The First Labour Government 1924

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Background Information

  • MacDonald was the first Labour Prime Minister and the Cabinet included Henderson and Webb
  • Spent less than 10 months in office, losing to the Conservatives in the 1924 election.
  • CHURCHILL: ‘not fit to govern’ and ‘interlude of sheer futility’.

The aims were to replace the Liberals as the party of opposition and prove themselves to be moderate and responsible. 

Why was it allowed to govern?

  • Chamberlain stated that the party be ‘too weak to do much harm but not too weak to get discredited’.
  •  Its minority status meant that Baldwin was not concerned about passing radical policies because the Conservatives and Liberals would be able to clock them together.
  • Divide the Liberals further because Baldwin rightly assumed that that supporting Labour in the Commons would outrage right wing Liberals like Churchill.


1. Wheatley Housing Act – ensured grants of £9 million a year for the building of council houses. As a result, 521,700 houses were built in 9yrs. It was also the extension of Addison’s Housing Act, so it attracted liberal voters.

2. Education – Trevelyan proposed to increase the school leaving age to 16, to provide a more education population and increase the number of skilled workers. Thus, Trevelyan increased the number of free places at grammar schools and brought back state scholarships for University.

 *Reversed the Geddes Axe on housing and education.

3. Unemployment Insurance and Pensions (vital after the Depression in 1921) – unemployment insurance for men rose from 75p a week to 90p a week and for women it rose from 65p to 70p a week. Further the gap between the two 16 week benefit periods was removed. This shows that Labour did not recognize that unemployment was structural.

4. Proved that the Party was ‘fit to govern’ LEE – the cabinet was filled with moderates like Snowden, Henderson and Webb, the only left MP was Wheatley. By not pursuing adventurous policies, MacDonald managed to alienate the ILP and the mining constituencies but it was able to blame this on its minority status and its reliance on the Liberals, it also meant he could keep support from much of the electorate. Much of the electorate thought that the party was predominantly socialist and were worried about possible ending to marriage and the confiscation to property.

AJP TAYLOR: ‘greatest leader Labour has had’

CF BRAND: ‘govern responsibility’

MARQUAND: 'MacDonald had not become prime minister to devise a new economic policy but to prove that Labour could form


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