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William Mellor and the Left Wing Press

John Simkin

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In December 1910 London printers were locked out in retaliation for their demand for a 48 hour week. In an attempt to communicate their side of the story, they produced a strike sheet called The World. Will Dyson, a socialist from Australia, began contributing cartoons for the strike sheet. The following month The World was renamed the Daily Herald. The first issue of 13,000 copies sold out. Over the next few weeks sales continued to increase.

When the strike ended in April the printers stopped publishing their newspaper. However, the striking printers had shown that there was a market for a left-wing newspaper and several leaders of the labour movement, including George Lansbury and Ben Tillett, joined together to raise the necessary funds. Francis Meynell was brought in as the business manager of the newspaper.

The Daily Herald reappeared on 15th April, 1912, and Will Dyson was recruited as the newspaper's cartoonist. His editor, Charles Lapworth, gave him a full page and complete freedom on how to fill it. Dyson's cartoons created a sensation. He was acclaimed by one critic as the best cartoonist seen in Britain since James Gillray. Sometimes they were so powerful that the editor decided to let it take over the whole of the front page. Within a few weeks sales of the Daily Herald reached 230,000 a day.

Writers who contributed to the Daily Herald during this period included Henry Brailsford, George Lansbury, William Mellor, G. K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc.

The Daily Herald was the only national newspaper that fully supported the actions of the women fighting for the vote. Most days, the newspaper gave a whole page to news and views on the subject. Will Dyson felt very strongly about this issue and produced a series of cartoons attacking the way the government was treating the suffragettes.

Whereas newspapers usually condemned strikers, the Daily Herald encouraged workers to take industrial action. As one critic pointed out, Dyson's cartoons "featured boldly drawn figures representing clear symbols of the noble, wronged worker verses brutal, evil employers." Some Labour politicians believed that Dyson was going too far with some of his cartoons.

George Lansbury, a socialist and a Christian, complained when Dyson portrayed capitalist as devils. Others were worried when his drawings began to attack the Labour Party for not being radical enough. Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the party, was a particular target of Dyson's scorn. At a joint conference in October 1912, the TUC and the Labour Party decided to give their support to another newspaper, The Daily Citizen.

In 1913 George Lansbury became concerned about the way the newspaper was treating individuals. Lansbury told Charles Lapworth, the editor of the newspaper: “Hatred of conditions by all means, but not of persons”. When he refused to change his approach, Lapworth was sacked.

By early 1914 the Daily Herald was achieving sales of 150,000 copies a day. The outbreak of the First World War resulted in a slump in sales. The mood of the British public changed and they now preferred the militaristic opinions of the other newspapers to the anti-war stance of the Daily Herald. Several of their writers, including William Mellor and G. D. H. Cole were imprisoned as conscientious objectors. The newspaper also suffered from the loss of Will Dyson who had joined the Australian army. To survive, the newspaper had to be published weekly, rather than daily during the war.

The Daily Herald held a meeting on 31st March, 1918, where it welcomed the Russian Revolution. According to Stanley Harrison, the author of Poor Men's Guardians (1974): "It was the first of a series of huge meetings in the Albert Hall to welcome the Revolution and demand in general terms that all governments follow the Russian example in restoring freedom. twelve thousand people filled every seat and five thousand were turned away."

William Mellor and G. D. H. Cole became important figures in the newspaper. A friend, Margaret Postgate, claimed that they formed "an almost perfect pamphleteering partnership" with Mellor's "greater natural understanding of the working-man's mind... and gift for straightforward eloquence."

In May 1919 the newspaper published a secret War Office instruction to commanding officers, requiring them to find out whether their men would help in breaking strikes and be ready to be sent "overseas, especially to Russia". The government threatened to prosecute but the following month Winston Churchill admitted the document was genuine. He also made a public statement that troops would not be used for strike breaking.

The Daily Herald also campaigned against British intervention in the Russian Civil War. The Trade Union Congress resolved that all action necessary, including a general strike, would be taken to prevent war. David Lloyd George and his government backed down but claimed that George Lansbury was in the pay of the Bolsheviks. Lansbury at once published the complete list of the persons and organisations who had provided the newspaper with money. The audited circulation figures of 329,869, convinced the government that Daily Herald had the support of the public and it withdrew its claims.

