J. R. Clynes

The Right Honourable
John Robert Clynes
Home Secretary
In office
8 June 1929  26 August 1931
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by Sir William Joynson-Hicks
Succeeded by Sir Herbert Samuel
Lord Privy Seal
In office
22 January 1924  6 November 1924
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by Robert Cecil
Succeeded by James Gascoyne-Cecil
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
In office
21 November 1922  25 October 1932
Leader Ramsay MacDonald
Arthur Henderson
Preceded by Office Created
Succeeded by Clement Attlee
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
14 February 1921  21 November 1922
Chief Whip Arthur Henderson
Preceded by William Adamson
Succeeded by Ramsay MacDonald
Minister of Food Control
In office
9 July 1918  10 January 1919
Prime Minister David Lloyd George
Preceded by David Alfred Thomas
Succeeded by George Henry Roberts
Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Food Control
In office
2 July 1917  9 July 1918
Prime Minister David Lloyd George
Preceded by Charles Bathurst
Succeeded by Waldorf Astor
Member of Parliament
for Manchester Platting
Manchester North East (1906–1918)
In office
14 November 1935  5 July 1945
Preceded by Alan Chorlton
Succeeded by Hugh Delargy
In office
8 February 1906  27 October 1931
Preceded by James Fergusson
Succeeded by Alan Chorlton
Personal details
Born 27 March 1869
Oldham, Lancashire, England
Died 23 October 1949(1949-10-23) (aged 80)
London, England
Political party Labour

John Robert Clynes (27 March 1869 23 October 1949)[1] was a British trade unionist and Labour Party politician. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) for 35 years, and as Leader of the Labour Party (from 14 February 1921 to 21 November 1922), led the party in its breakthrough at the 1922 general election. He was the first Englishman to serve as leader of the Labour Party.

Early life

The son of a labourer named Patrick Clynes, he was born in Oldham, Lancashire, and began working in a local cotton mill when he was ten years old.[2] Aged sixteen, he wrote a series of articles about child labour in the textile industry, and the following year; he helped form the Piercers' Union. He was mainly self-educated, although he went to night school after his day's work in the mill. His first book was a dictionary and then, by careful saving of coppers, he bought a Bible, Shakespeare's plays, and Bacon's essays.[2] Later in life, he would amaze colleagues in meetings and in parliamentary debates by quoting verbatim from the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton and Ruskin.[3] He married Mary Elizabeth Harper, a mill worker, in 1893.

Trade union and political involvement

In 1892, Clynes became an organiser for the Lancashire Gasworkers' Union and came in contact with the Fabian Society. Having joined the Independent Labour Party, he attended the 1900 conference where the Labour Representation Committee was formed; this committee soon afterwards became the Labour Party.

Clynes stood for the new party in the 1906 general election and was elected to Parliament for Manchester North East,[1][4] becoming one of Labour's bright stars. In 1910, he became the party's deputy chairman.

Parliamentary career

During the First World War, Clynes was a supporter of British military involvement (in which he differed from Ramsay MacDonald), and, in 1917, became Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Food Control in the Lloyd George coalition government. The next year, he was appointed Minister of Food Control and, at the 1918 general election, he was returned to Parliament for the Manchester Platting constituency.[5]

Clynes became leader of the party in 1921 and led it through its major breakthrough in the 1922 general election. Before that election, Labour only had 52 seats in parliament but, as a result of the election, Labour's total number of seats rose to 142. He was held in considerable respect and affection in the Labour Party and, although lacking the charisma of MacDonald, was a wily operator who believed all resources available should be used to advance the material of the working classes.[6]

MacDonald had resigned as Labour leader in 1914, due to his wartime pacifism,[7] and at the 1918 general election, he lost his seat. He did not return to the House of Commons for another four years. By that stage, MacDonald's pacifism had been forgiven. When the occupant of the Labour leadership had to be decided on through a vote of Labour parliamentarians, MacDonald narrowly defeated Clynes. Clynes was a critic of government policy towards the Irish population in the years after 1918, and attacked 'a recurring system of coercion' which had left Ireland “more angry and embittered . . . than ever’[8]

Governmental office

When MacDonald became Prime Minister he made Clynes the party's leader in the Commons until the government was defeated in 1924. During the second MacDonald government of 19291931, Clynes served as Home Secretary.[2] In that role, Clynes gained literary prominence when he explained in the Commons his refusal to grant a visa[9] to the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, then living in exile in Turkey, who had been invited by MacDonald's party to give a lecture in Britain. Clynes had then been immortalised by the scathing criticism of his concept of the right to asylum, voiced by Trotsky in the last chapter of his autobiography "My Life" entitled "The planet without visa".[10]

