January 22nd, 2024
Written by John Grogan
100 years ago today the Labour Party in the United Kingdom were invited by the King to form their first government. They faced an economic downturn and a world in crisis.
Here are ten facts about that government some of which have echoes today.
- 🗳️ The general election was in December 2023. The Conservative Government under Baldwin lost its majority, and for the first time, Labour was in second place well ahead of the Liberals. Still with less than 200 MPs, Labour had fewer than they have today in opposition.
- 🤝 After weeks of manoeuvring, the Tories and Liberals let Labour form an administration, hoping they would fail. Ramsey Macdonald, the son of a Scottish farm labourer, became both Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.
- 💼 Philip Snowden, who had grown up in Cowling and had been a Keighley councillor, became the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer.
- 👩💼 Margaret Bondfield was one of three Labour women elected to Parliament and later became the first female cabinet minister in our country.
- 🏡 The main domestic achievement of the government was the 1924 Wheatley Housing Act, which led to the building of 500,000 council houses. The act found much of its inspiration from the work of Bradford MP Fred Jowett, who had been campaigning on the issue in the city since the 1890s.
- 📚 Legislation on education, unemployment, social insurance, and tenant protection was also passed.
- ☠️ The day before the government was formed, Lenin died. Labour recognized the Soviet government, and ambassadors were exchanged for the first time.
- 💰 Ramsey Macdonald helped to bring about the Dawes plan, which resolved the question of outstanding German war reparations.
- 📜 The Labour Manifesto of 1923 on which the government was elected proclaimed: 'Labour appeals to all citizens to take a generous and courageous stand for right and justice, to believe in the possibility of building up a sane and ordered society, to oppose the squalid materialism that dominates the world today, and to hold out their hands in friendship and good-will to the struggling people everywhere.'
- ⏳ The administration lasted for just 9 months, having proved the party was fit to govern. Labour was damaged in the subsequent General Election by the Zinoviev letter, which was a fake document published and sensationalized by the Daily Mail. It purported to be from the head of the Communist International in Moscow fermenting revolution in the United Kingdom.