First Labour Government
The 23rd of January 1924 AD
The first Labour government came about in 1924 not so much by its own efforts as through problems and errors within the Conservative Party.
Conservative PM Bonar Law, who had won the previous election with a considerable majority, died in 1922, and his successor Baldwin was determined, contrary to his earlier stance, to bring in protectionist measures. A man of honour, he felt it necessary to win a mandate for these and thus held an election in December 1923.
Baldwin was to regret this, as Labour won another 50 seats, taking their representation to 191, while the Conservatives lost 90.
The 159 Liberals decided matters: they had gained 40, but were still split by the quarrel between Asquith and Lloyd-George (the latter's National Liberals had taken a pasting, dropping to just 26 seats); in a hung Parliament they backed the Labour Party rather than the still more numerous Conservatives.
Baldwin with 258 MPs held on to power, or the appearance of it, for a few weeks, but lost a vote of confidence on January 21 1924. The outgoing Prime Minister, Baldwin, advised the King to offer MacDonald the chance to form a government. Whether this was out of dislike for free-trade advocate Asquith, a belief that the minority Labour government would quickly fail, or merely because Labour was the next largest party, is not clear.
To the amusement of many MacDonald tuned up to his interview with the King in full court dress. On January 23 1924 MacDonald, the Scottish Leader of the Opposition who had been the first true leader of the Labour Party for little over a year, became Prime Minister.
MacDonald's first government was to last only nine months: it did bring in one radical and effective measure to address the acute housing shortage, but otherwise its main objective seemed to be not to frighten the people with socialist action (a recurring theme it appears), perhaps very aware that as a minority government it was unlikely to endure long. It also set in train the study that, after its demise, reformed secondary education.
One of the few vaguely 'red' actions taken by the government of MacDonald , to cease the prosecution of J.R. Campbell, who had advocated that troops called to fire on demonstrators should in effect mutiny, was its downfall. An enquiry into the decision was demanded, MacDonald refused it, and Parliament voted for it, prompting his resignation. Five years later, however, he would return to power.
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