Tea with Kropotkin – The search for Jacob

How do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found? Especially after over a century has passed? 

For over a decade now I’ve been on the hunt for information about my great great grandfather and turning up very little. So we have a handful of facts and a lot of conjecture. But from what little we have he was a truly interesting fellow. 

Jacob front and centre at his grandson’s wedding. He was extremely ill but determined to be there. He died the next day.

We know he liked to lie on censuses, in fact he keeps adding extra years to his age in order to seem more authoritative. 

We know that he came from an azkenezi jewish family in eastern Europe, although some suggestions have been Russia the only place we can track him down is a Shetl near Kovno in Lithuania. One of the reasons tracking him down before his move to the UK is that the place was targeted by the einsatzgruppen who most likely killed any remaining relatives and records about Jews were destroyed. 

We know he was a revolutionary, a bolshevik and an anarchist. The family story is that he fled the pogroms and being forced into the tsars army. This story never changed so is most likely true. 

We know he lived in the east end of London where he raised a family and lost his first “wife”. 

The family story was that his first wife Polly died of a botched abortion. Thanks to old Bailey court records we know that this is true and that the midwife who performed the abortion was prosecuted and found not guilty. 

We know Jacob was a very active trade unionist, he was one of the founders of the Jewish Tailors Union (which was one of the founding unions of the Labour Party). He got blacklisted in London, moved to Manchester for a while and eventually emigrated to America because he was unable to get work in the UK. 

We also know that he was close to Pytor Kropotkin. He took his children to have tea with him and also introduced them to Maxim Litvinov. 
We also have written evidence of him sharing a platform with Emma Goldman in London and the two of them came from the same Shetl, because of the propensity for jewish people at the time to only marry other jewish people there is a good chance the two were related. 
Here is where the conjecture gets interesting. 

Jacob was a regular attendee at the Whitechapel Anarchist tearooms set up by Rudolf Rocker. Other regular attendees (when in London) were Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. As Jacob was close to Kropotkin and Litvinov it is unlikely he wouldn’t have known the movers and shakers in the Russian Revolution.

However the tearoom was not purely an eastern European thing. Amongst those who took tea and debated there were Keir Hardie and Ramsey  Mcdonald as well as other high ranking members of the Labour movement. As Jacob was an active trade unionist and his union was one which formed the Labour Party it can be assumed that he at least had a passing acquaintance with early Labour MPS. 

Jacob seems to have been mixing with some of the key figures in left wing history. 

We also know that his son Louis was deeply involved with the Labour party and had a fair amount of influence with the Attlee government.  The question is how far this was due to Jacob. 


Cooperative Women’s Guild Speech

In 1883 our foremothers came together with a common purpose, to fight for equality within our movement, to promote women and for education for women and children. 


They were troublemakers and rabble rousers not cake bakers and jam makers.


Before our party was on its feet, these were the people who brought women into politics, provided training and increased women’s confidence. And this is still something they continue to do.


They say that if you want something done then you give it to a busy woman, and based on their history the Women’s Guild have been very busy women. Amongst the campaigns they were heavily involved in were those for fair wages, maternity rights and women’s suffrage, where some canny women realised that until they could vote, women’s power lay in their shopping basket. In this way they were harking back to the Rochdale Pioneers.


In my home town of Nottingham, the local Guild set up one of the first Family planning clinics in the country, with the aim of enabling working women to control their own fertility. This was part of a wider campaign by the national guild for better public health and access to healthcare. 


Unlike what certain newspapers think, White poppies were not invented by the stop the war coalition, instead they are almost as old as red poppies and were created by the Women’s Guild. To this day many guildswomen wear red poppies to remember the fallen and white poppies as a pledge to work towards future peace.


Even now, with their future in question, guildswomen are continuing to fight, fight against the sexualisation of children, against the extra cost of single rooms in hotels and to save our NHS. Guildswomen will staff the picket lines to provide cover for nurses and ambulance staff who feel unable to.


In all climates the Guild has kept the flame of cooperativism alive, we shouldn’t allow them to go quiet into that good night.


