Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Sign in to follow this  
MichaelBully

MPs opposing Britain's entry into the Great War

Recommended Posts

MichaelBully

I am trying to find a list of MPs who initially spoke out against Britain's entry into the Great War . Can anyone help ? I can think of Philip Snowden, Ramsay MacDonald, and Arthur Henderson, but not any others. Thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
clive_hughes

How about Keir Hardie?

LST_164

Edited - misspelt even that simple name!!

Edited by LST_164

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
PhilB

Was there a vote?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MichaelBully

Thanks for all the replies guys.

Yes should have remembered Keir Hardie, and of course Arthur Ponsonby who wrote 'Falsehood in War-Time' in 1929, one of the most scathing attacks on Britain's participation in the Great War.

Was there a vote? My understanding was that the cabinet was making all the decisions concerning Britain's entry into the war during 1st August -4th Agusut 1914 rather than a full vote in the Houses of Parliaments, but event were moving so quickly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MichaelBully

From further reading it seems that 3 cabinet ministers-who were in favour of British neutrality- resigned during the British Cabinet deliberations of 1st-4th August 1914. They were John Elliott Burns (President of the Board of Trade), Sir Charles Trevelyan (Education Secretary) and John Viscount Morley.

From my understanding there were nineteen members of the cabinet at the time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion

Constitutionally it was the King who made the declaration, advised by his ministers to do so. There was no provision for parliament to vote on the issue (and no legal need for them to do so). I cannot see either the governing party nor the official opposition moving such a vote and I don't think that the Independent Labour Party was in sufficient numbers to do so.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MichaelBully
Constitutionally it was the King who made the declaration, advised by his ministers to do so. There was no provision for parliament to vote on the issue (and no legal need for them to do so). I cannot see either the governing party nor the official opposition moving such a vote and I don't think that the Independent Labour Party was in sufficient numbers to do so.

The British Parliament passed the Defence of the Realm Act DORA in the first week of the Great War which gave all sorts of extra powers to the authorities -so I think that it can be concluded that had Parliament had time and opportunity to discuss the issue, they would have been given their assent.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion

DORA was not discussed - there was no debate and as far as I can tell no reading. Having once done a six week consultancy job looking at the admin processes in the Palace of Westminster and knowing all the paper and printing that has to be done before a new law can be promulgated I can only assume that DORA had been prepared and ready to go some time before the outbreak of war.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MichaelBully
DORA was not discussed - there was no debate and as far as I can tell no reading. Having once done a six week consultancy job looking at the admin processes in the Palace of Westminster and knowing all the paper and printing that has to be done before a new law can be promulgated I can only assume that DORA had been prepared and ready to go some time before the outbreak of war.

Yes agreed : I have wondered when DORA was actually prepared, it must have been a long time beforehand. When I wrote " that had Parliament had time and opportunity to discuss the issue " the issue here referred to was Britain's entry into the Great War.

I didn't mean to suggest that DORA was debated point by point in Parliament .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
keithmroberts

Fred Jowett the ILP member for Bradford North was opposed to the war. I am in Ypres today but have a postcard with his image at home if that is of interest.

Keith

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chris_Baker

You could read the debates as published in Hansard. Click on each date in turn: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/sittings/1914/jul

My Wedgwood's statement on 3 August, for example:

"I represent, in this House, some 70,000 people in the Potteries, and I think it is about time we here considered what those people are going to endure during the coming months. The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench told us in his wonderful Jingo speech—can anybody deny that it was a Jingo speech 1—that the Army and Navy were ready, to the last trouser button, to do their duty. But he did not tell us that the Local Government Board of England was ready to do its duty. He indicated that this country would suffer as much if it went to war as if it did not go to war; that the destitution, the collapse of our trade and credit would be equally bad whether we went to war or not, therefore, why not go to war? He did not indicate that in this country we should spend hundreds of millions of pounds, which otherwise might have gone to tide our people over the awful time to come. Perhaps hon. Members have not conceived what is going to happen during the next fortnight—orders cancelled, no remittances coming in, men sacked by the hundred thousand or the million from their employment, people getting payment with paper and unable to buy provisions at an already rising price. What arrangements have the Government made for storing provisions in this country? They have made arrangements for looking after the armament firms, but what about the people who are stopping at home, the people who are going to suffer starvation, who, in the final resort, are going to raid the country and take food if they cannot get it otherwise? They are not being considered. Those are the people we are here to consider. I think hon. Members must realise that this is not going to be one of the dear old-fashioned wars of the eighteenth century over again. This is a war in which it is not going to be a question of feeding your armies, but of feeding the people left behind, in which it is not a question of victories at sea, but whether you can get employment for the people who are starving in our big cities. It is a question whether you are going to destroy the civilisation built up on a vast organisation and on a small pin-point of credit".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Martin Bennitt
From further reading it seems that 3 cabinet ministers-who were in favour of British neutrality- resigned during the British Cabinet deliberations of 1st-4th August 1914. They were John Elliott Burns (President of the Board of Trade), Sir Charles Trevelyan (Education Secretary) and John Viscount Morley.

