Clubs and

Clubs and Politics

Clubs, Politics and Political Affiliations

A key part of club life, at least in historical terms, which must be considered on this site is the place of politics in clubs.  When we are talking about clubs, it is usually the working men’s clubs that figure predominantly and those affiliated to the CIU.  Indeed, the focus on this site is on these clubs but it would be an injustice to exclude the thousands of other clubs up and down the country that are not CIU and have historically gone in different political directions. 

It’s worth looking at this issue briefly here.  In the original design of clubs, as envisaged by the Reverend Solly and his supporters, politics had no place and the CIU was meant to be politically neutral.  This was argued in order to keep some sort of harmony within the club movement and between its members.  Of course, in reality, it’s impossible to be neutral because we all bring with us our own particular political leanings and opinions and the Victorian gentlemen who founded the CIU certainly had theirs.  Likewise, the many men who set up clubs had their own and, like the working class itself, there were variations in terms of leanings to the left, right or middle. 

As with other initial principles and ideals such as teetotalism and patronage, the objective of political neutrality was changed because many members brought into the clubs key parts of their working lives with some strong elements of trade unionism and radicalism.  The late 19th century, when clubs were being established, was one of great political upheavals with the foundations laid for the Parliamentary Labour Party and the old Tory and Whig parties transforming into what we now see as the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. 

There was an obvious political strand to some early clubs, so-called Radical clubs for example, but not all were this way inclined and later some clubs turned to Conservatism rather than to left wing politics.  The link was often left-wing, but not always and where there was a strong consensus to show clear political affiliations, this was often reflected in the name. 

The passing of time did temper political radicalism and association but clubs remained largely associated with the Labour Party, as it used to be viewed as the party of the working class.  Those clubs that had clear desire to support the Conservative Party usually registered their names as Conservative clubs and an association of Tory clubs was established which can be seen as a coordinating body.  Liberal clubs were also established, some of which affiliated to the CIU.

We can also include the Royal British Legion clubs which were eventually allowed to affiliate to the CIU if they wanted.  All of these clubs did much work for their members and the wider communities, promoting charitable works and community activities.  They all have much in common even if their name and political allegiance differs. 

So, there are clubs and there are clubs and there is a lot in a name.  But it can be recognised that often, even if the political affiliation differs, clubs often provide similar facilities for their members and their families as well as the wider community. 

There is an umbrella organisation to assist all of these clubs and their work which is called CORCA (The Committee of Registered Clubs’ Associations) 

Its membership includes:
The Association of Conservative Clubs
Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation
National Union of Labour & Socialist Clubs
National Union of Liberal Clubs
Royal British Legion
Royal British Legion Scotland
Royal Naval Association
Royal Airforces Association Branch Clubs
Working Men's Club & Institute Union

CORCA represents these non-profit making members’ clubs of different shades of political opinion with the common interest of furthering the welfare of such clubs.  

Ruth Cherrington
May  20th 2009



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