We ask the party to provide support to the guild, to offer both practical help and solidarity and to use its considerable skills and experience to help the guild continue into the future.

Apples and Activists – Keeping it Co-op

This Saturday there will be a vote which decides the entire future of the Cooperative Party. An election which has been mired in controversy and anger over the way it has been run. If we don’t get our vote out then we could lose our sister party and lose a major voice for the Cooperative Movement. We’re already heartbroken over losing the General Election; I couldn’t stand it if we lost on Saturday.  Please vote YES to 9 and 10


Over the last few weeks I have heard many people talk about the Cooperative Group’s values and principles. They talk of these values as something special, something worth fighting for and something that has been passed down to us. These are the things that make the Cooperative so much more than just a shop, more than just another ASDA or Tesco on the high street; things that make it part of a movement. There are groups of people who shop, insure and bank with the Cooperative because they believe in these values and find them more and more attractive.

However recently there has been an attempt to break away from these values and away from the wider Cooperative Movement. Claims are being made that the Cooperative Group needs to change or it will sink. Allan Leighton the chair of the Cooperative Group has stated that “It’s the apples, not the activists, which will transform the coop.”

As part of the attempt to break away from the Cooperative Movement, the Cooperative Group has put its century long connection with the Cooperative Party up for grabs.

Often an unknown and misunderstood organisation, for 98 years the Cooperative Party has existed to promote Cooperative Values and Principles in Parliament and ensure that Co-operators get elected and that the wider cooperative movement has a voice in politics and policy.


In 1917 one hundred and seven independent co-operative businesses voted to establish the Co-op Party, because they recognised that the changes they wanted to see and their vision of a better, more equal society wouldn’t happen without political action.


Alfred Waterson – First Cooperative MP

There were immediate results of this action with the first Cooperative MP Alfred Waterson being elected in 1918. Although elected solely as a Cooperative Party MP, Waterson chose to accept the Labour Party whip, I suspect in part because in the British Electoral System the only way to have any impact is to work with a larger party. It wasn’t until 1927 however, that there was an official recognition of this rather canny decision and unique relationship and a decision to stand joint candidates. This has been a successful electoral relationship for the Cooperative Party with them currently being the 4th largest political party in the House of Commons (24 MPs).

The electoral pact has led many people to confuse the two parties or assume that the Cooperative Party is just another wing of the Labour Party, another Fabian Society or Progress. This assumption is completely false, although the Cooperative stands joint candidates with the Labour Party, in all other ways they are an individual Party with their own membership, staff, national executive committee (NEC) and policy platform, all of which are independent of Labour’s.

If there has been a piece of legislation which has benefited consumers you can safely bet that there was a Cooperative Party MP at the heart of it. If there has been a change in the law which has improved the situation for Cooperatives and Mutuals you can presume that there is a Coop Party MP there and if there is legislation around protecting the environment and encouraging renewables again it is more likely than not that there is a Coop MP there.
The Cooperative Party has used the last 98 years well; growing, evolving and becoming a major voice in the political landscape. It may actually be the Party which is the best value for money for donors.


Since 1917 the majority of British retail cooperatives have been absorbed and combined into the Co-operative Group. The Cooperative group has become a major beneficiary of 150 years of British Cooperation and the investment of time, money and passionate commitment by Cooperators, including politicians, much of which has taken place in the last 100 years.

As the main beneficiary of our long and glorious history, and as Britain’s largest cooperative, it must be asked if the Coop Group have a duty towards the wider cooperative movement or are they solely responsible to its current members?

How much of the development that they profit from can be put down to the influence of the Cooperative Party?

Are we just shoppers or are we pioneers of another way of doing politics?


Please vote to Keep it Coop. Ballots close on the 13th.

Breastfeeding motion and speech

This council believes that women who chose to breastfeed should be supported and respected. Breastfeeding has many benefits for children and mothers including

Reducing the likelihood of a mother contacting breast cancer by up to 20% and also reduces risk of ovarian cancer and developing cardiovascular disease.

Reducing stress levels and the risk of postpartum depression.

