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29 Oct 2014
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This Sceptred Isle

The First Labour PM and the Zinoviev Letter
In 1924 the Conservative government was defeated in the House of Commons and Stanley Baldwin resigned. King George V called on the Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald as the leader of the next biggest party and thus the first Labour government was formed. But it had little power because it did not have enough seats in the Commons and because the Conservatives dominated the Lords. However, Wheatley's Housing Act was recognised as a major piece of social legislation.

Expectations amongst Britain's socialists were great but in fact MacDonald administration was careful not to alienate the electorate. Even so the Establishment had a great fear of socialism. They could see the results of Communism in Russia. MacDonald recognised the Soviet Government and started negotiations to retrieve debts which had been owed by the Soviet Union since the Tsar's days. The Russians were will willing to pay some money back but in return wanted a further loan. This was agreed.

The Conservatives were outraged and MacDonald was forced to call a general election. Just before Polling Day a letter was sent to the Daily Mail and the Foreign Office, ostensibly written by a senior man in the Kremlin inciting the Communist Party of Great Britain to prepare for revolution. The Kremlin denounced it as a forgery but the damage was done. The Zinoviev Letter, as the incident was called, did few favours at the ballot box for Labour and the Conservative leader, Stanley Baldwin was returned as Prime Minister.

Ramsay Macdonald
Ramsay Macdonald
RAMSAY MACDONALD (1866-1937)

  • A Scot from a poor farming background - even his legitimacy is questioned
  • In 1906 he became a Labour MP and by 1911 was leader of the Party
  • A pacifist, he withdrew from politics during the First World War
  • Returned to the Party leadership in 1922
  • In 1924 became the first Labour Prime Minister
  • His second administration lasted from 1929-1931
  • Lost many friends and supporters over his decision in 1931 not to resign with the outgoing Labour Government but to lead the National Government
  • Remained Prime Minister until 1935

did you know?
In 1924 Harold Carter uncovered the golden effigy of Tutankhamun.


Eight Senior Members Of The First Labour Cabinet

  • Ramsay MacDonald Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary
  • R B Haldane Lord Chancellor
  • Philip Snowden Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • James Wheatley Minister of Health (including Housing)
  • James Thomas Colonial Secretary
  • Arthur Henderson Home Secretary
  • C P Trevelyan President of the Board of Education
  • Sidney Webb President of the Board of Trade
Select historical period
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[an error occurred while processing this directive] Chronology
1918 World War I ends
1920 Government of Ireland Act
Communist Party of Great Britain is formed
The League of Nations is founded
1921 The Irish Free State is formed
1922 Bonar Law Prime Minister
Labour Party becomes the Official Opposition
Mussolini Prime Minister of Italy
1923 Baldwin Prime Minister
1924 First Labour government
Lenin dies
1926 The General Strike
1927 The Trade Disputes Act is passed
The BBC is founded
1928 Women over 21 win the vote


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