is just over a century since the Labour Party first achieved
parliamentary representation in the area which is now covered by our
1909 our current Labour Party branches were spread amongst no less than
three separate Parliamentary Divisions. Dramatically in that year and
without a General Election being held, all three seats went to Labour.
was all due to the role of the Miners’ Union. 1909 was the year in
which they first affiliated to the Labour Party, following a national
statues can be seen outside the former Miners’ Offices on Saltergate in
Chesterfield. One of these is of James Haslam who was Secretary of the
Derbyshire Miners. The other is William Harvey who was their Financial
and Corresponding Secretary.
two were known as the “twin pillars” of the Derbyshire Miners’ Union
and they became MPs. Haslam was first elected in 1906 and Harvey in a
by-election the following year. Yet they were elected with the support
of the Liberal Party and were known as Lib-Lab MPs.
was when the Miners’ Union moved into the Labour Party that they broke
their links with the Liberals and joined the Parliamentary Labour Party
where they played prominent roles. They both stood successfully in the
two General Elections of 1910 as Labour candidates.
Haslam was the MP for Chesterfield, which at that time covered the area
of our current branches at Clay Cross, Tupton, Grassmoor, West and
Holmewood. William Harvey was the MP for a seat called North Eastern Derbyshire which included Dronfield, Eckington. Killamarsh and North Staveley.
Wingfield was part of a further constituency called Mid-Derbyshire. It
also went Labour in 1909 when a by-election was held. In the days in
which MPs weren’t paid, the Derbyshire Miners could not afford to run a
third candidate, so the Nottinghamshire Miners stepped in and ran their
Agent as the Labour candidate.
He was George Hancock, who was the first miner in England ever to be elected as
a Labour MP. For he had not emerged via the Lib-Lab avenue. The
legendary Labour leader Keir Hardie canvassed in the by-election.
Harvey and Hancock set a tradition going, which has led to the bits and
pieces which came together as NE Derbyshire all being represented by
Labour for a minimum of 88 years out of the past century.
The next time you get a chance; have a look at the two statues outside the former Miners' Offices at Saltergate in Chesterfield.
one on your right is that of James Haslam. He was born in Clay Cross in
1842, the youngest of 10 children and he started work there on the pit
brow when he was ten years old, working 12 hours a day. He became the
Secretary of the Derbyshire Miners' Association (DMA) when it broke away
from the South Yorkshire Miners' Association in 1880 and helped to
build it up into a powerful organisation. He became the MP for
Chesterfield in 1906 which in those days also covered the areas of our
current Branches at Clay Cross, Grassmoor, Holmewood, Tupton and
West. He died in 1913. During his time as MP he continued to hold his
post with the DMA, for MPs were not paid until 1911 and then only
statue on you left is that of William Edwin Harvey, who had a similar
background to Haslam. He was born in 1852 in Hasland and went to work
at a pit at Grassmoor when he was ten. Both Harvey and Haslam worked
closely together on trade union matters and were also both active as
Primitive Methodists. Harvey became MP for what was then known as North
Eastern Derbyshire at a by-election in 1907 and held the position until
his death in 1914. He held various posts with the DMA such as Treasurer,
Assistant Secretary and finally the joint positions of Financial and
Corresponding Secretary. His seat included the areas of our current
Staveley, Killamarsh, Eckington and Dronfield Branches.
and Harvey were known as the "twin pillars" of the DMA. They were both
elected initially as LIb-Labs (i.e. as labouring people who were trade
unionists but obtained organisational and financial backing from the
Liberal Party). But the DMA was by that time affiliated to the Miners
Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) who in 1908 held a ballot on whether
to affiliate to the recently established Labour Party. When the Miners
voted to do this, Haslam and Harvey then moved over to become Labour
MPs, winning their seats under that label in two subsequent General
Elections that were held in 1910.
James Haslam MP
William Harvey MP
They were also prominent figures in both the MFGB at national level and the Trade Union Congress.
you wish to find out more about Haslam and Harvey, the best source of
information is contained in a book entitled "The Derbyshire Miners" by
J.E. Williams, published by George Allen and Unwin in 1962. As it is
993 pages long, your best bet would be to borrow it from your local
library. If they don't have it they can easily get hold of a copy for
you. It has a full index which can be used to sort out the best
references to Haslam and Harvey. At page 320 there is a photograph of
the unveiling of the two statues outside the Miners' Offices on 26 June,
1915 - although the huge crowd is easier to see in the photo than are
what were then two very new white statues.
numbers of years prior to 1918, the current territory covered by the NE
Derbyshire Constituency formed parts of three different Parliamentary
seats. I explained in an earlier article how these all came under
Labour control in 1909. Yet by 1915 Labour had lost control of all of
of all, James Haslam the Labour MP for Chesterfield died in 1913. The
Derbyshire Miners selected Barnet Kenyon to stand in his place. He had
held posts as President, Assistant Secretary and General Agent for the
Derbyshire Miners’ Association. But because of his close links with the
Liberal Party both the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party
and the Miners‘ Federation of Great Britain refused to endorse him as a
candidate. The Miners spending a whole day discussing the issue at their
national conference. Kenyon was, however, elected unopposed at the
bye-election. At that time Clay Cross and much of the area around it
(apart from North Wingfield) formed part of the Chesterfield seat.