Protects the baby from a long list of illnesses including respiratory infections, diabetes and gastroenteritis.

Reduces likelihood of a child developing allergies.

May boost the child’s intelligence and reduce their likelihood of being obese in later life.

However recent events have shown that many women who want to breastfeed feel unable to do so when out of the home and Britain continues to have low rates of breastfeeding take up especially after 3 months (17%), four months (12%) and six months (1%).

This council pledges itself to become breastfeeding friendly, promote breastfeeding and to work towards making sure that all its public buildings have facilities that can be used by breastfeeding mothers and to work with local businesses to encourage them to become breastfeeding friendly.

Thank you madam mayor

It is my great pleasure to bring this motion to council as part of a larger piece of work this council is undertaking to work with the CCG on improving the health of our community.

I would like to point out that this motion deals with mothers who choose to breastfeed. The important word is choice. Women who choose not to breastfeed or are prevented by circumstance are not being criticised. When women want to breastfeed we are intent on making it as easy and stress free in Gedling as possible.

The motion rehearses the advantages of breastfeeding to mother and child and the relatively low take up.

Breastfeeding is important, we cannot deny that. Yet with the trend to get women out of hospital as soon as possible after giving birth many women feel unprepared, unsure or unable to breastfeed or even to choose whether to breastfeed or not.

We know of recent cases where women have been made uncomfortable feeding in public places.

As a Council we are at the forefront of working with the CCG on the Nottinghamshire Breastfeeding Friendly Scheme. This is a scheme which centres on Peer supporters and giving certification to businesses and buildings that match the Breastfeeding Friendly Guidelines.

Peer Supporters are mums who have breastfed, completed a 20 hour breastfeeding course and are keen to support mums in the early days of breastfeeding a new baby. They spend a few hours each week working as volunteers and follow confidentiality and safeguarding children practice guidelines.

This motion commits the Council to further work including joining in with the Nottinghamshire Breastfeeding Friendly Checklist and Sticker to promote breastfeeding friendly places. This will be led by the peer support volunteer programme in line with the checklist they have put together.

We will review our buildings and promote breastfeeding, work towards providing suitable facilities for breastfeeding and encourage partners to do likewise. We will be having a group of Peer supporters visiting our facilities and assessing them in line with the Breastfeeding Friendly guidelines. The initial visits will be at Calverton Leisure Centre, Arnold Leisure Centre, Carlton Forum and Gedling Civic Centre.

It is an opportunity to lead the way and become the first certified organisation in Gedling. We have already taken some steps to ensure we are Breast Feeding Friendly and now I am asking for your support to go further in providing firm support for mothers in Gedling Borough.

Labour People: Red Ellen in Opposition

Labour Woman

One of the more surprising things about Ellen is her close friendship with the Conservative MP Nancy Astor. Although when you think they were two of the only four female MPs it is understandable that the sisterhood was strong, all the female MPs of this period were extremely close, and not only because you couldn’t swing a cat in their room.

Ellen and Nancy became the Parliamentary Spokeswomen for feminist reforms and both cared deeply for promoting women and worked with feminist groups outside Parliament. Allegedly they were both known for two traits “a booming voice and the ability to annoy the male members of the commons.” Traits any female politician would be proud to claim as their own.

The two formed a double-act fighting the injustices of legal treatment of women and Ellen often annoyed members of her own party by siding with Nancy and prioritising gender over class. In many ways this was the age-old struggle of left-wing women all over writ large. Is gender more important than class or vise versa? As you could expect, a former suffragist activist such as Ellen was passionately committed to the equalisation of the franchise and allowing both men and women over 21 to vote. Just a few months after she had entered parliament Ellen seconded a private members bill designed to give women suffrage equality, prior to this she prepared the ground well, raising the issue in the labour party, speaking at public meetings, demonstrating and leading a deputation to the Home Secretary. However the bill was opposed by the government and therefore fell to strong opposition but not before they had been embarrassed enough to confirm that they would honour Baldwin’s electoral pledge to provide equal suffrage.

