Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The town hall that staged an earth shaking rebellion in 1921 sold off!"

The town hall, built in the 1850s which won a place in the history of our movement when Labour councillors led by George Lansbury staged an earth shaking rebellion in 1921 against collecting tolls for the London County Council is at the centre of an Inquiry and has been referred to the district auditor.

The old Poplar Town Hall - steeped in East End social history with the 1921 rates rebellion - was sold in 2011 at a knock-down price of £867,000 to be used for offices. The deal however has led to controversy over how a change of use from offices to luxury hotel slipped through the so-called planning net and which may have lost Tower Hamlets Council millions.

The Town Hall which I go past every other day during my working day collecting scrap is a lovely grand old building although in recent years it has been allowed to become a little run-down and I’ve sadly noticed its shabby appearance of late. The building holds a very special place in my own heart, as it was here that in 1984 inspired by Lansbury and the Labour councillors that I decided to hold a major now famous public meeting on homelessness with the renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, then much younger as indeed we all were back then, but John Pilger’s intervention won that campaign, there is no question of that, however that’s another story and you can read about it here and here, and of course in his book Heroes, a classic if ever there was one.

The building in my opinion should never have been sold off in the first place, but like most of the legacy left by Lansbury and the Poplar Councillors it has been superseded by betrayal and a general deep burying of history by the establishment and shamefully successive Labour and Trade Union leaders.

The protest defied government, the courts, and the Labour Party leadership. George Lansbury would later go on to be the leader of the Labour Party. How about that then, and is it any wonder that none of Lansbury’s successors to have succeeded him as Leader, never once to my knowledge, have ever mentioned him in the passing years, better to forget about Lansbury has been the adopted attitude, don’t want rebels in the party that put’s ideas into people's heads. It is well to remember that Lansbury stood and fought on radical platforms of women's suffrage and he also supported Sylvia Pankhurst's East London Federation of Suffragettes and most importantly he was a pacifist, with all his heart he believed that war and violence are unjustifiable, and this in turn led him to stand down from the party leadership in 1935 and leading onto the outbreak of the second war with Germany. Lansbury was a man of great principle and stood by what he preached, he resigned his seat in 1912 to campaign for women's suffrage.

In this year that marks the 100th anniversary of World War One, there can be no better quote than the one Lansbury used as leader of the Labour Party, a message to the voters in the Fulham East by-election, June 1933.

"I would close every recruiting station, disband the Army and disarm the Air Force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world: "Do your worst".
Poplar Town Hall is more than just an old attractive Victorian building now embroiled in controversy or rather should I say a spat of tribal warfare ejected between the current independent mayor Lutfur Rahman and the combined opposition of Tory and Labour councillors, indeed this is something that I don’t care to wade into, as no one on the present council can cast a light on the stature and sincerity to working people, of the council that Lansbury lead almost 100 years ago.
To sell this historic building is in itself a crime, make no mistake about that. But worse still, is Labour councillors fighting over a council asset, not because of its importance to the Labour movement but because of its monetary value, that says a lot about the Labour Party of today still burning and breaking with its past by detaching itself from the rich legacy left by Lansbury and the Poplar Councillors - shame on them all!”

1 comment:

Chris H said...

We often forget how important history is to any movement. It teaches, encourages and ensures that the evolution of any particular thought can be compared over time.

The principles that led Lansbury to jail, to the verge of bankruptcy and to several trials for sedition didn't fit well with the 'elite' of the Labour movement then and most definitely don't now.

Could you imagine Miliband, Callaghan or even Heath holding firm to their principles in the face of such adversity? Don't even talk about Blair.

It's important that we don't forget such people and such struggles. Many on the left now probably don't even have an inkling of what pioneers like Lansbury and Hardie went through in their search for justice. Those who reign now don't even want them to be given the opportunity to learn.

Lansbury's quote about disbanding the forces of death seems quite childish when taken on it's own but in the context of the working man and woman, those who actually give their lives up in war taking the same view, it becomes very powerful and very dangerous for today's leaders.

Great post Jim!

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