1914, William Harvey the MP for North Eastern Derbyshire (which covered
Dronfield and surrounding areas) also died. Labour ran James Martin as
their candidate in this bye-election. He was President of the Derbyshire
Miners at the time. Yet he finished bottom of the poll in a three
cornered fight. The reasons for this were (1) the Liberals split the
anti-Tory vote by running a candidate for the first time since 1907, (2)
the miners themselves were being offered conflicting patterns in the
area by the Liberal Kenyon and Labour’s Martin, (3) with the first
world war starting in1914, patriotism was to the fore and the seat was
won by the Conservative Major Bowden who had a majority of 314 over the
Liberal and (4) Labour had little organisation and had previously
depended upon the personality and prominence of the late William Harvey.
After a defeat in which Labour obtained less then 27% of the vote,
Labour quickly set up a constituency-style organisation. This was
something of a pioneering move as the Labour Party nationally did not
set up its general constituency structure until 1918.
seat which was lost was Mid-Derbyshire which covered North Wingfield.
George Hancock of the Nottinghamshire Miners was their MP. But in 1915
he defected to the Liberal Party. Although Kenyon remained as MP for
Chesterfield until 1929, it was Labour who started to dominate the
political scene in the area covered by our current constituency. This
was helped by boundary changes in 1918. Our area came to be divided
between what was to be the solid Labour seat of Clay Cross (which then
included North Wingfield) and a redrawn North Eastern Derbyshire which
was taken again by Labour in the 1922 General Election in dramatic
burst onto the local political scene in 1909 when the Derbyshire
Miners’ Association (DMA) joined the Labour Party and the three
parliamentary seats which cut into the current boundaries of NE
Derbyshire each acquired a Labour MP. Yet due to two deaths and a
defection, Labour had lost all three seats by 1915 and it was not until
1922 that it was again successful.
parliamentary boundaries and the first votes for women were introduced
in 1918. The three seats which cut into our current Constituency
Boundaries were then Chesterfield, North Eastern Derbyshire and Clay
1929, the Chesterfield Constituency (which included the arrears of our
current West Branch, Grassmoor and New Whittington) underwent one of its
periods of Liberal control. This occurred because their MP Barnet
Kenyon defected to the Liberals, although he had been a leader of the
Clay Cross Constituency contained an area dominated by pits, including
North Wingfield, Tupton, Holmewood, Pilsley, Stonebroom and Clay Cross
itself. Frank Hall of the DMA stood in 1918, taking 45.9% of the vote.
He lost due to the fact that the Tories united behind a Liberal
Coalition candidate who supported the continuation of the Lloyd George
Coalition after the war. A victorious Coalition which came to be
dominated by Conservatives.
however, took the seat in 1922 and it became one of the strongest
Labour seats in the country until its abolition in 1950. When Labour
suffered a massive collapse in 1931 following the economic crisis and
Ramsay MacDonald its leader defecting to form a National Government,
Labour still held Clay Cross by 9,552. This was a considerable majority
as the Labour Party nationally lost no less than 236 out of 288 seats.
this period, North East Derbyshire incorporated Dronfield, Eckington,
Killamarsh and Staveley. It also spread over into Clowne, Barlborough,
Bolsover and areas which were later moved into Sheffield. In dramatic
circumstances it went Labour in 1922. The Labour candidate Frank Lee was
an official of the DMA. He failed narrowly to take the seat in 1918,
when he stood as one of the early advocates of the nationalisation of
the coal industry.
contest of 1922 could not have been closer. Recounts took place. On the
second count Labour’s majority was two. After the sixth recount, the
boxes were sealed and. fresh counting clerks were employed. This still
did not resolve the matter. As there was still no agreement about the
result, it went before the King’s Bench Division of the Courts. Lee was
belatedly declared the winner by 15 votes and entered the Commons five
months after the count.
all Frank Lee fought 7 General Elections for Labour, losing in 1918 and
again in 1931. He served a total of 16 years as an MP until his death
in 1942. When Chesterfield finally returned to Labour in 1929 with the
election of George Benson he went on to serve as their MP for a total of
no less than 31 years in spite of his defeat in 1931.
Clay Cross Parliamentary Constituency operated from 1918 and ended with
the 1950 General Election. It covered Clay Cross, Tupton and North
Wingfield in our current Constituency, plus areas in an around
Holmewood, Glapwell, Shirebrook and Stonebroom. Mining abounded.
although the Constituency Labour Party was dominated by the miners’
vote, out of the six different Labour candidates it ran for parliament
at various elections only two of these were miners. This showed an
independence of mind by local miners from the pressures of the
leadership of the Derbyshire Miners which was aided by the influences of
Methodism and mobilised socialist views. The later coming from the
local influence of bodies such as the left-wing Independent Labour
Party, which only ended with its disaffiliation from Labour in 1932.
