Reviews

‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian
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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Lord Morgan dares to mention Ramsay MacDonald

Conspicuous by his absence at this year's Labour Party conference was Ramsay MacDonald – Labour’s first ever prime minister. He has been dead since 1937, but you might think that such a key figure in the party’s history would warrant an occasional mention, especially as there have only ever been six Labour prime ministers. You would be wrong. 


Ramsay MacDonald was thrown out of the Labour Party in 1931, for forming a multi-party government with the Tories and Liberals. His name is now rarely uttered in Labour circles. Lord Kenneth Morgan, historian and Labour peer, told me that he once mentioned MacDonald’s name in the House of Lords and heard other Labour members hissing at the very sound of his name. 

From a firebrand founder of the Labour Party and admired orator to the party's first prime minister, MacDonald cut an impressive figure in his earlier years. But, after 1931 he was disowned and ridiculed. One aspect which attracted considerable adverse attention towards the end of his life was his habit of speaking in long rambling sentences with little meaningful content. By contrast, his writing in his diary (now held at the National Archives at Kew), which he kept right to the end of his life, remained lucid and clear. MacDonald seems to have been displaying the typical symptoms of someone suffering from fluent aphasia resulting from a stroke.

A modern understanding of MacDonald’s medical history might go some small way towards thawing the remaining Labour hostility to him, and to coalition government.

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