“The period I am about to write about is a very turbulent one. At this time, the Liberals were at the peak of popularity. They had been in prior to the war. Lloyd George had won after the war in what became known as the khaki election. They passed an Old Age Pensions bill; they had given the Trade Unions power to form a Political Fund; they passed an act which gave members of the House of Commons £400 an annum; they reformed a Poor Law Act. They were all good acts that when they came into force were of benefit to the Labour Party. They also did these things with the help of the few Labour members in the House at the time.” (14)
From this short excerpt of his memoir, we, as readers, can appreciate Thomas McLauchlan’s in depth knowledge and interest in politics. Over the course of his life, he followed the course of politics that will have had profound affect on his life as a miner. Staying true to his pro-active character, Thomas worked with the local Labour party for a number of years, contributing to an organisation that would become one of leading political parties in the United Kingdom.
Thomas’s involvement in politics was born in 1929, when he was elected as a delegate for the Dawdon Miners’ Lodge which gave him a seat on the Miner’s committee. This also gave him the responsibility of being the miners’ representative at the Miners’ Headquarters in Durham. Also, at this time he won a seat on the Easington Board of Guardians. Thomas undertook many duties and was responsible for solving the many social problems the miners faced. For instance, in 1929 Thomas was responsible for supplying the poorest and neediest children of the area with boots, provided for by the Poor Law Authority. Thomas writes, “I had to inform the Head Teachers in my area as to the number of boots they would receive. They had to select the children who were to have a new pair of boots. Then they told me the sizes required. Once the news was spread about the issues of the boots, I was inundated with requests. This was not unexpected. One day I was giving an order to a shoe shop and the manager came to me and asked how many children we were providing with boots. I asked why, and he said that you are doing such a good job that you should be repaid. I told him in a kindly way that he should not think of giving me anything as I was doing a public service. Yield not to temptation, that was the motto you had to keep in public work.”
Thomas’s work within the Miners’ association led to him becoming his local Labour Party Secretary around the same time in 1929. His local party in Seaham was large and steadily growing. He writes of all the local trade unions, minus the dockers, being affiliated with the Labour movement.
Whilst working as a Labour Party Secretary, Thomas was responsible for many things including organising meetings, appointing speakers for various events whilst relaying important information and literature from the Labour Party headquarters in London. Perhaps one of the most vital jobs Thomas undertook whilst working with the Labour Party around election time was the canvassing, to try and rally as many voters as possible together. It isn’t a surprise that Thomas “can’t remember all the things that happened through the years” when working with the Labour Party, perhaps due to the amount of work he undertook outside of Politics, however, he does take time to illustrate some of the things he got up to whilst canvassing in his local area. “In those early days, canvassing was no easy job. You had to face all sorts of things and you had to be thick skinned and take the kicks and insults without offence. You had to learn the art of persuasion and that came by experience. I remember going to one house, and the lady coming to the door. I told her what I was canvassing for. She knew me as her children attended Sunday School. I heard a voice from inside the house shout “If that is the Labour man tell him to go to hell. A while after the man apologised and I got his vote.” (27)
Although Thomas does not specify when he retired from Politics, we can safely say his work contributed to building the Labour Party’s identity that we recognise today. Of course, when Thomas worked for them, the party did not hold the ground it does today. Perhaps he would be proud to be associated with the political powerhouse it has become today.
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363
Mike Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century (Pelican)
Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70
McLaughlin, Thomas, The Life of an Ordinary Man, 1979, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1.475