Trades Unions Drive Labour Stance on Rearmament

Tuesday 6th October 1936

The Labour Party Conference in Edinburgh took a baby step away from uncompromising pacifism. It passed a resolution calling for the armed strength of those countries still in the League of Nations to be “conditioned” by that of the dictatorships in view of the latter’s ever more lamentable behaviour. Mentioning the League was, of course, a sop to the massive sentiment in its favour, which contrived to ignore proofs of  that organisation’s complete ineffectualness.

The motion was passed solely on the block votes of the trades unions, mindful of the effect of rearmament on employment. The local political parties were opposed to anything that looked like support for a government programme, however feeble it might be. George Lansbury spoke out for the unreconstructed pacifist element and Sir Stafford Cripps on the extreme left hedged his bets rather. The most powerful support for the motion came from Hugh Dalton, whose prominence was a register of the weakness of the  Party’s leadership. Clem Attlee, the recently installed leader, was still consolidating his position and had to steer a middle path, insisting that the Government should not be given a “blank cheque” but ducking out of outright opposition.