Vaughan was born in East London in 1878 and educated at Elementary School. He first started work at eight years of age, after school hours and on Saturdays. Later he schooled for two day a week and went to work for the rest of the time but left school fully before reaching the age of thirteen, when he got a job at a boot factory.
He worked in various odd jobs until he became apprenticed to an old Chartist. There, he heard stories of the struggles of the Chartists, became a Radical, joined the Liberal Party and went to lectures. As he did so, he discovered the reality of Liberalism and became a socialist.
A Labour-Communist councillor for South West Bethnal Green from 1914 to the mid-1920s, Joe Vaughan’s claim to fame is to have been British Communism’s first Mayor. From 1919 to 1928, Bethnal Green was governed by an alliance of Labour and Communists and Vaughan was the effective leader of the broad left trend of Labour-Communism.
Vaughan was elected to the borough council for the first time in 1914, then consistently re-elected, each time with an increased vote. He was elected Mayor three times in 1919, 1920, and 1921. Although, as elsewhere during 1922, his membership of the Labour Party was questioned since he had joined the Communist Party, also on its foundation in 1920 like many others, he was returned to the borough council on November 1st 1922 with 32% of the vote: Liberal 40.7 Communist J.J. Vaughan 4,034 31.9%; Conservative 27.4%
The following years General Election, in 1923, saw the Liberal take the seat. Vaughan stood as a Labour candidate but everyone knew he was a Communist and he actually significantly increased his share of the vote: Liberal 43.3%; Labour J.J. Vaughan 39.6%; Conservative 17.1;
In the 1924 General Election 1924 the Liberals polled 42.3% against the now outrightly Communist J.J. Vaughan’s 40.9%, a majority of a mere 212 votes; the Conservatives trailed with 16.8%. As a straight Communist candidate, he was finally only narrowly defeated after ten years as a councillor, with 41% per cent of the vote, the Liberals taking the seat with a mere 1% of the vote extra and Labour trailing far behind.
Right: from February 19th. 1928 of a leaflet circulated in South West Bethnal Green during the county council elections by Labour, which was reproduced in the broad left `Sunday Worker’ and what that paper thought of it. The ferocity of the attack is notable as representing the vitriol that official Labour had for the left and came long before the adoption of the `class against class’ position by the Communist Party.
The Liberals held the Bethnal Green South West seat in the 1931 General Election. Although his parliamentary contest as a Communist that year did not succeed, Vaughan polled just short of 3,000 votes, or 17.4%, with the Liberal on 59.6% and Labour standing now against him on 23%.
Vaughan was also a member of the Electrical Trade Union and President of Bethnal Green Trades Council and was instrumental in setting up the broad left, Communist-Labour alliance, the National Left-Wing Movement in November 1925.
Sources include: The Communist November 11th, 1922; “Bethnal Green: Local Government’, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green (1998), pp. 190-202. FWS Craig `British Parliamentary Elections’.
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