Morgan Jones: Man of Conscience

A Christian Socialist to remember, Morgan Jones was the first conscientious objector to ever be elected to Parliament.

Morgan Jones: Man of Conscience, book cover. Morgan Jones was a lifelong Christian SocialistIn 1921 he stood as a Labour candidate and won a by-election in Caerphilly, South Wales, after having been a conscientious objector in the First World War. During the war, Morgan Jones had declared himself a ‘pacifist’ and was imprisoned in a number of army camps and prisons, including Wormwood Scrubs. Here he suffered a nervous breakdown and his physical health suffered enormously.

When he was released from prison, he served on his local council again and, and to many people’s surprise, he won the Labour nomination for his home constituency of Caerphilly, after the death of the pro-war Labour MP. His nomination was a surprise because Caerphilly, like most mining communities in South Wales, had strongly supported the war effort just a few years earlier and many local men had lost their lives.

But this was a time of industrial militancy, with jobs being lost and wages being slashed in the all-important coal industry. It was also the case that even those who had supported the war were coming to the view that there should never again be another ‘Great’ War. Morgan Jones’ message to the entire community was that the lessons of 1914-1918 had to be learnt and everyone should work together for ‘peace’.

As a young man, and throughout his life, Morgan Jones was an inveterate peace monger. He was a man who had strongly held beliefs and his adherence to those beliefs came from two sources: firstly, he believed in democratic socialism and was an early member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and like many in the ILP he saw the First World War as a capitalist war which set worker against worker. Secondly, Morgan Jones was also a Christian pacifist. Like his mother, he believed that it was ‘morally’ wrong to attempt to solve international disagreements by resorting to armed conflict. Morgan Jones’ view was that all disputes ought to be resolved peacefully through negotiation.

Throughout his life Morgan Jones was a devout Welsh Baptist. He was a fluent Welsh speaker, a tee-totaller and from when he was a young man he was a frequent lay preacher in the Valleys of South Wales. He also addressed Christian gatherings on the other side of Offa’s Dyke.

Like his contemporary, George Lansbury, the Labour leader, Morgan Jones was a Christian socialist. But unlike Lansbury, Morgan Jones came to the view that in the 1930s fascism could only be stopped if ‘free’ nations worked together and were prepared to use ‘defensive force’. For him the only organisation that could defend the world against what he called the fascist “gangsters”, was the League of Nations.

The League of Nations did not of course prove to be successful and the 1930s saw the continuing gathering of the storm clouds of war. Morgan Jones died however in 1939 at the age of only 53. He had been a Labour Education Minister on two occasions and during the bleak years of the 1930s he spoke for Labour from the frontbench on education and foreign affairs. He was also Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

The 1930s were painful years for Morgan Jones. The area that he represented in South Wales experienced acute poverty, and fascism grew in strength across Europe. And he was only too aware of the terrible suffering of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. But throughout his life Morgan Jones did not waver in his commitment to democratic socialism and his Christian beliefs. Morgan Jones should be remembered today as a man of principal who was also prepared to be pragmatic when necessary.

Wayne David MP

Wayne David is the Labour MP for Caerphilly and a member of Christians on the Left. His new book, Morgan Jones: Man of Conscience, has been published by Welsh Academic Press and copies can be purchased through their website: www.ashleydrake.cymru

 

 

'Jones was a man of principle and pragmatism whose story in many ways reflects the journey of the Labour Party during its life thus far ... As our movement’s history, and Morgan Jones’ extraordinary life teach us, it is when we combine the two that we are able to change the world.'
Hilary Benn MP, from his Foreword

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