From my understanding there were nineteen members of the cabinet at the time.

It seems that four cabinet ministers informed Asquith they would resign over the war. These three did but one did not. He was David Lloyd George

Another MP who spoke against the war was Philip Morrell, husband of Lady Ottoline, who made their home Garsington Manor a refuge for conscientious objectors, notably those linked to the Bloomsbury Group

cheers Martin B

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MichaelBully
It seems that four cabinet ministers informed Asquith they would resign over the war. These three did but one did not. He was David Lloyd George

Another MP who spoke against the war was Philip Morrell, husband of Lady Ottoline, who made their home Garsington Manor a refuge for conscientious objectors, notably those linked to the Bloomsbury Group

cheers Martin B

Thanks again guys for all the responses

Keith: Appreciate mention of Fred Jowett, someone else I need to add to my list. A pic of him would be welcome -thanks.

Chris - Grateful for the quote and also link to 'Hansard' , I have been reading some of the entries for August 1914, interesting to see the issues which became a matter of priority . But so far I haven't found much opposition recorded concerning MPs about going to war.

Martin- Interesting point about David Lloyd George's possible misgivings about the war even at such a late hour : I have had a look at Lloyd Geroge's 'War Memoirs' and found the section 'No Cabinet Consideration of Foreign Policy' particularly fascinating. Starting with

"During the eight years that preceded the war, the Cabinet devoted a ridculously small percentage of its time to a consideration of foreign affairs."

He seemed to suggest that only the ministers who attended the Committee of Imperial Defence had a knowledge of "certain aspects " of Britain's policy. Thank you also for the tip about Philip Morell and Garsington Manor.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DavidMillichope

There's a fair chance you'll find all the Ind Labour MPs were not supporters of the war, but their degree of active opposition probably varied. There were , I think, 42 of them in 1914. In my own home town of Halifax, James Parker (IL) wrote a lengthy letter to the Halifax weekly Courier deploring the 'blood lust" that had 'gripped the people" on the outbreak of war .This was all pre-DORA.

How Britain went to war is even more fascinating than why. You are quite right that there was no parliamentary debate or vote. The interesting thing is that there was, arguably, no proper cabinet vote either. The man who took us to war was the foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. He and the Foreign Office had pursued an anti-German policy for years. He was no warmonger but quite rightly recognised that France must not be allowed to be crushed by Germany in a general European war. Support for this policy meant only one thing; Britain had to intervene if a general European war broke out. The problem for his 'war policy' was that he knew he had neither the majority support of the Liberal cabinet nor of the parliamentary Liberal MPs ( there is little doubt he did not have the support of the labour MPs but they numbered only about 42) He had to pursue his pro-French diplomacy without a mandate.

Cabinet meetings were not minuted in 1914 so we cannot be absolutely sure what transpired in the crucial meetings that led to Britain's commitment immediately before 4 August. Research suggests that in the final days of peace Grey dragged the cabinet into a vaguely anti-German position by a combination of his threatened resignation, the white lie that the Royal Navy was committed to assist France in the Channel, a threat that the Liberal government might fall, and some clever vote splitting. They agreed that the Royal Navy would intervene on the side of France if Germany attempted a naval attack on the coast of Northern France. In the event the German ultimatum to Belgium did all that Grey needed to rally both Cabinet and Parliament behind his policy. Grey and Asquith then penned the British ultimatum to Germany but I don't think that the Cabinet actually voted on this. Once Germany refused to comply with the terms of the British ultimatum, the two countries were at war. It was still several days before the Cabinet took the final logical step and sanctioned the dispatch of the BEF to the continental.

