January’s Artwork of the Month, a portrait of James Keir Hardie MP (1856-1915), marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Independent Labour Party (14 January 1893) and the election of Hardie as its first Chairman.
The portrait was painted by the Scottish artist Henry John Dobson (1858-1928) in 1892, the year that Hardie first entered Parliament (as an independent MP for West Ham).
It shows Hardie in a cap, tweed jacket and red tie. A Scottish socialist and trade unionist, Hardie believed that a ‘working man in Parliament should go to the House of Commons in his workday clothes’. This contrasted with the frock coat and top hat favoured by the majority of MPs at the time.
Possibly commissioned by Hardie himself, the portrait was presented to the House of Commons in 1955 by Hardie’s son-in-law, Emrys Hughes MP.
Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party
In 1893 - the year after he first entered Parliament - Hardie helped found the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and was elected its first Chairman.
A left-wing political party, the ILP’s main aim was ‘to secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’.
Although the ILP’s membership quickly grew, none of its candidates, including Hardie, won a seat in the 1895 General Election.
To improve left-wing candidates’ chances, in 1900 Hardie and the ILP cooperated with the Trades Union Congress to establish the Labour Representation Committee, which in 1906 became the Labour Party.
The ILP affiliated itself with the Labour Party and between 1906 and 1908 Hardie - who sat as MP for Merthyr Tydfil from 1900 until his death in 1915 - served as Labour’s first Leader.
After 1908, Hardie focused on campaigning for progressive causes including votes for women and self-rule in India. A committed pacifist, he supported conscientious objectors in the First World War and addressed anti-war demonstrations.
The ILP continued to play an important role in the Labour Party - including in the first Labour governments in the 1920s - until it disaffiliated over policy differences in 1932. By 1947, defeat and defection had resulted in the ILP losing all of its MPs.
In the 1970s the ILP became a pressure group within the Labour Party, renaming itself Independent Labour Publications.
Image: Detail of 'James Keir Hardie' by Henry John Dobson, oil on canvas, 1892 (Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 2930)