Jack Lawson: A Man’s Life

Harry Barnes’s review of Jack Lawson’s autobiography, A Man’s Life, has been re-published on the North East Labour History website.

Like many of his era, Lawson first became politically active through the ILP which he joined in 1904 in Boldon in County Durham. He went on to become a Labour MP for Chester-le-Street, serving in the minority governments of Ramsay McDonald and the post-war Attlee government from 1945 to ’46.

Jack Lawson

Barnes tells the story of his fellow north-easterner, drawing parallels with his own journey from an upbringing and political awakening in a Durham mining community to become a Labour MP in the House of Commons.

“Although he achieved far more in his life than I have and he experienced infinitely harsher circumstances, a surprising number of events occurred to him which I can identify with,” writes Barnes, the former Labour MP for North East Derbyshire.

He goes on to trace the similarities and differences between their two careers, separated by half a century and carved out in comparable yet contrasting circumstances. Lawson went on to join the Lords as Baron Lawson of Beamish while Barnes left the Commons in 2005 and continues to campaign for democratic socialism through his blog, local discussion groups and involvement in the ILP.

“If you wish to find out … what life was like for a closely knit mining family, then this is the book for you,” he says.

“The appeal to me of Jack’s book is not just that I also originate from a Durham mining community, but that I worked closely with miners from South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire for 21 years. Furthermore, I did this in a capacity which links in with one of Jack’s commitments – working class adult education…

“The persistent core of these classes were members of the Yorkshire and Derbyshire NUMs. Their interests were grounded (like Jacks’) on their lives in their mining communities. Numbers moved on to study full-time in adult education colleges such as Ruskin. Many became, like Jack, avid readers of serious books.

“My big regret is that I never placed a copy of A Man’s Life in the book boxes we took to these classes. It was crafted for exactly such a readership.”


Harry Barnes is the former Labour MP for North East Derbyshire. He blogs at ‘Three Score Years and Ten’.

His review of A Man’s Life is here. The book was first published in 1932 while a new chapter was added in 1944.

According to Harry, second hand copies cost £25 but readers may wish to borrow it via the inter-library loan system. “I did this for £1.50,” he says.