Gordon Brown hails first Labour leader Keir Hardie

Brown stressed the Labour party's great hero helped make them electable. Picture: Alan Watson

Brown stressed the Labour party's great hero helped make them electable. Picture: Alan Watson

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FORMER prime minister Gordon Brown has hailed Labour’s first leader Keir Hardie, who died 100 years ago this month, as its greatest hero.

Writing in the Radio Times, he says: “Without him there would have been no reforming government of 1945 and perhaps no free health service or welfare state.”

Keir Hardie pictured making a speech in London's Trafalgar Square. Picture: PA

Keir Hardie pictured making a speech in London's Trafalgar Square. Picture: PA

But in perhaps a pointed reference to Labour’s current leadership contest in which Jeremy Corbyn is the frontrunner, Mr Brown also states a core Hardie belief: “Labour, he said, had to become electable if it was to make any difference to people’s lives. It is a lesson that some who see themselves as Hardie’s heirs might do well to recall.”

Born James Keir in Lanarkshire as the illegitimate son of a miner in 1856, the future leader was raised by his devoted mother Mary, who then married an alcoholic carpenter named Hardie.

Mr Brown details the determination of the young Keir, who started work as an errand boy at the age of eight and was down the mines two years later.

“He taught himself to read in his teens, but it was his work as a trade union leader that brought him into confrontations with local employers.”

In 1887, after a miners’ strike was brutally suppressed, Mr Hardie set out to create a Labour Party dedicated to winning power. He achieved his goal when the Labour Representation Committee formally became the Labour Party in 1906, but he did not live to see the first Labour government in 1924.

Mr Hardie died of pneumonia in a Glasgow hospital on September 26 1915.

Mr Brown also pays tribute to Mr Hardie’s progressiveness: “Throughout his time as an MP he broke new ground. One of the first to support Indian independence, he was an early male supporter of votes for women and a controversial opponent of the First World War.”

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