West Ham hero to be resurrected in play inspired by Corbyn’s rise

PUBLISHED: 15:53 12 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:53 12 August 2016

A rehearsal for A Splotch of Red: Keir Hardie in West Ham, a play about the first socialist MP in Britain

A rehearsal for A Splotch of Red: Keir Hardie in West Ham, a play about the first socialist MP in Britain


It was 160 years ago that Keir Hardie, the first Labour MP in history, was born into grim poverty in Victorian Scotland.

James Kenworth, the play's authorJames Kenworth, the play's author

Put to work from the age of seven, a miner by 11 and illiterate until 17, he ultimately dragged himself out of ignorance and destitution and went on to represent West Ham in Parliament from 1892.

He was a socialist, a believer in women’s rights, against apartheid in South Africa and a supporter of Indian independence.

But now his life is set for the stage this month – put there by a Newham playwright and performed by young Newham actors.

“We’re going to have youngsters from the borough playing adults,” James Kenworth, author of When Chaplin Met Gandhi – about the meeting of the two great men in Canning Town – said.

“I just hope we can pull it off.”

James began writing the play, A Splotch of Red: Keir Hardie in West Ham, last year – inspired by the rise of a contemporary Leftist.

“Jeremy Corbyn had just won that huge landslide election,” James, a lecturer who lives in Beckton, said.

“With the financial crash, a lot of people seriously saying capitalism is in crisis, zero-hours contracts – it seemed a lot like Hardie’s time.”

The premise of the play is that, feeling the time ripe for their presence, Hardie and Will Thorne – another of the borough’s early radical Labour MPs – are brought back from the grave. They tell the story of how Hardie beat the Conservative candidate in West Ham South – the aloof, inactive Major Banes.

“Right now he’s a bit of a caricature – a boring and elitist Tory,” James, 53, said.

“But perhaps that’s unfair.”

The comparison between Corbyn and Hardie, however, is a lot more complicated it initially seemed.

“Hardie’s primary concern was to get elected – to get into Parliament and represent the interests of the working class,” James said.

“I must confess, I don’t think Corbyn – principled as he is – can have the same said of him.

“It seems like he is losing the post-industrial working class to the likes of Ukip.”

A Splotch of Red premieres at Beckton Globe Library on August 22, 4pm, free to Newham residents.

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