The seat also became rock-solid Labour, so it attracted the interest of leading Labour figures at national level.
the first election of 1918 followed a conventional pattern for the
area. Fred Hall, the Labour candidate was a leading official of the
Derbyshire Miners Federation who eventually served on the Federation’s
national executive committee for 29 years. He was, however, the only
Labour candidate who failed to win the seat. He lost by 1,221 to a
Liberal who had Conservative backing. A year after the Russian
Revolution, they wanted to keep out what they saw as Bolsheviks.
Fred Hall dropped out of standing for the seat just prior to the 1922
General Election, Charlie Duncan was selected in his place. He had
helped to found the Workers’ Union who had been involved in the birth of
the Labour Party and which represented unskilled workers. He had
previously had a spell as the Labour MP for Barrow and had served as
both Whip and Secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
won the elections in Clay Cross in 1922, 1923, 1924, 1929 and 1931. His
final success revealed how Labour had built up the seat. The 1931
election was held following the collapse of the minority Labour
Government in the middle of a major financial crisis, with Ramsay
MacDonald its leader defecting to run a National Government. Labour’s
position at the subsequent General Election collapsed from 288 to 52
seats, yet Labour held Clay Cross by almost 10,000 votes.
Charlie Duncan died in 1933, Clay Cross adopted Arthur Henderson as
their candidate. Known as “Uncle Arthur” he is a huge figure in the
early history of the Labour Party. He was leader of the Labour Party
from 1908 to 1910 (with another spell at the start of the First World
War). He served as Labour’s first Cabinet Minister in First World War
Coalitions from 1915 to 1917. He helped shape the pre-Blairite structure
of the Labour Party as General Secretary of the Labour Party, a post he
held from 1912 to 1935. He was Home Secretary in the first Minority
Labour Government of 1924 and Foreign Secretary from 1929-31. When
MacDonald defected he took over as temporary leader until 1932, but gave
up the position because he had by then lost his parliamentary seat.
Clay Cross provided his avenue back into Labour’s parliamentary
the by-election one of his opponents was Harry Pollitt the General
Secretary of the Communist Party who lost his deposit with 10.8% of the
votes to Henderson’s 69.3%.
MP for Clay Cross, Henderson went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize
and was held in high regard as “no-one ever sought his help in vain*”.
He died in 1935.
the subsequent General election, Clay Cross ran the 35 year old Alfred
Holland a local Methodist. But within 10 months he was stricken with
spinal meningitis and died shortly afterwards.
by-election in 1936 led to the Clay Cross Labour Party running its
fourth candidate in five years. George Ridley had been on the Executive
of the Railway Clerk’s Association since 1909. He was seen as “becoming
the Labour Party’s leading pamphleteer*”. In 1944 he also died whilst
still an MP.
26 years, Clay Cross once more adopted a Derbyshire Miners’ Candidate
in Harold Neal the area’s Vice President, who went on to become
Secretary of the Miners’ group of MPs in parliament. There was a
war-time pact amongst Churchill’s War-time Coalition Government at the
time, so only two independent candidates stood against Neal. One ran as a
“Workers Anti-Fascist” and the other as an “Independent Progressive”.
Neal got 76.3% of the votes. When the war ended, he improved his
position by taking 82.1% of the votes in opposition to a Conservative.
the boundaries were redrawn and the Clay Cross seat was absorbed into
other areas, Harold Neal became the Labour MP for Bolsover. He had a
period as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fuel and Power in
1951 and retired as MP in 1970 to be replaced by Dennis Skinner who was
the Chair of NE Derbyshire Labour Party in the period up to then, being a
member of the Clay Cross Labour Party.
souvenir brochure published by the Clay Cross Divisional Labour Party
in 1948 pointed out Labour’s dominance in the area, stating that there
were “46 Local Government Seats (exclusive of Parish Councils) within
the Constituency : of these 40 are held by Labour members. In addition,
there are 16 Parish Councils : in the majority of cases we have 100 per
cent representation”. ( * = The two earlier quotations are also taken from this invaluable source).
1918 to 1950 our corner of Derbyshire contained three parliamentary
seats; two of these differed considerably from the current structures.
The seat that we would still recognise is that of Chesterfield, which
was based on its municipality although it also lapped beyond this.
of the seats was the Clay Cross Division which (as described in my
previous article) was powerfully held by Labour from 1922 onwards. In
fact it was one of the strongest Labour seats in the country and was
held comfortably even in 1931 although the Labour vote then collapsed
Next in Labour’s mining strength came what was known as the North Eastern
Derbyshire Division. It included what is now the northern section of
the Bolsover District centred on Clowne, much of Staveley, areas later
transferred to Sheffield such as Beighton and Dore, plus Dronfield,
Eckington and Killamarsh. This was also mainly mining territory (but not
exclusively so). Labour gained the seat by only 15 votes in 1922,
losing it afterwards only in the 1931 collapse.
the Chesterfield Division took in mining territory such as Grassmoor
and Arkwright and housed the offices of the Derbyshire Miners, its
municipal character plus its business and commercial elements and its
engineering works supplied it with countervailing tenancies to the solid
have previously explained how Barnet Keynon although emerging as an
official of the Derbyshire Miners Association took the seat for the
Liberals in 1918, 1922, 1923 and 1924. It was only when he retired in
1929 that Labour took the seat under George Benson. Yet the seat was
again lost in the collapse of 1931, returning to Labour from 1935.
