Labour History Review

The Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921: The Response of the British Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour Press

Labour History Review (2011), 76, (1), 1–15.

Abstract

The British Labour Party became increasingly aware after the First World War that it was potentially a government in waiting. In opposition the party was generally supportive of Irish nationalism. It supported Home Rule and was adamantly opposed to the partition of Ireland contained in the 1920 Government of Ireland Bill. Despite the fact that the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 was inconsistent with Labour Party Irish policy, cementing as it did the partition of Ireland as well as hardly being an exercise in 'self-determination', both Labour MPs in the debate on the Treaty as well as the Labour press supported the Treaty as it offered a way out of the Irish imbroglio and a return to rational class-based politics. The overriding concern of, in particular, the parliamentary leadership of the Labour Party by now was to prove to the British electorate that it could be as protective of British state interests as its rivals. The article argues that this pragmatic about-turn was adopted as many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in particular were acutely aware that the party needed to be seen as patriotic, moderate, and responsible if it was to stand any chance of being elected to power. The article traces this reversal in policy by reference to contemporary parliamentary debates as well as through the columns of the contemporary Labour press.

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Author details

Gibbons, Ivan