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Politics in South Wales

Red Line

In the period before the First World War, the Liberals were the most popular political group in South Wales. The Liberal leaders, such as David Lloyd George and T.E. Ellis, advocated the erosion of the power and influence of the wealthy landowners and conservative churchmen, and more independence for Wales in matters of religion and education. The Liberal leaders, although not that different from the Tory landowners they opposed, united the people of Wales around these policies. But in the mining areas of South Wales issues such as public health, wages, housing and working conditions were becoming more important, and working class liberals, such as William Abraham, or Mabon, were growing more popular.

But by 1910 even the working class Liberals, or Lib-Labs were being replaced by a new, more radical generation. The rise of socialist militancy in the South Wales Miners’ Federation, saw a new generation of miners’ leader, who advocated direct action and Marxism. The First World War saw the further decline of the Liberal Party, with many voters favouring the Labour Party, leading to the first Labour Government being elected in December 1923 and forming a government in January 1924 under the leadership of the Labour M.P. for Aberavon, Ramsey Macdonald. During the 1930s the militancy of the Marxist miners grew steadily, for example, the mining town of Maerdy became known as “Little Moscow” due to communist sympathies and industrial actions, such as strikes, lock-ins and demonstrations.

During the General Strike of 1926, the miners and political activists of South Wales demonstrated their commitment to the working classes and their struggles. Ultimately unsuccessful, the General Strike bred a whole new generation of activists, men such as Arthur Horner, who played an important role in the Hunger Marches and demonstrations of the 1930s. The successful miners’ strike of 1972 bolstered political confidence, but with the mining industry in rapid decline, the closure of countless collieries and the failure of the 1984/85 miners strike, this optimism proved to be unfounded.




Jenkins, Philip. A History of Modern Wales 1536-1990. (London, 1992).

Jones, I.G. Mid-Victorian Wales, the Observers and the Observed. (Cardiff, 1992).

Morgan, K.O. Wales in British Politics 1868-1922. (Cardiff, 1991).

Williams, Chris. Capitalism, Community and Conflict: the South Wales Coalfield 1898-1947. (Cardiff, 1998).

Communist Party


Ymgyrchu! Information on the Communist Party, Arthur Horner and Idris Cox.

Independent Labour Party


Ymgyrchu! The 1906 General Election and the Labour Party.



Griffiths, Robert. S.O.Davies. A Socialist Faith. (Gomer Press, 1983).

Labour Party


Tanner, Duncan, Williams, Chris and Hopkin, Deian.The Labour Party in Wales:  1900-2000. (Cardiff, 2000).

All items listed in the further reading are available for consultation in either the South Wales Miners’ Library or the Library and Information Centre, University of Wales Swansea. Click here to link to the library catalogue. 



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