Labour links with MPs who came from the mining industry were sparse.
James Haslam fitted the category between 1909 and 1913. The next person
to meet the criteria was Eric Varley much later in 1964.
Clay Cross Constituency, the old North Eastern Derbyshire Constituency
and a more recognisable Chesterfield Constituency, all existed alongside
each other from 1918 to 1950. It was a period of great political
change and social turmoil.
The 1918 Election took place just
after the end of the First World War in which many local people had
fought, including those under conscription which had extended to Coal
Miners. The election took place following the operation of a post-war
Coalition in which Labour had been involved. The Liberals and
Conservatives, however, attempted to keep their relationship going when
the war ended. In the bulk of seats, they did not run candidates against
each other. Lloyd George as Prime Minister and a Liberal was the main
architect of the move.
Although the deal between the Liberals
and the Conservatives worked in the short run and they were back in
Government, it eventually aided social forces through which Labour was
coming to be seen as the alternative to the Conservatives. It was the
start of a steep decline in support for the Liberal Party. It has some
lessons for the current Con-Dem Coalition.
The social tension of
the time was seen in two huge strikes in the Coal Industry in 1921 and
1926. The latter being linked to the General Strike, but which went well
beyond it. Labour had electoral victories a few years after both of
these strikes. In 1924 they formed the first minority Labour Government.
It produced what became known as the Wheatley Housing Legislation which
enabled Labour Local Authorities in particular to build Council Housing
Estates - a massive housing improvement for many. Then a minority
Labour Government operated from 1929 to 1931.
Government was hit by the international financial crisis. Ramsay
MacDonald was Prime Minister during the time of both these Minority
Labour Governments, but he moved from the Labour Party with a small band
of defectors in 1931 to set up a coalition Government (known as the
National Government) with the Conservatives and a section of the divided
Liberal Party. Once more an election was soon called and "National"
candidates from the Conservatives, elements of the split Liberal Party
and the small group of "National Labour" won a massive victory. But
although Labour lost huge numbers of seats (but not Clay Cross), they
started the recovery in the 1935 election - including in our wider area.
the experiences of the Second World War and a widespread determination
not to return to the poverty, unemployment and depression of the
inter-war years, Labour won the 1945 election under Clem Attlee with a
huge majority of 147. All three of our local seats returned solid Labour
majorities. Although Labour achieved the establishment of a Welfare
State with a National Health Service, a public ownership programme with
major significance locally because of the Nationalisation of the Coal
Mines in 1947, plus an era of full employment and fair-shares for all;
its majority in the 1950 election dropped to only 5.
in 1950 was fought under a new local constituency structure. Clay Cross
and the old North Eastern Derbyshire being replaced by Bolsover and a
new North East Derbyshire which formed the basis of our current
constituency set-up. The later formed a familiar "C" shape around
Chesterfield. There have been many chops and changes since to Bolsover,
NE Derbyshire and Chesterfield, but the only major area to be lost from
their common external boundaries was an area transferred from NE
Derbyshire to Sheffield in 1970. In 1950 Labour recorded huge
majorities in the three seats in the area - 25,833 in Bolsover, 16,683
in Chesterfield and 16,457 in NE Derbyshire. The combined majority was
nearly some 59,000 and almost 9,000 greater than the total in 1945. This
is partly explained by the fact that the 1945 election wasn't fought on
an up-to-date register.
The huge dominance of Labour in our area at
the time arises from the dominance of mining communities and the
collective spirit they generated around 1950.
1918 to 1950 three seats ran roughly from east to west across our area.
NE Derbyshire to the north, Chesterfield in the centre and the Clay
Cross Constituency to the south.
1950 General Election was, however, fought on new parliamentary
boundaries which we would recognise today. The Bolsover Constituency was
established and the Clay Cross seat was disbanded. North East
Derbyshire (rather than the “Eastern” variety) came into existence. Clay
Cross with Tupton and North Wingfield (also taken from the Clay Cross
Division) become part of the newly structured NED Seat whose boundaries
were initially similar to those of the current NE Derbyshire District
Council area and included places such as Stonebroom.
the 1950 Election, Labour easily took all three of the new seats.
Harold Neal the former Clay Cross MP won the Bolsover seat by 25,833.
Harry White moved from the old NED seat to the new one, with a majority
of 16,451. Whilst George Benson carried on at Chesterfield with a
majority of 16, 683. The late Bas Barker who will be remembered by many
of us for his work in the Trade Union Movement and then with Pensioners,
taking only 554 votes for the Communist Party. Benson also had had a
left-wing background, having at one time been Treasurer of the
Independent Labour Party which had been founded by Keir Hardie and
others. It had participated in the formation of the Labour Party itself.
current basic shape of our own Constituency came into operation for the
1950 election. The make-up of the area differed significantly from what
we know today. A large number of pits were in operation, whilst
Dronfield and Wingerworth were much smaller places than they now are.