The newspaper's left-wing stance meant that they suffered an advertisers' boycott. It was forced to raise its price to twopence, twice the price of any daily paper of comparable size, on 11th October, 1920. The newspaper succeeded in raising sales to 40,000 during the 1921 miners lockout. It also ran a national collection which brought in £20,000 for the miners' children.

In September 1922 the Trade Union Congress took over the Daily Herald. George Lansbury left and the experienced journalist, Hamilton Fyfe, became editor. Fyfe recruited writers such as Morgan Philips Price, Henry Nevinson and Evelyn Sharp to write for the paper. Over the next four years Fyfe increased its circulation but he unwilling to accept attempts by the TUC to control the content of the newspaper and he left in 1926. Frederic Salusbury was appointed editor-in-chief and William Mellor became the new editor.

In 1930 the TUC sold a 51 per cent share of the newspaper to Odhams Press. Mellor was elevated to the Odhams board. Attempts were made to make it a more mainstream publication. This was a great success and by 1933 the Daily Herald became the world's best-selling daily newspaper, with certified net sales of 2 million.

William Mellor became close to Stafford Cripps, the leader of the left-wing of the Labour Party. Other members of this group included Aneurin Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, Frank Wise, Jennie Lee, Harold Laski, Frank Horrabin, Barbara Betts and G. D. H. Cole. Mellor believed that Bevan had the potential to become leader of the party: "Background, A1. Brain first-class. Power to move people. But has he the patience? Has he a simple and ruthless enough mind? Does he like caviar too much?" In 1932 the group established the Socialist League.

With the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, Mellor became convinced that the Labour Party should establish a United Front against fascism with the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Independent Labour Party. In April 1934 Mellor had a meeting with Fenner Brockway and Jimmy Maxton, two leaders of the ILP, "to talk over ways and means of securing working-class unity". He also had meetings with Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Mellor told Barbara Betts in 1934: "In the end I am a socialist and an agitator because I want a free world in which human relationships shall be free from the constrictions and restraints imposed by... and taboos that spring from, religious... fears. I'm a politician only because this world as it is kills individuality, destroys freedom and fetters human beings... We may have to go through hell to get there but even that wouldn't be too big a price to pay."

In the 1935 General Election Mellor, was the Labour candidate in Enfield. Mellor wrote to his mother that Barbara Betts was of great help in his campaign: "Barbara is working like a trojan and speaking like an angel." Mellor was defeated but Castle pointed out that he added five thousand to the Labour vote on "a 100% left-wing programme".

Mellor continued to attack the leadership of the Labour Party for not establishing a United Front with the Independent Labour Party and Communist Party of Great Britain and along with Stafford Cripps established the Socialist League. This upset the leaders of the Trade Union Congress and as they still controlled the Daily Herald he was warned that he was in danger of losing his job. When he refused to back-down he was sacked in March 1936.

In January 1937 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss decided to launch a radical weekly, The Tribune, to "advocate a vigorous socialism and demand active resistance to Fascism at home and abroad." Mellor was appointed editor and others such as Aneurin Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Castle, Harold Laski, Michael Foot and Noel Brailsford agreed to write for the paper.

Mellor wrote in the first issue: "It is capitalism that has caused the world depression. It is capitalism that has created the vast army of the unemployed. It is capitalism that has created the distressed areas... It is capitalism that divides our people into the two nations of rich and poor. Either we must defeat capitalism or we shall be destroyed by it." Stafford Cripps wrote encouragingly after the first issue: "I have read the Tribune, every line of it (including the advertisements!) as objectively as I can and I must congratulate you upon a very first-rate production.''

Cripps declared that its mission was to recreate the Labour Party as a truly socialist organization. This soon brought them into conflict with Clement Attlee and the leadership of the party. Hugh Dalton declared that "Cripps Chronicle" was "a rich man's toy". Threatened with expulsion, in May 1937 Cripps agreed to abandon the United Front campaign and to dissolve the Socialist League.

By 1938 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss had lost £20,000 in publishing The Tribune. The successful publisher, Victor Gollancz, agreed to help support the newspaper as long as it dropped the United Front campaign. When Mellor refused to change the editorial line, Cripps sacked him and invited Michael Foot to take his place. However, as Mervyn Jones has pointed out: "It was a tempting opportunity for a 25-year-old, but Foot declined to succeed an editor who had been treated unfairly."




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