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Colonel Josiah Clement Wedgwood, 1st Baron Wedgwood, DSO sometimes referred to as Josiah Wedgwood IV (16 March 1872 – 26 July 1943) was a British Liberal and Labour politician who served in government under Ramsay MacDonald.
Josiah Wedgwood was born at Barlaston in Staffordshire, the son of Clement Wedgwood. He was the great-great-grandson of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood. His mother Emily Catherine was the daughter of the engineer James Meadows Rendel. He was educated at Clifton College and then studied at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.
Proficient in mathematics, he joined the workshops of an arms manufacturer, Elswick. He worked for a year from 1895 as an Assistant Naval Constructor in Portsmouth before returning to Newcastle upon Tyne to head the drawing office of another arms manufacturer, Armstrong.
Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899 he was given the army rank of captain and for three years commanded a battery of the Royal Field Artillery equipped by Elswick. He remained in South Africa after the war, spending two years as a Resident Magistrate in the district of Ermelo in the Transvaal.
His studies of native land laws gave him an interest in Land Reform. Influenced by the writings of Henry George, he developed a life-long belief in the Single Tax, advocating a tax on property to replace taxes on income and goods as a way of securing for workers the full reward for their work. He became president of the League for the Taxation of Land Values in 1908.
Having returned to England, Wedgwood was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Newcastle-under-Lyme at the 1906 general election. Though he stood for the Liberal Party, he made it clear that he would take an independent line in Parliament if necessary, in accordance with his conscience.
He was re-elected at both elections in 1910, and that year was also elected to Staffordshire County Council, remaining a Councillor until 1918. He became disillusioned with the Liberals after 1910, when it became clear that the government would not honour campaign commitments to land reform and opposing vested interests. His disillusionment was increased by the government's reaction against the Suffragettes, who he also supported.
In 1913 he staged a filibuster against the government's Mental Deficiency Bill, which he saw as authoritarian and unjust. Over the course of two days in Parliament he tabled 120 amendments and made 150 speeches in Parliament, sustaining himself with only barley-water and chocolate according to press reports, until his voice gave out. This campaign brought him to public attention outside of his own constituency and the Land Reform movement, and he became known as a leading backbencher.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, he volunteered for service with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, holding the rank of Lieutenant-Commander. He returned to mechanical work and was posted with the Royal Naval Air Service and Armoured Cars.
He served in France in 1914 and was wounded in the Dardanelles Campaign in 1915, receiving the Distinguished Service Order for his service during the landing at Cape Helles on the SS River Clyde. Back in Parliament he expressed concern at under-staffing and support for national service, though he also defended the rights of conscientious objectors. Later that year he was posted as an army captain to the staff of General Jan Smuts in East Africa. In 1916 he was part of the Mesopotamia Commission of Inquiry.
Promoted to Major he commanded a Machine Gun company in the 2nd South African Infantry Brigade in 1916. In 1917 he became Assistant Director of Trench Warfare with the rank of Colonel. At the start of 1918 he was sent to Siberia where his mission was to encourage continued Russian participation in the war and to gathering intelligence on Bolshevik control in Siberia. In the 1918 General Election he ran as an independent Radical, and was returned unopposed.
In 1919, Wedgwood took the Labour whip in the House of Commons and joined the Independent Labour Party. He enjoyed the freer atmosphere of Labour and the party warmly welcomed him, electing him joint Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1921. Wedgwood maintained his reputation for championing new ideas and the interests of outsiders and underdogs. He supported a number of unpopular causes, including opposition to the reparations from Germany contained in the Treaty of Versailles. In 1920 he criticised the government's partition of British dominions in Palestine and continued to attack what he saw as its bias against Zionism for the next two decades. That year he also lead a commission from the Labour Party and the TUC to Hungary, which reported on the extremely brutal treatment of suspected communists under the new authoritarian regime. He supported refugee causes in Britain, particularly that of anarchists from the Soviet Union, such as Emma Goldman. Most of all he became known for his support of the Indian independence movement.
There was tacit co-operation between Labour and the opposition Liberals in some seats at the 1923 general election, and Wedgwood ran unopposed in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Having been re-elected Vice-Chairman of the party in 1922 and 1923, Wedgwood expected a seat in the Cabinet when Labour formed its first government at the start of 1924. There was speculation in the press that he would be made First Lord of the Admiralty and some expectation that he would become Secretary of State for the Colonies or for India. Sidney Webb believed Wedgwood would prefer to become President of the Board of Trade, and was willing to step aside in his favour. However, Ramsay MacDonald initially only offered him the junior position of Financial Secretary to the Treasury. After some pressing, MacDonald gave him a seat in the Cabinet, but with the sinecure title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster rather than a departmental portfolio. In this capacity he performed various de facto tasks in government. Later in the year he was appointed Chief Industrial Commissioner, succeeding Arthur Henderson in a difficult position as the government's decision to maintain some of its predecessor's policies on industrial action caused much friction within the Labour movement. He chaired a Cabinet Committee to contemplate the use of the Emergency Powers Act against strikes in the transport industry. He took a strong line on a number of issues, opposing disarmament and the promise of a loan to the Soviet Union. He was also wary of the state undertaking public works purely for the sake of doing so, without any utilitarian benefit.
After the fall of the government, Wedgwood publicly criticised MacDonald's leadership and Labour's reliance on civil servants. He sat on Labour's front bench in opposition, speaking on, amongst other policy areas, local government, where he encouraged Clement Attlee. He was not offered a position in the second Labour government. In March 1929, he became chairman of the House of Commons Records Committee. He began compiling a history of the Commons, a subject that consumed his interest. He wrote a history of Staffordshire's parliamentary representatives from the thirteenth century to the First World War, and two volumes of biographies of MPs of the 15th century. Throughout the 1930s he continued to speak in the Commons on issues of importance to him, particularly the Single Tax and native resistance to colonialism.
From the mid-30s he was critical of appeasement and of limitations on the migration of Jews to Palestine (1939 White Paper) and of German refugees to Britain and worked tirelessly to help European Jews. The actor Heinz Bernard's life was saved as a result of a parliamentary question asked by Wedgewood which resulted in him being given a visa to Britain.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the Home Guard. In 1941 he toured the United States of America, putting Britain's case against Germany at public meetings. Whilst Wedgwood was in America, Winston Churchill offered him a peerage, inviting him to sit for Labour in the House of Lords. Wedgwood accepted, resigning as MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme after 36 years and becoming Baron Wedgwood of Barlaston in 1942. The following year he died in London at age of 71.
He had married his first cousin, Ethel Kate Bowen (1869-1952), daughter of Sir Charles Bowen, 1st Baron Bowen in 1894 but she left him in 1913 and divorced him in 1919. Since divorce at that time required a guilty party, he agreed to take the blame and was found guilty of adultery and desertion of his wife and children. This led to criticism from the press and pulpit. More criticism was levelled after the divorce was final and he revealed that the desertion was a formality and the adultery staged. They had seven children:
In 1919 he remarried; his second wife was Florence Ethel Willett (1878-1969).