Between 1950 and 1970, the Constituency was almost identical to that of
the area of the North East Derbyshire District, which at that time
contained what are now areas of Sheffield such as Mosborough and
Beighton as well as areas that are still part of the District including
Stonebroom, Holmewood and Pilsley. It was essentially made up of working
class communities which each had a close social bond.
1950 up to 1987 the Constituency continued the tradition of being
represented by Derbyshire Miners. The first of these was Henry White,
who had also represented the area under its old boundaries since 1942.
He came from Cresswell, served as a Miners' Branch Secretary for 18
years, became a Derbyshire County Councillor and an Alderman and was
appointed as Vice-President to the Derbyshire Miners' Association in
January 1939. He was first returned to parliament in 1942 following the
death of Fred Lee whom he had acted as Agent to for in the previous 1935
General Election - there being no General Elections held during the
Second World War.
White was successful in the General Elections of 1945, 1950, 1951 and
1955. The last three of these being held under the new boundaries. His
respective majorities in the new seat were between 16,451 and 17,344.
They reveal the power of the votes of mining families in these contests.
Such majorities were obtained although Labour lost the General
Elections of 1951 and 1955. His parliamentary contributions often
centred on coal mining concerns, such as an opposition to opencast
mining operations. Serving in parliament from 1942 to 1959 he saw a
period of what was called "war socialism" with its fair-shares policy
based upon rationing, then he saw the establishment of a post-war
welfare state and a mixed economy which the 1951 to 1959 Conservative
Government's felt a need (in the main) to accept.
was succeeded as our MP by Tom Swain, who was a powerful personality
and will be remembered by numbers of current activists in the
Constituency. His career will be dealt with next.
Tom Swain was the Labour MP for North East Derbyshire from 1959 to 1979. Even
when we add the pre-1950 constituency set-up to the basic area we know
today (thus taking us back to 1885), then Tom remains the MP with the
longest period of service. Furthermore his majority of almost 20,000 in
1966 is the highest of any.
record breaking is highly appropriate, as he was a larger than life
character. At one time he was a fair ground boxer and some would say
that he always looked the part. In the Commons Norman Tebbitt made a
remark which offended him and he shouted out “If you say that outside,
I'll punch your head in.” Sensibly, Tebbitt stayed put.
had ten children and five greenhouses. He had an ability which other
back-bench MPs envied. He could get prominent coverage in the press,
much to the delight of his constituents. In 1976 at the age of 66 he
twice put to flight teenagers who were harassing women – at Chesterfield
Station and also on the London Underground. The Sunday Mirror gave him
full page coverage under a banner headline calling him “The Ladies
Champion”, with four photos of Tom showing reconstructions of him
adopting the“”Chinny Grip” he had used to control the young thugs.
had worked in the pits for 34 years and came to hold a variety of posts
with the Derbyshire Miners, including Vice-President. His pugnacious
style led him into conflict with Tory grandees, especially in the mutual
conflict between Sir Gerald Narbarro and himself. Sir Gerald always
turned up at Budget Day dressed as a dandy with a top hat, so Tom turned
up wearing a pit helmet. Then at Prime Ministers” Questions to Harold
Wilson, concerning building a statue to Winston Churchill, Tom asked if a
statue could also be provided of Sir Gerald in Parliament Square to
frighten away the pigeons.
Tom fought seriously for his constituents, starting from his maiden
speech in a debate on the Coal Industry. Such speeches are expected to
be non-controversial, but that
wasn't Tom' style. He said that if he had attempted to be
non-controversial, it would have been his first time ever. In a later
speech he dealt compassionately with mining accidents, his own father
having been killed in the pit. When
in 1972, the Labour Councillors of Clay Cross refused to implement the
Housing Finance Act (which hiked up Council Rents and started the
destruction of Council Housing), their struggle gained widespread
publicity. In defending them in the Commons, Tom said “I now come to the
new centre of Europe – Clay Cross”.
was due to stand down as MP, but before the appropriate General
Election took place he was killed in a car crash. The mini he was
driving was hit by (of all things) an NCB lorry as he was travelling
along Woodthorpe Road to Mastin Moor. As well as this being a personal
tragedy, it turned out to have a serious impact on British politics. Tom
was killed on 2 March. On 28 March the Callaghan Government lost a vote
of confidence in the Commons by a single vote. If Tom had been alive,
his vote would have tied the outcome and the Speaker (by convention)
would have given his casting vote to the Labour Government. Instead a
General Election had to be held, leading to Thatcher first becoming
Prime Minister. As Tom had perceptively said to Thatcher in an
intervention shortly before his death, Labour had not yet shot its fox.
current recommendations of the Boundary Commission would return the
North East Derbyshire Constituency to the shape it enjoyed between 1970
and 1983. For the 20 years before that, the area had also included
territory such as Mosborough and Beighton which were transferred to
Sheffield prior to the 1970 General Election.