Nancy at this point was willing to believe the Home Secretary and let the matter lie. However Ellen, with the knowledge born of her long experience in the Suffrage movement continued to put pressure on the Prime Minister to stick to his word. She repeatedly asked at PMQs (In February, November and December 1926) when the bill to provide equal suffrage would be introduced, broadcast a speech from the Eiffel Tower and traveled all night to be the only MP to take part in a suffrage procession of 3,500 women which included Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and Charlotte Despard.

Despite an announcement by Baldwin that the government would extend the franchise Ellen kept up her campaigning. Thanks in no small part to her persistence William Wedgewood Benn (father of Tony) introduced the Representation of the People (equal franchise bill) in March 1928. There was little opposition although one Conservative expressed his deep held fears that the bill would result in a female Chancellor of the Exchequer, in response Ellen shouted “Why Not?” The position of Chancellor is the only one of the four great offices of state that has never been held by a woman.

Having achieved this aim Ellen continued to fight for women, including campaigning for;

  • more women to be allowed to join the police force
  • equal treatment of men and women in prostitution
  • legitimising children who were illegitimate but their parents went on to marry
  • pensions for widows with young children
  • stopping the decrease in funding for women’s training centres
  • Amending nationality laws to allow British women who married a foreigner to retain their citizenship
  • continuing to regulate the hours worked by shop workers and against a longer working day
  • a family allowance for married women
  • protective legislation including a Factory Bill that would require; a 38 hour working week, safer machinery, better health, lighting, ventilation and sanitation. Unfortunately it was defeated by the Conservatives.

One of the most contentious issues Ellen was involved in around this time was that of birth control. Indeed this is an issue which historians use to claim she sold out and sacrificed her feminism on the altar of power and socialism. During this time it was not only illegal to sell contraception but also to give out advice and the debate over the issue was fiery and vitriolic, especially in the Labour Women’s group. In many ways Ellen attempted to steer through the rocky waters, publicly she said little due to a fear of being accused of immorality (and her previously largely Catholic constituency) but privately she worked to obtain the reforms needed. She provided the leading birth control campaigner Dora Russell with information she needed in an unofficial capacity and worked on Labour Party bigwigs to get the changes in the law that would allow advice to be given.

It must be noted that in 1929 she was the only female MP to vote for a private members bill designed to allow local authorities to “incur expenditure in conveying knowledge of birth control methods to married women who desire it”.

Scourge of Tories

Unusually for a female MP Ellen was no stranger to the rough and tumble of economic debate. She had many strong words for the government including how they seemed to be led by the nose by the bankers and the Chancellor “just moved up and down as a barometer or puppet of the bankers’ little games”.

“I feel we are paying a very high price for the smiles of the financiers of America”


“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an unemployed man to get his insurance benefit”

In 1926 The TUC called a General Strike to support the miners and Ellen was in the thick of it. For nine days she flew around the country speaking at meetings and generally trying to bolster the spirits of the strikers. From Oxford to the Midlands (10 stops)  to Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough and York, everywhere she was well received with people walking often over 10 miles to hear her speak. But to her disgust after those 9 days the strike was called off and only the miners remained on strike for a further 6 months.

As the Minister of Health, Neville ‘appeasement’ Chamberlain swore that the striking miners would not receive “one scrap of assistance” and reduced benefits men, women and children went hungry. The women and children were able to get some relief with food coupons or food banks being set up, however this was not enough. So Ellen yet again threw herself into raising money to alleviate the hunger and was profoundly affected by the scenes that she saw. Stories she told included children to hungry to walk to school, barefoot children walking to the soup kitchen because their shoes were in the pawn shop, babies with malnutrition and women going without so their children could eat. By Jan 1927 she had raised £313,844 including £1000 raised at a single meeting, however this was not enough so she went to america to try to raise more.

