Cllr Clara Rackham slams pointless Labour branch meetings.

…and the Conservative-supporting Cambridge Chronicle found out about her speech

Above – Cambridge Chronicle of 10 Jan 1923. From the Cambridgeshire Collection’s newspaper archive – currently closed due to the Tier 4 Restrictions of the CV19 Pandemic.

There are a number of things this article raises that sound more than familiar to anyone who has been involved in political campaigning in more recent times. Note her points about organising tenants and unemployed people at a time when many were unemployed following the Geddes Axe (ironically Geddes was the MP for Cambridge, parachuted in by the Conservatives in 1917) with many living in slums unfit for human habitation. Slum clearances would be a regular feature of Cambridge local politics until the 1990s.

Cllr Clara Rackham (Lab – Romsey) in the mid-1920s from the Palmer Clark Archive in the Cambridgeshire Collection.
Colourised by Nick Harris, Commissioned by Antony Carpen.

“The Labour Party in Cambridge does not really get into touch with the people”. This was the burden of Mrs Rackham’s very interesting speech to members of the delegates of the Cambridge Trades Council and Labour Party at the Service Buildings. The Speech was a gingering effort, and after it had been made, a committee consisting of Mrs Rackham, Mr E.C. Poll, and Mr Robinson was appointed to consider the formation of a Tenants’ Defence League. [Similar to what Acorn Cambridge are doing today]. Messrs Daldry, Horwood and Stubbs [Cllr Albert Stubbs, later Albert Stubbs MP (Lab – Cambs 1945-50)] were elected a committee to organise the unemployed.

“Mrs Rackham said she wanted the members of the Labour Party to face the facts, and to think whether they ought not to work on rather different lines, to be more practical, and to go deeper into things. She had sat at meetings of the Trades Council for three years, and had heard about the Party being organised, and had seen one person after another try to do it. The Party simply did not organise. She had herself tried to organise two Wards, and there had been complete failure in both cases. The Secretary that evening stated that they could not have meetings in Cambridge because no one came to them. There was more than one way of getting into touch with the people. They knew that the policy of the older and richer parties had been to use social gatherings. She hoped the Labour Party was going to do a great deal more in the social line, but they knew through lack of means they could not compete with the older parties in that way.

“Their politics bored people, the unemployed did not believe in the Labour Party, or that they would do anything for them, and would not come to their meetings. They were bored with passing resolutions, and they did not believe that the resolutions would come to anything in practice. They had got to make their work more definite and practical, to make people believe in it, and to touch more their lives. They would not do it by simply organising and getting people to pay subscriptions. She would like very much that they should organise the unemployed, and if they could not do so it would be a deplorable failure on the part of the Labour Party. There was the question of registration. Speaking of the position of tenants under the Rent Restriction Act, Mrs Rackham said that there was no doubt in many parts of the country the Labour Party had come into its own largely on the account of what it had done for tenants who had been paying too high rent. A tenants’ bureau which would inform tenants of their rights and insist that they should get them would put the Labour Party on a better footing with the people than many political meetings.

“Mrs Manning [Later Leah Manning MP, Dame Leah Manning] moved that committees be appointed, and Mr. J.J. Overton [Jimmy Overton] seconding, said that several times in the last three years an effort had been made to get started a Tenants’ Defence League. Mr Poll said the organisation of the unemployed was successfully carried through last winter, but the unworthiness for their position of some of the leaders selected by the unemployed was the cause of a great deal of [grief?] “Thousands of tenants in Cambridge had nothing off when the rates [local council tax] went down, but had something put on when the rates went up.

“The Secretary (Mr. J.J. Overton) before Mrs Rackham’s speech, said that the Executive Committee had decided it was not possible to have a Sunday demonstration with reference to unemployment, as suggested by the National Committee. He moved a resolution protesting against the action of the Government in proroguing Parliament and demanding a summoning of Parliament to pass legislation providing the right to work, or in the alternative full maintenance from national funds for all men and women unable to find work. Mr Overton said if people voted for a system which meant somebody must be out of work, as 20,000 people in Cambridge did at the last General Election, Labour could do no more than make a protest. Mr E.C. Poll seconded the resolution, which was carried.”

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