Heritage: Kier – what’s in a name?

Heritage: Kier – what’s in a name?

By Martin Brisland.

What’s in a name?

Sir Keir Starmer (61) became Prime Minister last week, on Thursday 5 July 2024, after a landslide victory for the Labour Party in the General Election. His parents were Labour supporters and are said to have named him after Keir Hardie (1856 – 1915) the first Labour leader.

James Keir Hardie was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland the illegitimate son of a servant, Mary Keir. His mother later married David Hardie, a carpenter. Keir Hardie started work as a baker’s delivery boy, aged eight, without any schooling and was the sole wage-earner of the family. By the age of 11, he was a coal miner. By 17 he had taught himself to read and write.

His political career began with the establishment of a union at his colliery and in 1881 he led the first ever strike of Lanarkshire miners. In 1892, Keir Hardie was invited to stand as the Independent Labour Party candidate for West Ham in east London, which he won. He wore a tweed suit when most members of parliament wore more formal dress.

He advocated for women’s rights, free schooling, pensions and Indian self-rule. He was heavily criticised for appearing to attack the monarchy, which may have contributed to his defeat in the 1895 election.

In 1893 he was among the group who formed the Independent Labour Party and was elected chair and leader. In 1899, the Labour Representation Committee was formed, which eventually developed into the Labour Party.

After a long battle to win another seat, he was finally elected MP to Merthyr Tydfil in 1900 and was one of only two Labour MPs in parliament. But by 1906 this number had increased to 26.

Keir Hardie was elected leader of the party in the House of Commons, but was not good at dealing with internal rivalries and he resigned from the post in 1908. In 1910, 40 Labour MPs were elected to parliament.

During the first year of World War One, Keir Hardie was an outspoken pacifist.

He died on 26 September 1915 in Glasgow.

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