Swain was MP when the change took place. As explained in Chapter 9, he
was due to retire in 1979, but he was killed in an accident shortly
before that year's General Election. He was replaced by Ray Ellis who
had worked at the High Moor pit in Killamarsh for 41 years, much of the
time underground. Ray became Secretary of his local Miners' Lodge and
then President of the Derbyshire NUM. When he attended the Derbyshire
Miners' Day Release Classes he became known as “Educated Ellis” and
during the 1983 General Election he was given to quoting from his
favourite philosopher Santayana when he addressed public meetings. He
served as Secretary to the Miners' Group of MPs during the 1984 strike
and spoke in support of the Miners' case in the Commons.
the 1983 General Election, however, the Constituency Boundaries
underwent a further change. Stonebroom, Morton and Pilsley were
transferred to the Bolsover Constituency, whilst Barrow Hill and Mastin
Moor were added from the Chesterfield Constituency. In the context of
the times, this was an advantage to Labour, as Barrow Hill and Mastin
Moor were then solid Labour areas. It was just as well that the change
occurred, for Ray only held onto the seat in 1983 with a majority of
2006. He had suffered from the nationwide swing against Labour in 1983.
This had resulted from a split in the Labour Party which led to a
challenge from the Social Democratic Party led by Roy Jenkins who had
been a former Labour Deputy Leader and Home Secretary. Nationally Labour
ended up with its lowest percentage vote since 1918.
mining went into decline in North Derbyshire, Ray was to be the last
local miner to enter the ring as a new Labour MP. He was preceded by the
late Eric Varley who was first selected to stand for Labour for the
1964 General Election for Chesterfield and Dennis Skinner who became MP
for Bolsover in 1970. Dennis originates from Clay Cross and had been
Chairman of the North East Derbyshire Constituency Labour Party prior to
becoming on MP. After 41 years, he still represents Bolsover in
all, ten Derbyshire Miners have been local MPs since James Haslam was
first elected in 1906. In the next chapter we will examine the overall
contribution of these pitmen politicians over more than 105 years.
most of the 106 years since 1906, this area has been represented by one
or more MPs who originated as coal miners and had been officials of
their local miners' lodge and/or of the Derbyshire Miners Association.
In all, there have been ten such MPs. Anyone born in the area who is now
a pensioner could well have come across six of these. I deal with these
below in pairs.
local mining MP Henry White retired in 1959, then Harold Neal retired
in 1970. They had both been returned to parliament via by-elections
during the Second World War and participated in the legislation to
fulfil a long-time aim of the miners – the nationalisation of their
industry, which became operative in 1947. Harold Neal was then the MP
for Bolsover. Appropriately, he later became Parliamentary Secretary to
Philip Noel-Baker the Minister for Fuel and Power. Henry White was the
MP for North East Derbyshire and both his first and final contributions
in the Commons were typical of him, in being about the mining industry.
White was succeeded by the miners Tom Swain and then Ray Ellis. Tom was
a larger than life character, who after 20 years as an MP was killed on
the Norbriggs to Woodthorpe Road when a Coal Board lorry ran into the
mini he was driving. This was both a personal and political tragedy.
Four weeks after his death, the Callaghan Government lost a vote of
confidence by a single vote and this led to the General Election of 1979
which brought Margaret Thatcher to power. If Tom hadn't been killed,
the vote of confidence would have ended in a tie and by precedent the
Speaker's casting vote would have gone to the Callaghan Government and
the General Election would not have been called. Tom was followed by Ray
Ellis who became Secretary of the Miners' Group of MPs during the 1984
Miners' Strike and used avenues inside and outside of the Commons to
argue their case.
Varley and Dennis Skinner are the two remaining post-war mining MPs.
They were both MPs in early 1974 when the miners followed up a
work-to-rule over poor wages, with a strike. In response the Heath
Government instigated a three-day-working week to save fuel and then
called a General Election under the slogan “Who Governs Britain?”. The
electorate decided that the answer to the question was not to be the
Conservatives. A minority Labour Government then acted quickly to settle
the strike, aided by appointing Eric as a former miner to the post of
Secretary of State for Energy. Eric later became Secretary for State for
Industry, eventually resigning his seat in 1984 prior to that year's
protracted miners' strike. Dennis Skinner as the MP for Bolsover was a
leading figure both inside and outside of parliament on the side of the
miners in the major disputes of 1972, 1974 and 1984-5 as well as in
struggles against the privatisation of the coal industry and against the
final closure of deep mine pits in Derbyshire. Dennis remains fully
active in parliament today, but will almost certainly be the last pitman
MP from Derbyshire.
characteristic of all the above six post-war pitmen politicians is that
they were all firmly Labour MPs. But the four earlier DMA
parliamentarians came from a different era and differed from this clear
first two miners' MPs were James Haslam and William Harvey whose
statues stand outside the former Miners' Offices on Saltergate. They
both started work as ten year olds in the harsh circumstances of the mid
19th Century at collieries at Clay Cross and Grassmoor.