In 1931, Clynes sided with Arthur Henderson and George Lansbury, against MacDonald's support for austerity measures to deal with the Great Depression. Clynes split with MacDonald when the latter left Labour to form a National Government. In the 1931 election, Clynes was one of the casualties, losing his Manchester Platting seat.[5] Nevertheless, he regained this constituency in 1935,[5] and then remained in the House of Commons until his retirement ten years later, at the 1945 general election.[5]

Retirement and death

After retiring, Clynes was living in very straitened circumstances, with no other income than trade union pension of £6 per week. This pension debarred him from the Commons Ex-Members Fund. Doctors and nursing fees in respect of his invalid wife had hit him heavily.[11] MPs opened a fund to help and raised about £1,000.[12] Thus, after a lifetime spent in advancing the material conditions of the people, he died in relative poverty in October 1949.[6] His wife died a month later.[11]


  1. 1 2 Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "M" (part 1)
  2. 1 2 3 "Mr J.R. Clynes to Leave the House". Hull Daily Mail. British Newspaper Archive. 21 May 1942. Retrieved 30 March 2016. (Subscription required (help)).
  3. Tony Judge, 'J.R. Clynes: A Political Life' (2016) Ch1
  4. Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1974]. British parliamentary election results 1885–1918 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 142. ISBN 0-900178-27-2.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Craig, F. W. S. (1983) [1969]. British parliamentary election results 1918–1949 (3rd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 191. ISBN 0-900178-06-X.
  6. 1 2 Tony Judge, 'J.R. Clynes: A Political Life' (2016)
  7. Marquand, David Ramsay MacDonald, (London: Jonathan Cape 1977); ISBN 0-224-01295-9, p. 168
  8. Jon Lawrence ‘Forging a Peaceable Kingdom: War, Violence and Fear of Brutalisation in Post-First World War Britain', JMH (2003), p.582
  9. "M. TROTSKY. (Hansard, 18 July 1929)". hansard.millbanksystems.com. 18 July 1929. Retrieved 17 August 2012. In regard to what is called "the right of asylum," this country has the right to grant asylum to any person whom it thinks fit to admit as a political refugee. On the other hand, no alien has the right to claim admission to this country if it would be contrary to the interests of this country to receive him.
  10. Trotsky, Leon (1930). "Chapter 45: The Planet Without a Visa". My Life. marxists.org. Retrieved 17 August 2012. The pious Mr. Clynes ought at least to have known that democracy, in a sense, inherited the right of asylum from the Christian church, which, in turn, inherited it, with much besides, from paganism. It was enough for a pursued criminal to make his way into a temple, sometimes enough even to touch only the ring of the door, to be safe from persecution. Thus the church understood the right of asylum as the right of the persecuted to an asylum, and not as an arbitrary exercise of will on the part of pagan or Christian priests.
  11. 1 2 "J.R. Clynes Left £9816". Dundee Courier. British Newspaper Archive. 7 February 1950. Retrieved 30 March 2016. (Subscription required (help)).
  12. "MR. J.R. Clynes Taken To Hospital". Hull Daily Mail. British Newspaper Archive. 31 August 1949. Retrieved 30 March 2016. (Subscription required (help)).

Further reading

  • Judge, Tony. J.R. Clynes: A Political Life (2016)
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir James Fergusson
Member of Parliament for Manchester North East
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Manchester Platting
Succeeded by
Alan Chorlton
Preceded by
Alan Chorlton
Member of Parliament for Manchester Platting
Succeeded by
Hugh James Delargy
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Rhondda
Minister of Food Control
Succeeded by
George Henry Roberts
Preceded by
The Viscount Cecil of Chelwood
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by
Sir William Joynson-Hicks
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Sir Herbert Samuel
Trade union offices
Preceded by
Herbert Skinner and John Wadsworth
Trades Union Congress representative to the American Federation of Labour
With: Alfred Henry Gill
Succeeded by
William Brace and Ben Turner
Preceded by
New position
President of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers
1924 1937
Succeeded by
Fred Marshall
as Chair of the Executive
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ben Turner
Trades councils representative on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
William Barfoot
Preceded by
William Adamson
Chair of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Ramsay MacDonald
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