Lessons from history: the first Labour government (1924)

On this day in 1924, Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister. Although he would only be Prime Minister for nine months, he proved that Labour was competent and wellorganised enough to run government. Beatrice Webb called this period a “testing of men and measures before they are actually called to assume majority power,” yet MacDonald would stand for much more as the first Prime Minister from a working class background. In his cabinet were ten other members of working class origins and the first female cabinet minister. The King wrote, “I wonder what [Queen Victoria] would have thought of a Labour government!” MacDonald’s victory can be attributed to his indefatigable personality, his pacifism, and his fundamental principles, such as education for all. The Lad from Lossiemouth would later implement the Unemployment Act and the Special Areas Act in his National Government in 1934, aiding areas of mass unemployment. His formation of the coalition National Government in 1931 has been seen as a betrayal, but also as a “sacrifice for the common good”. 

Ultimately, MacDonald proved that the Labour Party could govern the country and present an opposition to both Liberals and Conservatives. Certainly, the National Government of 1931 seemed a huge setback. But MacDonald was looking further than the interests of his own party, something he cannot be condemned for. That’s what we want from politicians. Corbyn’s attempt to move debates away from the Labour Party towards the current state of the country itself shows something of MacDonald’s vision for Labour. But Labour can’t afford to become as divided as it did under MacDonald’s leadership; now more than ever it needs all members of the party united.