Later they became active as both methodist lay preachers and trade
unionists. In time they came to feel that north Derbyshire needed its
own mining association separate from the rather distant South Yorkshire
Miners Association which they had been active in until then.
with three other miners, in 1879 they met at the old Sun Inn on West
Bars (which preceded the current building) to plan to set up the
Derbyshire Miners' Association (DMA). James Haslam became the DMA's
first secretary, initially being unpaid and running the Association from
his home. By 1893 it had 10,000 members in 69 local lodges and was able
to open its offices on Saltergate that year. Haslam and Harvey became
known as 'The Twin Pillars of the DMA”.
For some time in the 19th
Century, Parliamentary representation had been seen as a must by mining
trade unions. They needed legislation to check that they weren't
cheated over payments for the amount of coal they produced, to improve
safety conditions, to end the employment of children, to reduce
excessive working hours, to seek minimum wages, to set up conciliation
procedures and to regulate the structure of their industry. There was
also a deep need to improve housing, education, health and social
provisions within their communities.
there were three major hurdles to overcome in order to get miners into
parliament. First, although many miners as male householders had first
achieved franchise rights in 1884 , they needed organising to ensure
that they were registered to vote. The system for registration was not
then an easy one. So when Haslam stood as Independent Labour in 1885 in
Chesterfield, he finished bottom of the poll in a three cornered fight.
There had not been time in just a year to mobilise the registration of
enough miners. Secondly, MPs were not paid and had the costs of travel
and accommodation in London to meet. It was not until 1901 that the
Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) to whom the DMA were
affiliated, came up with a modest scheme to cover these needs for
successful mining candidates. Finally. to win a candidate needed the
backing of one of the main political parties of the 19th
Century – the Conservatives or the Liberals. The embryo Labour Party
wasn't set up until 1900 and at that time the MFGB was not even
affiliated to it.
after his initial electoral defeat, Haslam backed by the DMA sort the
Liberal nomination. When he narrowly failed to achieve this he bided his
time until the candidature became vacant once more. He was then
successfully elected to parliament for Chesterfield in 1906 supported by
both the DMA and the local Liberal Association and was known as a
Lib-Lab candidate. In a 1907 by-election in what was then called North Eastern Derbyshire, William Harvey also won as a Lib-Lab.
1909, however, the MFGB (covering the DMA) affiliated to the Labour
Party and Haslam and Harvey accepted the Labour whip, standing
successfully in the next two elections of 1910 as Labour candidates.
could then have expected there to have been a seamless transition to
the ranks of the Labour Party by the DMA and its candidates. If we
ignore what happened in the Chesterfield seat this is exactly what
occurred in the two neighbouring seats. Both ran a number of DMA
candidates under the Labour banner. But they did not initially win their
seats. There were no further Labour victories by a miner until Frank
Lee (at his second attempt) took the North East Derbyshire seat
following the 1922 General Election , but only after a drawn out
procedure. There were eight recounts, then the matter went to the courts
and only seven months later was Lee able to enter parliament after
finally being declared the winner by 15 votes. He held his seat until
his death in 1942, apart from the 1931-35 period when Labour collapsed
nationally following the consequences of the 1931 financial crisis.
was a solid Labour man in parliament involved in issues such the
Miners' Lock-Out of 1926, its associated General Strike and criticism of
the break-away Spencer's Miners' Union in Notts which was seen as a
“scabs union”. He also worked hard on the wide range of communal
concerns in his constituency. But although Lee stood in seven General
Elections as a Labour Candidate and won five times, like Haslam and
Harvey his early political involvement had been of a Lib-Lab nature and
he had even been a local Liberal agent.
whilst Haslam, Harvey and Lee moved away from the Liberals to the
Labour Party, there was one official of the DMA who finally moved in the
opposite direction – Barnet Kenyon. On the death of Haslam in 1913 he
became the Secretary and then the Agent of the DMA. The DMA supported
him to stand for the Chesterfield seat and he was then endorsed by the
Chesterfield Trade Union Council, which in those days also fulfilled the
role of what would now be a Constituency Labour Party. But when Kenyon
then agreed to address the local Liberal Association at their annual
meetings and accepted their support in the coming by-election, the MFGB
Annual Conference spent a whole day discussing his case and then refused
to endorse his candidature. The Labour Party's Executive Committee also
rejected him. Kenyon ended up as the Liberal Party Candidate and held
the seat as such from 1913 until his retirement in 1929. The DMA finally
removing Kenyon from his post as their Agent in 1923, around the time
Lee was finally able to take his seat in parliament as a Labour MP.
the DMA had moved from the Lib-Lab to the Labour camp in 1909, except
for the strange case of Kenyon in Chesterfield. A complexity about the
Chesterfield seat being that it was not as solid a mining area as its
neighbouring seats, which eventually became designated as
Bolsover and North East Derbyshire. Chesterfield was less homogeneous,
for alongside mining it developed Chemical and Steel works at Staveley,
plus engineering works and a range of commercial and business
institutions. It was a town, distinct from the surrounding rural areas
which were pock marked with pits. Between 1913 and 1964 it did not have a
mining MP, which was normally a contrast with its two neighbouring
Chesterfield became a centre for the DMA. The statues of Haslam and
Harvey were unveiled in 1915 after their deaths, with thousands of
miners and their families from the wider coalfield being crammed in
front of the Miners' Offices on Saltergate.