It was around this point where she started being referred to as ‘Red Ellen’. One of her most shocking columns (Cheaper than Horseflesh) described the state of miners forced to drag a wagon nude with ropes round their waists rubbing them red raw and a chain between their legs. Denounced by critics as a liar she later found an unusual way of responding, on 28th June 1926 during the second reading of the Coal Mines Bill she held up the self-same device she had described in her article

“This is the rope that goes round the man’s waist; this is the chain that passed between his legs, and this is the crook that is hitched onto the tub… The collieries in which these men are working are very hot. The wearing of either no clothes or the very barest minimum of clothes is an absolute necessity, because the heat is so great. There is no proper ventilation”

In 1927 the Conservative government passed the much hated Trades Disputes Act, an act that still draws disgust from Trade Unionists to this day. The Act included

  • Banning sympathetic strikes
  • banning civil servants from joining unions affiliated to the TUC
  • protected blacklegs
  • made striking almost impossible
  • made workers contract into the political fund (side effect of reducing the income of the Labour Party by 50%)

The Act was a calculated and deliberate attack designed to cripple trade unions and destroy Labour with one stroke. It managed to do a lot of damage.In response to this Ellen came out with a clear and precise depiction of the situation.

“People who denounced the Conservative Party as stupid make me tired. In the things that they care about, the Tory leaders are clear-sighted and determined men.”


A description that still holds water to this day.

Labour People: Red Ellen part 2

Apologies for the amount of time it has taken to get to this.

We last left Ellen Wilkinson having lost her attempt to become MP for Ashton-under-Lyne in the General Election of 1923. Luckily for Ellen the 1923 election resulted in a hung parliament so there was another one called less than a year later.

In 1921 Ellen had become a member of the 6 point group, a cross-party and cross-class group whose main aim was to fight for an equalisation of the age of female suffrage. Although women had gained the vote in 1918 this was restricted to those over 30, a quirk of law that meant women such as Jennie Lee could stand for election but not vote for themselves.

The 22nd of February 1923 saw Ellen on a platform, in Central Hall, Westminster, one she shared with Nancy Astor, Millicent Fawcett and Eleanor Rathbone. The result of this weekend meeting was the agreement to campaign for equal age, equal pay, equal moral standards and equal opportunities in work. Although she was sharing a platform with middle and upper class women such as Lady Rhondda Ellen remained fiercely class conscious contrasting the opportunities and experiences of the middle class women to those of the working class women she knew and worked with.

In 1924 reforms to the Labour Party constitution has made the communist party a proscribed organisation and Ellen had to chose between the two. No member of the communist party would be endorsed as a Labour Party candidate and by this point Ellen wrote clearly wanted to become an MP. In correspondence she claimed that “It is a bitter thing to have to do… I do not hope for mercy. Goodbye Ellen Wilkinson”

Despite leaving the communist party in September 1924 (she claimed due to the methods employed by them) she continued to be a fellow traveller, promoting members of the C.P within her union and continuing a close friendship with their Manchester organiser Rajani Palme Dutt.


Having decided to stick with the labour party Ellen’s next opportunity came quickly. By October 1924 the minority labour government led by Ramsey Mcdonald had dissolved parliament and on the 29th Ellen was elected as the Labour Party MP for Middlesbrough East by 927 votes. She was only 33, the only woman (and lonely) on the opposition benches, one of only four women in parliament in total.


For a time, she said, it was as if she was dropped like a stone into a quiet pond. As a stylishly dress woman, with her bright red hair and diminutive stature, Ellen appeared a completely different kind of MP.

As she was such a small woman her feet were around 6 inches too short to reach the floor. But ever creative she started using her dispatch case as a footstool to stop her legs dangling over the edge like a small child, a position which she found ‘of extreme discomfort ‘.

Ellen made her maiden speech on the second day of parliament, in itself a rarity, to a mostly male audience (one woman) who crowded in to see her due to her youth and attractiveness. They were soon to learn that behind a demure appearance was a fiery, powerful woman who had no time for being treated as a “pet lamb”. Indeed, breaking with convention (a trend for labour women of the 20s) she delivered a rousing speech about things that made her indignant. Expecting an inoffensive and beige speech the men were blown away by her arguments for suffrage equality, increased unemployment benefits, better insurance and factory law reform. She managed to raise a cheer and her speech was week reported in the press.

