SOCIALIST LEADER’S ‘COME-BACK’ MY DAY WITH “FIGHTING MAC”By H.V. MORTON
As you know, Dear Regular Readers, I’m a Member of the HV Morton Society.Henry Canova Vollam Morton FRSL (known as H. V. Morton), (26 July 1892 – 18th June 1979) was a journalist and pioneering travel writer from Lancashire.I think he was the greatest Travel Writer who ever lived.He attended two Coronations, and was one of the few Journalists invited to the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
As the UK is at present suffering from a bad case of General Election Fever, it seems an appropriate time to look back to the 24 May 1929 when HV Morton took the readers of the Daily Express on a similar election trail.
For a day he followed the hectic schedule of one of the well-known political figures of the day, Ramsay MacDonald. He was a working-class Scot who had risen to become the first British Labour Prime Minister in 1924:
The human story of this election is Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. I have spent a day with him, and I have no wish to repeat it.
I motored down to Birmingham to pick him up on the last lap of his great motor-car tour of the country. I found that the strangest mystery surrounded him. No one knew his hotel. I found him at length hiding in a private boarding house in the Hagley-road. Why? Because Lord Arnold is nursing the leader of the Socialist Party as a mother nurses her child.
As soon as the day’s speeches are over Lord Arnold metaphorically wraps Mr. MacDonald in cotton wool and saves him from his supporters. He is whisked away to temperance hotels or improbable boarding houses and there lulled to rest.
He must be a difficult patient. His guardians are pale and haggard. No politician has, at a time when publicity is the breath of the party life, led so mysterious and so guarded an existence.TERRIFIC FIGHT
Mr. MacDonald, whether you like him of not, is putting up a terrific fight for the Premiership of a Socialist Government. For ten days he has been motoring hundreds of miles, and on average making ten wayside speeches a day, ending with a big mass meeting in a hall at night.
You have heard that he is an invalid. It is not true. This election seems to have made Ramsay MacDonald a fit man. He has “come back” at the thought of power and victory.
I followed him through England during the last election and at that time he was not in such good health or in such brilliant electioneering form as he is today. He sincerely believes that the Socialist Party has a good chance of beating Mr. Baldwin and if his last ounce of vitality can help he is ready to give it. I have never seen him so alive before a poll, but I would not be surprised to see him collapse after it.
This is a specimen day in his violent crusade for Socialism.
I set off after his car this morning soon after breakfast. We averaged forty to fifty miles an hour. We dashed into Stourbridge where a crowd waited in an open space singing that doleful tune, the Red Flag, which is calculated to turn the most bloody revolution into milk and water. Ramsay MacDonald almost ran to the platform. He spoke for five minutes. He regained his car, waved his hand, and was again off at forty miles an hour.FIVE-MINUTES SPEECH
We dashed into Kidderminster. He spoke for five minutes, but before the cheers had died away was off on the road.
At Worcester a crowd of railwaymen attached ropes to his car and dragged him to the platform. He hated the delay, but remembered to smile. He gave this crowd ten minutes and off we rushed again through the luscious lanes and the orchards to Gloucester.
Here the strangest Socialist audience I have ever seen sat in the Shire Hall. I would swear that it was a Conservative audience complete with vicars and colonels. I am sure that if this meeting was analysed it would be found that the Socialist party had invited Conservatives to it!
Mr. MacDonald, who reacts as readily as Lloyd George to atmosphere, opened out and gave a thumping speech. He let his voice rip and into it came that amazing note of the Scottish manse, that denunciatory note which, when accompanied by the wagging forefinger John Knox bequeathed to all Scotsmen, is most effective.
When he mentioned the slums and the poor little slum children, whose fingers will never stretch down to pluck the primroses in the green fields unless Socialism returns to power, a clergyman wiped his spectacles and several women gazed emotionally at their shoes.
He was an enormous success, and much to my delight, decided to stay in Gloucester and lunch. I have never encountered a more energetic “invalid.”
In an hour he was off again. We left the sweet midlands for the West Country. We did over fifty miles an hour on clear stretches. We dashed into a country town ten miles from Bristol. Here was something different – a quiet, easy-going town with a Conservative expression and loungers standing round the local public houses radiating reverence for the squire.PACKED HALL
The local hall, however, had been packed. Mr. MacDonald looked down on rows of stolid country faces. You could pick out the real Socialist at a glance. The rest were Conservatives with a sprinkling of hereditary Liberals.
He knew it at once. He quoted scripture. He poured out wrath on Lloyd George. He worked up a tremendous peroration, flushed with poetry, and begged the hereditary Liberals to fling away their ancient drums and their cracked cymbals and march boldly forward in the ranks of Socialism. Some of them applauded.
Off he went again and I lost him on the Bristol road. I found him again at the head of about thirty cars. Both sides of the road were lined with enthusiastic supporters, mainly women. They cheered him to the echo. He took off his hat and allowed his grey hair to blow in the wind. I was in time to see the sheltering arms of Lord Arnold receive him and motion the way into the quietest hotel in Clifton.
“Tired? Oh yes I am tired.”
He went upstairs to prepare the biggest speech of the day and to make plans for tearing off northwards tomorrow.
If Ramsay MacDonald has been ill he has at least come back with a vengeance for the General Election’.
The Labour Party won the 1929 General Election with the largest number of seats and Ramsay MacDonald was declared Prime Minister. However his period in office proved to be a disappointment to many of his followers, as his government wrestled with the terrible effects of unemployment due to the economic depression of the thirties. This led to him entering a coalition in 1931 with both the Conservatives and Liberals, which further alienated many of his former followers as they considered this to be a betrayal.
Ramsay MacDonald died at sea in 1937 while on a voyage to South America.