the previous chapter, I dealt with ten North Derbyshire parliamentary
pitmen politicians who were all members of the Derbyshire Miners'
Association. All of these became Labour MPs, except Barnet Keynon who
was exclusively a Liberal. The nine miners, who were Labour MPs, have
been matched by nine fellow MPs who were not miners. I deal with these
Between 1922 and 1944, the then Clay Cross Constituency
was represented by four Labour MPs who were not miners - Charlie Duncan
1922-33, Arthur Henderson 1933-5, Alfred Holland 1935-36 and George
Ridley 1936-44. Each of them died when MPs. Although Clay Cross covered
more prominent mining areas than any of the North Derbyshire
Constituencies at that time, they opted for 22 continuous years of
having these non-mining MPs. I gave details about the Clay Cross
Constituency in Chapter 5, in which I gave reasons as to why they
Three of the areas non-mining MPs have
represented the Chesterfield Constituency - George Benson 1929-31 and
then 1935-64, Tony Benn 1984-2001 and Toby Perkins since 2010. I deal
with each of these each in turn below.
George Benson had been
imprisoned as a conscientious objector during the First World War,
became Chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform and was knighted. He
had a left-wing background, at one time being Treasurer of the
Independent Labour Party.
Tony Benn was first elected locally in
a famous by-election in Chesterfield in 1984, just prior to that year's
miners' strike. It was a contest which attracted a then record number
of 17 candidates. He had been the MP for Bristol South East for two
periods between 1950 and 1961 and then from 1963 to 1983, until the seat
was abolished. His break as their MP between 1961 and 1963 arose
because he inherited a seat in the Lords, but he successfully campaigned
to allow people to reject their elevation to the Peerage; a matter that
was passed into law in 1963. He held Ministerial Office during the
periods of the Wilson and Callaghan Governments, moving to the left in
the Labour Party in the late 1960s. He narrowly failed to beat Dennis
Healy for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party in 1981. So, by the
time he arrived in Chesterfield he had become something of an icon for
the Labour Left. He went on to stand unsuccessfully against Neil Kinnock
for the leadership of the Labour Party in 1988, losing by a substantial
Perkins re-captured the Chesterfield seat in 2010, after it had been
held by a Liberal Democrat for nine years. Overall, Labour lost 91 seats
in that general election, so the gain of Chesterfield was quite an
achievement. In his short time as an MP, he has served as a Shadow
Minister for Education and is currently part of the front-bench team for
Business, Innovation and Skills.
Toby with Ed Miliband
Labour MPs for North East Derbyshire (under its different shapes and
guises) were exclusively miners until 1987. The pattern started up in
1909, when William Edwin Harvey moved from the Lib-Lab camp to Labour.
Although Labour lost the seat between 1914 to 1922 and 1931 to 1935,
there was a total of 70 years in which the seat was held by miners.
These were Harvey, Lee, White, Swain and Ellis. I was the person who
broke this fine mould. In mitigation, I can only point to my close links
with the Derbyshire Miners. I had taught politics with classes of
miners on day-release classes from 1966 to 1987. A summary of my own 18
year parliamentary career is contained in a 12 page document entitled "A
synopsis of my time as an MP", culled from 121 detailed reports which I
issued over that time to the North East Derbyshire Constituency Labour
In parliament Dennis Skinner, Tony Benn and myself fought
against the continuing and final closure of Derbyshire's pits, but by
the time I retired in 2005 the area had moved into a new era. The pits
had gone. Up to then what had been the coal mining area of North
Derbyshire had been served by a total of 17 Labour MPs; yet not one of
these was a women. This was despite the fact that all of the
Constituencies in the area had been served by powerful female activists
such as Ethel Lenthall, Dot Walton, Thelma Lide, Jill Jones and Florence
Hancock (in reference to the latter, who operated in the Clay Cross
Constituency, it is stated "it can be literally said that Florence
Hancock won Clay Cross for Labour.") In part, the lack of female MPs can
be explained by the prominent role of the mining industry.
situation was only finally rectified in 2005, when I was succeeded by
Natascha Engel. She had worked as a volunteer in Spain with Amnesty
International, as a trade union political fund co-ordinator and as
Director of the John Smith Institute. In the Commons her first
parliamentary positions were those of Parliamentary Private Secretaries
and as a member of Select Committees. From 2010 she has been Chair of
the pioneering Back Bench Business Committee, directly elected to the
position by her fellow MPs. In 2011 Natascha was "Backbencher of the
Year" and in 2013 the Political Studies Association www.psa.ac.uk named her as "Parliamentarian of the Year".
Natascha with Dennis Skinner
the Labour interest, our area of Derbyshire is now (when this was initially published) served by Dennis
Skinner, Toby Perkins and Natascha Engel. They represent the current
stage of a journey pioneered by James Haslam and William Harvey whose
(newly cleaned) statues can be found outside of the former Miners'
Offices on Saltergate in Chesterfield. It is a tradition continually to
be built upon.