‘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

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Anniversary of Death of First Labour Prime Minister

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1937 of Ramsay MacDonald, Labour’s first prime minister, but today a largely forgotten figure.

He did more than anyone to create the Labour Party – the only new party in over a hundred years to form a government.

In the first Labour government, MacDonald served as Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. This government did not have a majority in the Commons and lasted only nine months during 1924. However, it served to show that the Labour Party would be moderate and responsible in power and had supplanted the Liberals as the alternative party of government to the Conservatives.

Labour regained power in 1929, but still without an overall Commons majority. Today this might seem to have been a good election to have lost. The election was at the end of May and in October the Wall Street crash happened.

Faced with falling government tax revenues, increasing bills for unemployment benefits and a mistaken belief that borrowing or leaving the Gold Standard would be a disaster, the Labour cabinet split in 1931. A majority were willing to cut unemployment benefits by 10%, but a significant minority refused.

The Labour government resigned, but MacDonald returned as Prime Minister of a National Government, which he headed until 1935. He was thrown out of the Labour Party as is still regarded by many as a traitor.

The key piece of information which many overlook about the situation in 1931 was that there was deflation. Prices had fallen by 11.5% since 1929. A cut in unemployment benefits of 10% would still have left their real value higher than they were in 1929.

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