COMMON WEALTH PARTY: its slogan ‘not WILL IT PAY but IS IT RIGHT?’
John Banks, who was for many years the secretary of Common Wealth (CW), drafted a book recording the history of the movement. The Story of Common Wealth, 1942-1993 is a historical record which could fill in gaps in academic research in several fields. Its aims, activities and ideology would also interest today’s PPE students.
High profile supporters included: Edward Hulton (publisher of Picture Post) – MP Tom Driberg – John MacMurray – Phyllis Bottome – Prof. C.E.M.Joad – Kingsley Martin – Michael Foot – Ritchie Calder – Lady Violet Bonham Carter – Konni Zilliacus – Peter Thorneycroft – A. W. Blunt (Socialist Bishop of Bradford) – Stanley Unwin (publisher) – Victor Gollancz – Storm Jameson – H.G. Wells – Ian Mikardo – Aneurin Bevan – Oswald Mosley – Ernest Bader – Ethel Mannin – Clovis Maksoud – Alexander Thynne (Marquis of Bath) – Professor Geoffrey Carnall – Gwynfor Evans – Bayard Rustin – Martin Buber – Will Elliott – Wilfred Wellock – Fenner Brockway – Christopher Mayhew – Honor Balfour – Dafydd Williams – John Papworth.
CW’s document archive is lodged at Sussex University at the prompting of Angus Calder (son of Ritchie) who wrote a thesis there on Common Wealth, but Sussex feels there would be no demand for this book. A copy has also been lodged with the Peace Museum in Bradford.
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Common Wealth had a substantial membership in the serving forces during the war and afterwards, with correspondence outlining their hopes and dreams for a better Britain. For six years, its headquarters – and that of Common Wealth Publishing – were at 4 Gower Street in London. In 1948 its work was continued in Hampstead and Chorlton, Manchester. It was formed when the 1941 Committee, launched by J.B.Priestley, merged with Forward March (formerly Our Struggle) formed in 1940, which proclaimed:
“We are fighting to get a better world, and that we will NOT go back to the old world we knew after the last war . . . to the world of unemployment queues . . . the world in which from birth to death “the rich” and “the poor” lead utterly different lives. The little group of men who happen to have got to the top shall not be allowed to keep things all in their own hands, to shut us out of any control over our own lives, and to preserve scarcity in their own interests when we could produce plenty in the interests of all”.
The first overt evidence of collaboration was the joint issuing of the Nine Point Declaration; the last two points related to exclusively to the war effort, but seven still have some relevance:
GREATER EQUALITY of work, payment, sacrifice and opportunity as between soldiers and civilians, shareholders, directors and workmen, men and women
TRANSFER TO COMMON OWNERSHIP of services, industries and companies in which managerial inefficiency or the profit motive is harming the war effort. This will increase the war effort and will be a token of the post-war new deal, in which common ownership of all the great resources of the country must become the fundamental basis of our whole economic life.
REFORM OF THE GOVERNMENT SUPPLY ORGANISATIONS to put them entirely in the hands of men who have no financial interests in the commodities or industries they are controlling.
ESTABLISHMENT OF EFFECTIVE WORKS COUNCILS in every production unit, including management, technicians and workers.
ELIMINATION OF RED TAPE in the Civil Service – where promotion should always be by ability.
MAXIMUM FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION subject only to the demands of security, in the strictest sense of that word.
PRELIMINARY POST-WAR PLANS for the provision of full and free education, employment and a civilised living standard for everyone. Such plans for Britain must be integrated with those for world-wide relief and reconstruction, which become our peace aims and the basis of our political warfare.
Though the movement confined itself in later years to political education, for several years it was involved with electoral politics, and in the period 1942-1945 had two MPs in Parliament and three, for a while, until one joined the Labour Party. In 1945 it polled the highest number of votes of all the minority parties. At this time there were 160 active branches. A year after celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1992, many of its members having died, it disbanded.
Members of Parliament
Richard Acland (Barnstaple 1942-1945)
Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater 1942-1945)
John Loverseed (Eddisbury 1943-1945)
Hugh Lawson (Skipton 1944-1945)
Ernest Millington (Chelmsford 1945-1946)
There were two CW strands of thought: one was that it existed to ‘inspire, enhearten and reinvigorate’ the Labour Party – which many CW members later joined or rejoined, the other that it had its own distinctive role, based on the ‘unique, indeed naïve notion that political action should have a moral basis’.
Their slogan was “Common Wealth asks not WILL IT PAY but IS IT RIGHT?”
Many events and combinations include interaction with Fenner Brockway, the National Peace Council, the international Congress of Peoples against Imperialism, the Netherlands Third Way peace movement: De Derde Weg, CND and the Committee of 100. The text records strong links with some Chinese groups, effective opposition and frequent silencing of Oswald Mosley’s fascists and the picketing of the Savoy Hotel in which some people were employed to work in squalid conditions for low pay. Ernest Bader’s Demintry (Democracy in Industry) followed the earlier Campaign for Workers Control. Chapter 11 focuses on pacifism, neutralism and non-violent resistance.
Common Wealth later became associated with the burgeoning ecology movement and, later, regional organisations, including the Campaign for the North, based in Hebden Bridge, Wessex regionalists, the SNP, an Orkney and Shetland group, Plaid Cymru, Mebyon Kernow and the Movement for Middle England.
Although it no longer stood candidates at parliamentary level, a number of individual members stood for the Ecology/Green Party, whilst others became local councillors.