Keir Hardie rose from very humble beginnings to become one of Britain's most notable politicians and the first Labour leader.
James Keir Hardie was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland on 15 August 1856, the illegitimate son of a servant, Mary Keir. His mother later married David Hardie, a carpenter. Keir Hardie was sent to 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 career in politics began with the establishment of a worker's 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. He won and took his seat in parliament. He marked himself out as a radical both by his dress - he wore a tweed suit when most members of parliament wore more formal dress - and the subjects he advocated, including women's rights, free schooling and 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.
Despite this, he continued to rise through the ranks of Scottish union officials and in 1893 he was among the group who formed the Independent Labour Party. At the opening conference, he was elected chairman 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 very good at dealing with internal rivalries and he resigned from the post in 1908. From then on he devoted his energy to promoting the Labour Party and championing equality, particularly in the cause of women's suffrage. In 1910, 40 Labour MPs were elected to parliament and Keir Hardie gave up the party leadership to George Barnes.
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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