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Last updated:12 March 2015

Independent Labour Party (ILP)

At the end of the 19th century working class representation in Parliament became a major issue.

The Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884, which gave all male householders the vote, made the working class the majority of the electorate, but most only had the choice to vote Liberal or Conservative.

ILP membership certificateA number of working class candidates, financially supported by trade unions, were accepted and supported by the Liberals, but over time a growing number of socialists were convinced of the need for labour politics independent of the Liberal Party.

In 1888 the Scottish Labour Party was founded, and in the following years political Labour organisations sprang up over the country.

In 1893 a conference was held at Bradford, chaired by Keir Hardie and the national Independent Labour Party was formed. Its policy was socialist: 'to secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange'.  Tom Mann was the first General Secretary.

In 1895 the ILP stood 28 candidates but all were defeated. In 1900 Keir Hardie won Merthyr Tydfil.

In 1900 the ILP joined with the trade unions and other socialist groups in forming the Labour Representation Committee, which became the Labour Party in 1906.

To begin with, ILP branches were the only local organisation the Labour Party had. Many of the major figures in the Labour Party's rise in the early part of the century were also members of the ILP.  However in 1918 the Labour Party introduced its own individual membership, though the ILP continued to hold its own conferences and determine its own policies.

In 1922 Jimmy Maxton was one of several ILP members elected as Glasgow MPs and in 1926 he became leader of the ILP. In 1932 the ILP disaffiliated from the Labour Party, after Ramsay MacDonald had formed the national government with the Liberals and Tories.

In 1975 the ILP changed to become Independent Labour Publications, a political pressure group, rather than a party.

The Library has an extensive collection of ILP conference reports and pamphlets, copies of Labour Leader the weekly paper, and material on Keir Hardie and Tom Mann.  

Click here to make an appointment to come and have a read.