Keir Hardie

Roger Spalding examines the continuing controversy that surrounds one of the key figures in the history of the Labour Party.

Hardie’s contested legacy

The February 2000 edition of Inside Labour, a Labour Party journal, was largely given over to celebrating the Party’s centenary. The cover of the journal carried twin portraits of Keir Hardie and Tony Blair, obviously designed to convey the impression of continuity of outlook between the leader of the Labour movement around the start of the twentieth century and today's Labour Prime Minister. Later that year John Prescott, the Labour deputy leader, asserted: ‘the values that motivated Keir Hardie are the same ones that motivate Tony Blair’. This claim subsequently produced a public denial from Roy Hattersley, a former deputy leader, that Tony Blair’s policies had anything in common with Keir Hardie’s socialism. What this exchange illustrates is that Hardie’s legacy is a contested one. This is an interesting example of how history can be used to fight the battles of the present. In this dispute the two sides are seeking to legitimate their views by aligning them with their versions of Hardie’s politics.

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