Well informed… She is one of what we call the common people. She has lived among them and the whole dynamic urge of her actions is a burning passionate desire to better their lot.

Unlike many Ellen’s background in the trade union movement accustomed her to the rough and tumble which makes up Westminster. However the one thing to which she could not become immune to was the press’ fixation on what she wrote rather than what she said and would write reviews on her new frock or hair do. Indeed at one point Nancy Astor took her aside and gave her motherly advice on dressing “dull”. Sadly Ellen took good notice of this and started wearing the black and white quakeresque attire worn by other female MPs to the “great disappointment of about 600 honourable members” (Empire news)

Even with her adopting a plain dressing style Ellen was able to shake up the staid members who made up the commons. Previously women members had been squeezed into the tiny dressing room that has been put aside for Lady Astor’s use when female MPs made up a singular figure. Eventually there were 10 women using the room which had only one single pane window for ventilation, a washstand, a tin basin, a jug of cold water and a bucket. Ellen took especial offence to the lack of a mirror and the fact that women members were expected to avoid the bars, smoking rooms and members cloakrooms where the majority of the politicking was done. Certain women were also excluded from the Strangers’ dining room. It took her four years hard work but by late 1928 women were able to eat dinner there, not lunch though.

Ellen put in a large amount of work and by January 1929 had worked herself into ill health contracting a throat infection which pre-penicillin was hard to view and contributed to her lifelong condition of chest and throat infections.

Quick hit

I’d like to recommend that everyone reads Nan Sloane’s excellent comment is free article in the guardian

http:// http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/29/five-ways-more-women-uk-politics

Her suggestions as what needs to be done are eminently sensible and I find myself agreeing with every single one.

However what I found most interesting was the top picks comment on this piece by chattykathy14

But unfortunately we (non professional politicians) can’t get past the selection panels which are composed of party activists and hold to the view that if you haven’t been a member since 1931, attended every branch meeting and campaigned for t’Party at every opportunity, then you don’t get selected.
I’ve been carpetbagged on two seats (one is my home constituency, the other borders it): first by a well connected Oxbridge type who is making a real hash of winning an extremely winnable margin (the campaign workers are brilliant. She isn’t); second by an incomer who doesn’t understand the complexity of constituency and who admitted that she’s only here for experience. My consolation prize was to be begged to stand in the local elections. I declined. I want a shot at Westminster. I’m still looking for seat.

This is what puts women off. You try. You fail. You find out why you failed and its nothing to do with your particular qualities or qualifications. You retire from the fray because it’s so loaded against you.

There seem to be a lot of assumptions in this comment so I will break down my immediate response.

I find it interesting that she both complains of party members needing an eon of experience then talks about “carpet baggers”. The two seem to me to be mutually exclusive, if they only selected people who have attended every branch meeting why would they then turn around and select a newcomer who doesn’t understand the constituency?

Maybe the selected candidate did a better presentation, canvassed members thoroughly and convinced them she was the candidate for them. The majority of selections happen outside of hustings, candidates who canvas members, take the time to get to know them and their issues and has a cup of tea with them.

Standing in your own constituency or neighbouring you are more likely to be known to the party members and sadly more likely to make enemies or be friends with people who have enemies. Being well known can work against you as well as with you. Coming in fresh can win candidates support because they don’t come with this history and baggage. Yes, shenanigans do happen, but in my experience they are a lot rarer than gossip would make them out to be.

Then the description of local government as a consolation prize and dismissing it because they want Westminster. If I was a local party member I would be rather annoyed at this attitude, it sounds to me as if they are dismissing the importance of councils and how vital what they do is. Maybe local party members think she needs some seasoning and experience or maybe they think she would be really good as a councillor.

Whenever you put yourself forward for something you run the risk of disappointment, it’s how you respond to that and your behaviour afterwards that truly shows what sort of person you are and make party members support you in future.

I always remind myself that it took Betty Boothroyd five attempts (and numerous selections she didn’t get) before she was successful and look how far she went.