Wednesday, December 14, 2011

James Henry Thomas MP

As the repercussions are still felt following the 2009 MPs' expenses debacle, a suspect payment of £15,000 made in 1936 to Colonial Secretary James Henry Thomas, created a similar furore and saw the end of a political career that had begun in Swindon.

Born in Newport, Monmouthshire in 1874, the illegitimate son of Elizabeth, a domestic servant, James Henry Thomas was raised by his grandmother Ann. In 1881 the six year old boy lived at 40 George Street, Newport with his mother's three siblings and his grandmother, who supported the family by taking in washing.

Nine year old Thomas began part time work as an errand boy, leaving school at the age of 12. After a succession of jobs he joined the GWR, beginning his railway career as an engine cleaner, then a fireman eventually becoming an engine driver and transferring to Swindon at the turn of the last century.

His trade union career began when he joined the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in South Wales as a 15 year old, becoming chairman of the local union branch in 1897. His political career began in Swindon when he took W.H. Stainer's Queens Ward seat in the 1901 local elections.

Thomas went on to become chairman of the Finance and Law committee in 1904/5 and the Electricity and Tramways committee in 1905/6.

Elected onto the national executive committee of the ASRS in 1902, Thomas became the youngest ever president just three years later. In 1906 he became organising secretary, a full time post, which saw him leave the GWR and Swindon.

He stood for parliament as Labour candidate for Derby in the 1910 general election, a constituency he represented until the devastating events of 1936.

In what had previously been an unblemished political career, Thomas was found guilty by a Tribunal of Inquiry of leaking budget secrets to his stockbroker son Leslie and Sir Alfred Butt, Conservative MP for Balham & Tooting.

A £15,000 handout paid by wealthy businessman Alfred 'Cosher' Bates was claimed to be an advance for Thomas's as then unwritten autobiography.

Despite the guilty verdict, Thomas continued to protest his innocence. In an emotional statement made to the House of Commons on June 11, 1936 he declared he never 'consciously gave a Budget secret away,' and that he had now only his wife who still trusted him and loved him.

Thomas's period of public service included a world war and a national depression. A champion of the working man, he also enjoyed the trappings of public life which earned him the title of 'Champagne Socialist.'

In retirement Thomas eventually wrote 'My Story' the previously untold autobiography whose so say 'advance' had contributed towards his downfall.

He died at his London home on Friday January 21, 1949 aged 74 years. His ashes were later returned to Swindon where he is buried in Radnor Street Cemetery.

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