Paula Bodington came in to investigate her great-grandfather’s role in the history of the labour movement and Labour Party. James MacDonald was born in Edinburgh in 1857, he moved to London and trained as a tailor. He was was an exceptional activist, secretary of the London sector of the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and secretary of the London Society of Tailors and Tailoresses. He was also secretary of the London Trades Council for 11 years, and active in the Social Democratic Federation (former members included William Morris, George Lansbury and Eleanor Marx) and the Independent Labour Party.
There were a number of references to James, a particularly exciting one of which Paula discovered in the 1900 Labour Representation Committee Conference Report where James, representing the SDF, proposes the establishment of a Labour Party in Parliament -
That the representatives of the working class movement in the House of Commons shall form there a distinct party, with a party organisation separate from the capitalist parties based upon a recognition of the class war, and having for its ultimate object the socialisation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
James MacDonald, trade unionist (not James Ramsey MacDonald)
She also confirmed a family suspicion that James Ramsey MacDonald’s success was certainly initially to do with the existing popularity of Paula’s great grandfather and his sharing an almost identical name.