Cheers

Dave M

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion
  How Britain went to war is even more fascinating than why. You are quite right that there was no parliamentary debate or vote. The interesting thing is that there was, arguably, no proper cabinet vote either. The man who took us to war was the foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. He and the Foreign Office had pursued an anti-German policy for years. He was no warmonger but quite rightly recognised that France must not be allowed to be crushed by Germany in a general European war. Support for this policy meant only one thing; Britain had to intervene if a general European war broke out. 

In fact from a purely legal perspective Britain had no choice but to go to war once Belgium was invaded. Various treaties  with countries other than Belgium (including the one in 1870 with Prussia representing a German confederation) made this explicit. An Attorney General, if asked, could have argued that it was illegal not to have gone to war. 'The past is another country they did things differently there'

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MichaelBully
There's a fair chance you'll find all the Ind Labour MPs were not supporters of the war, but their degree of active opposition probably varied. There were , I think, 42 of them in 1914. In my own home town of Halifax, James Parker (IL) wrote a lengthy letter to the Halifax weekly Courier deploring the 'blood lust" that had 'gripped the people" on the outbreak of war .This was all pre-DORA.

How Britain went to war is even more fascinating than why. You are quite right that there was no parliamentary debate or vote. The interesting thing is that there was, arguably, no proper cabinet vote either. The man who took us to war was the foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. He and the Foreign Office had pursued an anti-German policy for years. He was no warmonger but quite rightly recognised that France must not be allowed to be crushed by Germany in a general European war. Support for this policy meant only one thing; Britain had to intervene if a general European war broke out. The problem for his 'war policy' was that he knew he had neither the majority support of the Liberal cabinet nor of the parliamentary Liberal MPs ( there is little doubt he did not have the support of the Independent labour MPs but they numbered only about 42) He had to pursue his pro-French diplomacy without a mandate.

Cabinet meetings were not minuted in 1914 so we cannot be absolutely sure what transpired in the crucial meetings that led to Britain's commitment immediately before 4 August. Research suggests that in the final days of peace Grey dragged the cabinet into a vaguely anti-German position by a combination of his threatened resignation, the white lie that the Royal Navy was committed to assist France in the Channel, a threat that the Liberal government might fall, and some clever vote splitting. They agreed that the Royal Navy would intervene on the side of France if Germany attempted a naval attack on the coast of Northern France. In the event the German ultimatum to Belgium did all that Grey needed to rally both Cabinet and Parliament behind his policy. Grey and Asquith then penned the British ultimatum to Germany but I don't think that the Cabinet actually voted on this. Once Germany refused to comply with the terms of the British ultimatum, the two countries were at war. It was still several days before the Cabinet took the final logical step and sanctioned the dispatch of the BEF to the continental.

Cheers

Dave M

Some very helpful points there, thanks Dave M. It is fascinating to see how the decision to go to war seems to have been taken by very few individuals. Obviously events were moving fast in Europe. I have been reading the Dutch historian J.H.J. Andriessen's book 'De Andere Waarheid' ( 'The Other Truth' ) and have been translating his comments on French politics at the time. His case is that the intrigues of French Foreign policy, particularly from 1893- 1914 , involved very a small elite group of politicians, and Foreign Policy was not really discussed openly, and most politicians were not taking part in any debate . I haven't got to the section on Britain yet but looks like Lord Grey features a great deal.

From my general reading, I understand that the cabinet were convenining at the time to discuss a possible crisis in Ulster, but then the growing crisis in Europe took over.

I will try to find the text of the James Parker letter on line, sounds interesting.

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DavidMillichope

Sorry, Michael I've just been checking the background on the Labour party MPs ( on Wiki) and it seems I've not given you an accurate picture. There were 42 Labour MPs and 4 Independant Labour MPs. The ILP was a more radical organisation and ideologically pacifist. It was affiliated to the Labour Party. The ILP did not support the recruiting campaign whereas the Labour Party did.

