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Happy Birthday Keir Hardie

The 156th anniversary of the birthday of one of the Labour party’s finest minds, if not the finest, should be a day to celebrate – for without him we wouldn’t have had Attlee, Bevan and Castle and the soul of the party would have been different.

The post-war settlement, the NHS, the only woman to have held the office of First Secretary of State; all the heroes and all the achievements were able to come to life by the enabling work of this one great man.

And while we do celebrate him, we’d do well to remember some other opinions of his, relevant today as they were all those years ago in his prominence.

On being the first leader of the Labour party, a new party for the “uprising of the working class”, he noted the importance of middle-class socialists by arguing that Labour ought to:

“blend the classes into one human family [toward] emancipation”.

On the efforts of socialism, Hardie reminded its supporters that socialism:

“made war upon a system not a class”

Adding that Labour should:

“capture power, not destroy it”.

As Owen Jones pointed out so clearly last year, tax evasion by the wealthy, poor investment into public services, a slow economy with limited spending power for consumers and unaffordable housing are all issues close to the hearts of the middle-class, as well as being hot topics for socialists.

So when it is pointed out by certain actors that posh-bashing enjoys another rise in Britain, we ought to be very scornful. For it is not the man we want to play, in socialism, but the system.

The fact that 23 of the 29 cabinet members are millionaires should not go unobserved, and we can wonder whether the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch are being just a little sensitive. But the point of our struggle today is to critique the conditions that have allowed the richest 10% to be 100 times better off than the poorest 10%.

James Keir Hardie taught as a very valuable lesson about how our political project in the Labour party should be carried out, and this lesson in particular puts us above crass personal attack, and critical of the deeper tensions that lie at the heart of an inegalitarian society.

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