Congenial ally or threatening rival: The Newcastle-upon-Tyne Labour movement, 1900-1914

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Peter T. Marsh


England, Labor party, Newcastle-upon-Tyne labor movement

Subject Categories

European History | History


Although they agree that by 1924 the Labour party had replaced the Liberals as the second major party in Britain, historians continue to argue over why and when the Liberal party declined, and how and when the Labour party rose. One of the most important periods for this debate is 1900 to 1914. While some historians believe that the Liberal decline began in this period, others assert that, despite threats from Labour, the Liberal party had little difficulty maintaining its position. Historians who concentrate on the Labour movement debate the extent of Labour's success prior to the First World War. Some historians claim that by 1914 the Labour party had laid the foundations for its post-war success. Others argue that the Labour movement depended on the Liberals for much of its progress during the pre-war years.

This dissertation examines the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Labour movement from 1900 to 1914. The original objectives of the study were to determine the relative positions of the Liberal and Labour parties and to evaluate the strength of Labour at the grass roots level. Newcastle did not prove to fit into any of the previously offered scenarios. Instead of the Labour party supplanting the Liberals or the Liberals repelling the Labour threat, the Labour movement and the Liberal party in Newcastle participated in an increasingly cordial entente directed at defeating the Unionists and gaining limited social reforms. At the parliamentary level, Labour and Liberal candidates downplayed their differences while emphasizing their close positions on many of the major issues. At the municipal level, progressive Liberals supported the attempts of Labour councillors to address the social and economic problems of Newcastle.

The Labour movement succeeded in establishing a political base in Newcastle prior to the First World War. By 1914 one of Newcastle's two Members of Parliament and nine of the 57 city councillors represented Labour. This success was achieved despite the lack of unity within the local Labour movement. The Newcastle Labour Representation Committee and the Trades Council competed for control of the local movement while members of the Independent Labour party split over the issues of Labour independence and socialist doctrines versus cooperation with the Liberals and moderate reforms.


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