History: MPs who have shaped Newham

Stratford residents queuing to vote in 1955

Stratford residents queuing to vote in 1955 - Credit: Archant

Following Labour’s victory in the election, we look back at some of the party’s influential MPs in the borough.

Will Thorne

Will Thorne - Credit: Archant

Last Thursday, Newham residents voted for long-reigning Labour MPs Lyn Brown and Stephen Timms to retain their parliamentary seats for West Ham and East Ham respectively.

But looking back on the political history of the borough, some may think their seats were always safe.

Since 1945, East Ham and West Ham have had complete and unbroken Labour representation in parliament.

The borough’s first Labour member was Keir Hardie, who was elected to represent South West Ham in July 1892.

Keir Hardie

Keir Hardie - Credit: Archant


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His efforts had started two years before his election when he addressed a Silvertown meeting. It was there he said that unless working men formed a party that belonged to neither the Conservatives or the Liberals, they would continue to be the “playthings” of the two parties.

He was considered a controversial figure at the time. In the 19th century it was traditional for MPs to wear top hats but he entered Parliament wearing a cloth cap and tweed suit.

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He created uproar in the Commons and was condemned by the press when he made a speech attacking the privileges of the monarchy.

He believed that people earning more than £1,000 a year should pay a higher rate of income tax to provide pensions and free schooling for the working class.

Susan Lawrence

Susan Lawrence - Credit: Archant

He also campaigned for the abololition of the House of Lords and was a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, lobbying for women to be given the vote.

In 1893, he helped to set up the Independent Labour Party and was elected its chairman.

Will Thorne became the second Labour MP for South West Ham in 1906. The south of West Ham has been held by Labour ever since.

In 1899, Thorne helped to establish the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers.

As general secretary of the union he successfully led the negotiations to reduce members’ working day from 12 to eight hours, which inspired other unions to pursue better pay and conditions.

In 1923, Susan Lawrence entered parliament as one of the first Labour women MPs. She represented East Ham North.

She had spent the First World War working to improve the conditions of women factory workers.

She was also the first Labour woman member of the London County Council (LCC).

A member of the Poplar Council, in 1921 she went to prison for refusing to impose an LCC rate.

However this protest against the heavy burden of rates, particularly the poor rate, led to the government passing a law to equalise Poor Law rates.

Cambridge-educated and an outstanding mathematician, Lawrence gave the then minister of health, Neville Chamberlain, a telling-off in 1928 when he got his sums wrong while presenting a measure on local government finance.

All pictures and information used with permission from Newham Archives and Local Studies Library. Copies are available to buy at newhamphotos.com or by visiting the centre, at Stratford Library, open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10.30pm to 5pm. Book an appointment by emailing archiveslocalstudies@newham.gov.uk or calling 020 3373 6881.

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