition is for himself. Kier Hardie’s ambition was to achieve peace and justice for the whole world.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Never voting Labour again.