Today is the anniversary of the 1935 general election, the second held since the formation of the National Government in 1931.
The National Government had become more and more Conservative-dominated during the 1931-35 Parliament. Conservative Stanley Baldwin had taken over the premiership from Ramsay MacDonald before the 1935 election. MacDonald had been thrown out of the Labour Party in 1931 after he joined the National Government and had continued as a National Labour MP. Herbert Samuel’s Liberals had left the government and crossed the floor to the opposition benches during the parliament.
The 1935 election reinforced the Conservative domination of the National Government. Although the Conservatives dropped from 473 to 387 MPs, their Liberal National allies, now separate from the Liberal Party, also dropped from 35 seats to 33 and the National Labour representation went down from 13 seats to just 8, with their leader, Ramsay MacDonald losing his seat. The National Government still commanded a comfortable overall majority.
The Liberal Party, now in opposition, was reduced from 33 MPs to 20 and their leader, Samuel lost his seat. The Communist Party won one seat.
An important underlying feature of the 1935 election was the recovery of the Labour Party, which won 154 seats – much improved from the 1931 total of only 52. Many believed that the Labour Party had been ruined in 1931. Only George Lansbury from the 1929-31 Labour cabinet had held his seat as a Labour MP in 1931.
However, three of Lansbury’s colleagues who had been defeated in 1931, had returned to the Commons at by-elections during the 1931-35 Parliament. Arthur Greenwood had returned at a by-election in 1932 and held his seat in 1935. Arthur Henderson had returned at a by-election in 1933 at Clay Cross – his fourth comeback at a by-election and his fifth different seat. However, Henderson had died shortly before the 1935 election. Christopher Addison had lost his seat at Swindon in 1931, regained it in 1934, but lost it again in 1935.
Five members of the 1931 cabinet who had lost their seats in 1931, regained them at the 1935 general election - Albert Alexander, Bertie Lees-Smith, Herbert Morrison, Tom Johnston and John Clynes. The last member of the 1929-31 Labour cabinet to make a return to the Commons was William Wedgwood Benn. He had lost his seat in 1931 and was defeated again in 1935, but he eventually returned at a by-election in 1937.
Only four MPs from the 1929-31 Labour cabinet did not eventually return to the Commons. William Graham, defeated in 1931, died in 1932 at the age of only 44. William Adamson, defeated in 1931, was beaten by a Communist on his attempt to return in 1935 and died in 1936. Tom Shaw did not return to the Commons after his defeat in 1931, but went back to his former role as Secretary of the International Federation of Textile Workers. Margaret Bondfield, the first female cabinet minister, was defeated in 1931 and again in 1935 and she was never to return to the Commons.
So, although the headline result of the 1935 election was another victory for the National Government, the more significant underlying story was the resilience of the Labour Party and its significant step towards re-emergence as a party of government.