The First and Second Labour Governments



  • 1900: Labour Representation Committee in four groups:
    • ILP: Independent Labour Party (more radical socialism)
    • the Fabians (middle-class intellectuals, distrusted by working class)
    • Trade Unions (not totally committed - preferred direct industrial action: strikes)
    • the Social Democratic Foundation (withdrew 1901)
      • working-class interests
      • one of MacDonald's main achievements was to unite these groups - effective political force
  • Outbreak of war 1914, Labour = 'younger brother' of the Liberal party who were the traditional party of reform
  • December 1918 election= Labour enjoyed breakthrough as a major party, winning 63 seats
  • Through war, MacDonald = criticised for pacifists stance - resigned as leader
    • However by the end of the war, more sympathise with his view and admired his principled stand
  • Henderson through the war, first ever cabinet minister when he joined the coaltion government in 1915 = more recognition
    • Managed to keep different groups together, MacDonald still in committee
    • Resigned when LG refused him a place at a socialist peace conference, Stockholm 1917
  • After the war = MacDonald & Henderson = portraying Labour as a responsible/moderate party
    • Support for disarmament and the League of Nations chimed well w public
    • Rejected associations with Bolsheviks, Communist Party - impressed voters
  • New consitution, Feb 1918:
    • Party Executive - views of Trade Unions, socialist societies, local Labour parties and women's organisations
    • Membership - individuals could become members without affiliation to a union or socialist society
    • Local Labour Party - replaced exisiting local organisations, nationwide network of groups to concentrate on winning votes @ election periods: 500 groups by 1923
  • Programmed based on Sidney Webb's "Labour and the New Social Order"
    • National Minimum: full employment, minimum wage, working conditions, 48 hours max
    • Financial Reform: heavy taxation of the rich to finance social welfare
    • Surplus for the common good: balance of nation's wealth tp be spent on educational/cutural experiences for all
    • Democratic control of industry: nationalisation of key industries, Clause 4
  • Rise continued with the 1922 election: 2nd largest party (1st time)
    • Significant opposition to Cons
    • January 1924, due to Baldwin's Protection: Plymouth Oct 1923



  • Poverty, Scottish
  • Joined ILP in 1894
  • Sec of LRC in 1900
  • MP of Leicester in 1906
  • 1911-1914: Leader of Parliamentary Labour Party
  • LOst seat 1918, re-elected 1922

Personality and Policies

  • Dignified, intelligent, fine orator
  • Experience in administration and leadership
  • Passionate socialsist, though moderate and wanted to restrain extreme elements of party
  • Remote, suspicious of colleagues
  • Adopted policies in ministry, 1924:
    • Autocratic leadership: determined not to be constrained, took little advice from senior colleages
    • Moderate policies: he knew it was important to "gain the confidence of the country"
    • Refused to cooperate with Liberals: wanted to assert Labour's maturity and fitness to govern: LIberals = "a corspe encumbering the ground", refused to consider any formal agreements with Libs - isolation of LIbs further

MacDonald's Cabinet:

  • Only two men with cabinet experience, lacked experience and relied on the expertise of civil servants who weren't keen on socialist programmes
  • Safe choices: only one left-wing socialist (John Wheatley (Minister of


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