It seems that James Parker was a Labour MP and not an ILP MP. He was therefore not a radical.

If you can give me an email address I can send you the part of the local newspaper that contains his letter. I think the interesting thing is the many shades of opinion amongst "socialists" in general. His observations about "blood lust" actually strikes a sensible note to modern ears. He apparently took issue with the ILP for failing to support the recruiting campaign.

Cheers

Dave M

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DavidMillichope

Ramsay Macdonald (ILP)

He was one of the the few voices who spoke against Grey after his famous speech to the House on Aug 3.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MichaelBully
Sorry, Michael I've just been checking the background on the Labour party MPs ( on Wiki) and it seems I've not given you an accurate picture. There were 42 Labour MPs and 4 Independant Labour MPs. The ILP was a more radical organisation and ideologically pacifist. It was affiliated to the Labour Party. The ILP did not support the recruiting campaign whereas the Labour Party did.

It seems that James Parker was a Labour MP and not an ILP MP. He was therefore not a radical.

If you can give me an email address I can send you the part of the local newspaper that contains his letter. I think the interesting thing is the many shades of opinion amongst "socialists" in general. His observations about "blood lust" actually strikes a sensible note to modern ears. He apparently took issue with the ILP for failing to support the recruiting campaign.

Cheers

Dave M

Thanks for the revised information Dave M and the James Parker letter would be appreciated. My E mail address is Infernus9@aol.com

With best wishes

Michael

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MichaelBully
Ramsay Macdonald (ILP)

He was one of the the few voices who spoke against Grey after his famous speech to the House on Aug 3.

Hello Dave M, yes I had Ramsay Macdonald on my list on the first post in this thread. I will have to do far more research concerning the ILP, also have been wondering if there were MPs who were opposed to Britain being involved in the Great War on religious grounds, rather than out of Socialist or Liberal principles. Also if there were any Conservative MPs who were opposed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
truthergw
Some very helpful points there, thanks Dave M. It is fascinating to see how the decision to go to war seems to have been taken by very few individuals. Obviously events were moving fast in Europe. I have been reading the Dutch historian J.H.J. Andriessen's book 'De Andere Waarheid' ( 'The Other Truth' ) and have been translating his comments on French politics at the time. His case is that the intrigues of French Foreign policy, particularly from 1893- 1914 , involved very a small elite group of politicians, and Foreign Policy was not really discussed openly, and most politicians were not taking part in any debate . I haven't got to the section on Britain yet but looks like Lord Grey features a great deal.

From my general reading, I understand that the cabinet were convenining at the time to discuss a possible crisis in Ulster, but then the growing crisis in Europe took over.

I will try to find the text of the James Parker letter on line, sounds interesting.

Michael

A very interesting thread and I look forward to more discussion. As far as the decision to go to war being made by very few, I would just observe that Britain is a parliamentary democracy but at that time, that meant cabinet government. The country was governed by the Prime Minister and the relevant member/s of the cabinet. A decision which did not receive the approval of the cabinet, could be referred to the house of commons who could also register disapproval of decisions taken. Cabinet government is signalled by the fact that an MP at the time, on appointment to the cabinet, had to stand for re-election in his constituency. There is much more appeal made to the House now. The doctrine of cabinet responsibility meant that cabinet members were bound by cabinet decisions. Disagreement was signalled by resignation. There was no way a member could have a deep disagreement with policy and remain a member. Fundamental disagreement would lead to a split with some of the cabinet resigning. If enough resigned then this would normally signal a general election.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
centurion
 Cabinet government is signalled by the fact that an MP at the time, on appointment to the cabinet, had to stand for re-election in his constituency.

That was certainly the case in Canada at least until the 1930s but do not think it applied in Britain. I don't think Churchill stood for re election, nor Disraeli before him. In any case many cabinet appointees were in the Lords.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
keithmroberts

Michael

If you want a scan of the Jowett pic send me a pm with an email address.

Keith

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
truthergw
That was certainly the case in Canada at least until the 1930s but do not think it applied in Britain. I don't think Churchill stood for re election, nor Disraeli before him. In any case many cabinet appointees were in the Lords.

Churchill did and was delighted to increase his majority. His post war defeat came as a great shock to him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...