ILP@120: Lessons from History

WILL BROWN reports from the Dronfield Labour Discussion Group where more than 30 activists braved a wintery night to mark the ILP’s 120th birthday on Sunday 13 January. 120 cake

Fuelled by a special surprise birthday cake made by Christine and Rosie Smith (pictured left), the audience heard the ILP NAC’s Barry Winter assess the contemporary lessons to be learned from the ILP’s history.

Barry began by reminding the audience just what a huge task the founders of the ILP faced. Hostility from the trade unions, from the Liberals and from much of the working class, meant that founding a party for labour – ‘a party that will’ – was a project that had to be argued for and fought for.

Even the later creation of the Labour Party necessitated compromises that many were unhappy with as the ILP’s commitment to socialism was tempered by the reformism and electoral priorities of others. Looking to achieve what is best under the constraints of the day, while never giving up on the longer-term aims we seek to achieve, has often been a hallmark of the ILP’s politics, Barry noted.

Looking to the present day, Barry focused on the interconnections between the necessary role of social democratic electoral parties, left groups like the ILP, and wider movements for change. While parties inevitably become focussed on short-term manoeuvring between tight electoral constraints, social movements can be more open and creative, he said. Although often short-lived, at their best movements create political space that social democratic parties can occupy.

In its history the ILP has played both roles, creating space and changing political landscapes while also engaging in electoral politics. Finding new ways for dialogue and cooperation between these two areas of political activity remains one of the most important challenges we face.


Many thanks to Christine and Rosie Smith for the cake and the photo.

More articles on the ILP’s 120th anniversary can be found here.

More on the ILP’s history is here.

Buy ILP 120th anniversary calendars here.