HE was a towering figure at the heart of what was termed “Punch and Judy politics”.
Now the University of Huddersfield has taken delivery of an invaluable collection of artefacts, detailing the career of John Henry Whitley.
Whitley, who was elected as an MP for Halifax in 1900, rose to become one of the country’s leading political figures.
He was Speaker of the House of Commons in the 1920s, including the period of the General Strike.
In 1916, Prime Minister Lloyd George asked Whitley to chair a committee that would investigate the country’s appalling industrial relations. The suggested remedy was for employers and their employees to form joint councils.
These bodies were dubbed ‘Whitley Councils’, meaning that Whitley’s name passed into the English language.
After his retirement from politics, Whitley was chairman of the BBC between 1930-35 and gave the inaugural broadcast of what later became the World Service, then called the Empire Service.
His papers are being stored by the university’s archives department, and an annual J H Whitley lecture series has been launched.
Whitley’s role as Speaker came at a time when behaviour within the House of Commons was particularly controversial. The large influx of Labour MPs at the general election of 1922 led to much controversy over their parliamentary behaviour.
Many of them chose to use strident, passionate speeches, and symbolic disruption tactics, as a means of drawing attention to the plight of the unemployed, but their opponents presented this ‘rowdyism’ as evidence of Labour’s unfitness to govern.
Whitley’s grandson, Mr John Paton Whitley, decided that the special collections at Huddersfield University would be the best destination for his grandfather’s archive, making it readily available to scholars.
The archive includes books, journals, newspaper articles and letters which will be a major aid to research into Whitley’s life, politics and the industrial councils that took his name.
Prof Richard Toye said: “It is a valuable new source for historians of the politics of the first part of the twentieth century.
“Whitley is arguably an underrated figure. The memory of his Speakership has been somewhat eclipsed by his work on industrial relations, but this collection should help put that right. It is also a useful source for the study of local politics, and helps bring to life the vibrant civic world of Halifax in the years around World War One.”