By Henry Pelling (auth.)
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Whatever may happen,' he declared, whatever may be said about us, we will take the action of saying that this country ought to have remained 35 A Short History of the Labour Party neutral, because in the deepest parts of our hearts we believe that that was right and that that alone was consistent with the honour of our country and the traditions of the Party that are now in office. 1 But Grey's speech and, more particularly, the invasion of Belgium which took place next day (4th August) had the effect of transforming public opinion.
42 Henderson's Party: War and Reconstruction (1914-22) These far-sighted recommendations alienated some extreme 'patriotic' union leaders, some of whom seceded from the party. But they won such an overwhelming endorsement from the unions as a whole that they had much influence in the world, both upon Lloyd George and upon President Wilson, who through various agents kept a close watch on the development of British opinion. Lloyd George soon afterwards made a statement on war aims to a conference of trade unionists, and although it was in studiously vague terms it seemed to show some Labour Party influence; and President Wilson's Fourteen Points, which were enunciated a few days later, followed the same lines.
But by then it was too late: for the 'leader' as he had become benefited from the sturdy loyalty of the trade unionists, who gave him the same trust as they themselves would have expected from the rank and file of a trade union during an industrial strike. The example was set by Henderson and by Clynes himself, who both recognised MacDonald's exceptional parliamentary abilities and served him without rancour. MacDonald was fully conscious of the character of his task, and of the fact that he was in a completely different position from any earlier chairman of the parliamentary party.
A Short History of the Labour Party by Henry Pelling (auth.)