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Morgan Jones – Man of Conscience

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Morgan Jones was the Labour MP from 1921 until his death in 1939. His claim to fame is the fact that he was the first conscientious objector to be elected to Parliament.

He was a member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), a Christian socialist and a pacifist for most of his short life. He opposed the First World War, refused to serve in the armed forces and was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs as a consequence. When there was a by-election in Caerphilly in 1921, Jones stood as the Labour candidate, defending his pacifism. He was elected with a large majority.

But Morgan Jones deserves to be remembered for other things as well. Throughout his life, he was a strong opponent of the Communist Party, especially its efforts to ‘enter’ the Labour Party and undermine it from within. Indeed, it is worth noting that when Morgan Jones was elected to Parliament in 1921, he soundly defeated the Communist Party’s candidate in their first attempt to enter Parliament.

He should also be remembered as a path-breaking educationalist. On two occasions he was an Education Minister – in 1924 and in 1929-31. Although it is fair to say that those Labour Governments did not place a big emphasis on reforming education, nevertheless Morgan Jones laid the foundations, in his work during the 1930s, for Labour’s post-war reforms and its move towards what later became known as Comprehensive Education.

Throughout his life, Morgan Jones was a Welsh patriot and argued for distinctive Welsh policies at a time when ‘devolution’ was a word that had not been invented. But Morgan Jones was also a committed internationalist. During the early 1930s, when Labour was reduced to a parliamentary rump, Morgan Jones became one of Labour’s frontbench spokesmen on foreign affairs, as well as being Labour’s Education spokesman and Chair of a House of Commons Select Committee. In his role as a foreign affairs spokesman, Jones focussed on India, Palestine and the West Indies. Importantly, he also found himself having to respond to the growth of fascism in continental Europe and because of his close links to the Jewish community in Golders Green in London, where Morgan Jones and his family lived for a time, he became acutely aware of the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

In the early 1930s, Labour was led by George Lansbury. Like Morgan Jones, Lansbury was a Christian socialist and a pacifist and he and Morgan Jones had much in common. But in 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power and there was a growing concern about the growth and spread of fascism across Europe. After much agonising and soul searching, Morgan Jones came to the view that pacifism, to which George Lansbury was firmly committed, could not stop the advance of the ‘evil’ which the world was now facing. Morgan Jones therefore supported the replacement of George Lansbury by Clem Attlee as Leader of the Labour Party.

Not only did Morgan Jones give his support to Attlee, he also explained why he now believed that ‘pacifism’ was unable to stop the rise of fascism. Like many democratic socialists of his generation who had witnessed the horrors of the First Word War, Morgan Jones came to the conclusion that democracy and freedom could only now be defended if Britain was prepared to use military force, in cooperation with its allies.

Morgan Jones saw the overthrow of a democratically-elected government in Spain by Franco and the valiant attempts to defend democracy in that country. He saw the invasion of Manchuria by Japan and of Abyssinia by Italy, and as the dark clouds descended over Europe, he was dismayed by the appeasement of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain.

Sadly, Morgan Jones passed away in April 1939. Had he lived, Jones would have undoubtedly supported Britain’s war effort and would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Clem Attlee during the Second World War. After the war, we saw a radical Labour Government that both transformed Britain and ensured peace through firm alliances and strong defence. Unquestionably, had Morgan Jones not passed away, he would have been a member of that Labour Government in 1945.

Morgan Jones was a decent, honest and honourable democratic socialist. As a young man, he was hugely influenced by Christian non-conformity and his genuine desire to prevent a repeat of the brutal horrors of the First World War reinforced his commitment to pacifism. But the harsh realities of the rise of fascism and all that entailed, convinced him that the pacifism which he had so passionately espoused as a young man could not bring about the peaceable world which he wanted to see. The lesson that Morgan Jones learnt was that ‘peace’ can only be achieved and maintained through strong defence.

For more about Morgan Jones, see ‘Morgan Jones, Man of Conscience’ by the author.

For more on Labour history in general, see ‘Rethinking Labour’s Past’ a new essay collection from Progressive Britain Director Nathan Yeowell.