The MP banned for being an atheist

Submitted by AWL on 16 November, 2021 - 6:48 Author: John Cunningham
Charles Bradlaugh

It could be a question in a pub quiz: which MP was consistently denied his seat in the House of Commons for six years, between 1880 and 1886, despite being elected by the voters of Northampton? The MP in question is Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891) and the reason for his exclusion is simple — he was an atheist.

His experience led him in 1866 to found the National Secular Society, which is still going strong today (I confess to membership). He was also prosecuted for publishing information about birth control, and advocated the abolition of the monarchy.

However, he was staunchly anti-socialist (he was a Liberal). Karl Marx referred to him once as a “cheap jack tub thumper”. Bradlaugh was very critical of Marx’s pamphlet The Civil War in France and his support for the Paris Commune.

Some of Bradlaugh’s admirers today seem to have adopted the policies of the far right if the Charles Bradlaugh Society website is anything go by, reprinting a favourable review of Richard Wurmbrand’s deranged book, Marx and Satan.

Bradlaugh, whatever criticisms Marx had of him, deserves better than to be linked, however tenuously, to this brand of far-right idiocy.

He was, in his day, an enormously popular figure. He had some influence in shaping the early politics of the Fabian Society and its anti-Marxist, reformist agenda.

Nevertheless, we should honour the better parts of his life, particularly his advocacy of the separation of church and state. His recently restored grave and a new commemorative statue have just been completed and can be found in Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking.

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