Tag Archives: Ramsay MacDonald

Echoes From The Past: Stanley Baldwin, Minority Governments And ‘The National Interest’


Stanley Baldwin: he lost, he won and he lost again. Then he won in 1935.

Many voters and politicians aren’t students of history and it shows. Postmodern politicians, especially, see history like ideologies as meta-narratives that can be ignored or cherry-picked to suit weak arguments. We’ve had two hung parliaments in the space of seven years, yet to hear the media and some politicians talk, you’d think the hung parliament was a recent phenomenon. It is not. On the other hand, we have Tory politicians like Crispin Blunt complaining that it’s the electorate’s fault that we have a hung parliament. Blunt needs to look at our deeply-flawed electoral system and his own party’s dismal election campaign before spouting such nonsense.

I have already commented on Heath’s disastrous 1974 snap election, which resulted in a hung parliament and a Labour minority government. Like Heath, May’s own snap election was born partly from arrogance and partly out of stupidity. Both Prime Ministers wanted to cling onto power at any cost, and neither wanted to admit defeat.

One previous Conservative Prime Minister that hasn’t been mentioned in the history of hung parliaments, and who gambled away a decent-sized majority was Stanley Baldwin, who later became the First Earl of Bewdley and who supported Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy towards Nazi Germany in 1939. Baldwin is also remembered for failing to rearm Britain during the 1930s, while he was PM. He was also known for the ‘Iron Gates Crisis‘.

In 1923, Bonar Law, the shortest-lived PM of the 20th century, resigned because of terminal throat cancer. His chancellor, Stanley Baldwin, was chosen by the ‘men in grey suits’ to succeed him. Law had fought the previous year’s general election on free trade and tariff reform and Baldwin felt committed to his pledge during the 1922 election, namely that there would be no introduction of tariffs without an election. But external pressures were exerting themselves upon the Tories’ trade policy and Baldwin felt compelled to introduce a degree of protectionism. This violated Law’s pledge and Baldwin called a snap general election for 6 December, 1923 to strengthen his grip on his restive party. It was a gamble, for the election resulted in a hung parliament. The Tories lost their 70 seat majority and although they were the largest party, they could not command the confidence of the House. Baldwin remained as PM until the new parliament in January 1924.

The Tories’ King’s Speech was defeated in the Commons on 24 January, 1924 and Baldwin resigned immediately. This led to the first Labour government, which lasted until October 1924 when it was brought down by a combination of intrigue and a smear and fear campaign, remembered mostly for the notorious Zinoviev Letter.  The Tories won a landslide and had a 220 seat majority. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party was reduced to 151 seats, while Herbert Asquith’s unpopular Liberals lost 118 seats and were reduced to 40 seats.

Baldwin’s Tory government of 1924 – 1929 contained former political allies of Lloyd George, and former Coalition Conservatives like Austen Chamberlain, the half-brother of Neville.  It lasted for around five years and is remembered mainly for the General Strike of 1926. Baldwin went to the country in 1929 and expected to win a similar majority to the one he had. He lost again. Memories of the General Strike were still fresh in the memories of many voters and, consequently, MacDonald’s Labour Party won the largest number of seats and formed a minority government but this wouldn’t last. The Great Depression, which began in the same year, created fresh problems for MacDonald and George V urged him to form a National Government. This was the beginning of the end for MacDonald but signalled a new beginning for Baldwin, who would lead the National Government to victory in 1935.  It was this government, which comprised mostly of Conservatives, that fought the 1931 general election.

Let’s come back to the present. Over the weekend there were some murmurings from some commentators that the only way to solve the Brexit Crisis is to form a National Government. This would be an unwise move for any self-styled ‘moderate’ Labour members tempted by such an arrangement. However, I am aware that many of these ‘moderates’ are completely ignorant of their own party’s history.  In 1931, Labour suffered heavy losses that were mainly caused by MacDonald’s formation of a National Government and the creation of the National Labour Organisation to support it. The Liberals split into three parties, while the Tories remained a single bloc. When Tories talk of wanting to govern in “the national interest” what they really mean is that they will govern in the interests of themselves and their class.

Have a look at this British Pathé film clip of the National Government.

If Labour and the rest of the opposition parties work together and peel off some socially liberal Tories, May’s government can be defeated. They should not pass on that opportunity.



Filed under General Election 2017, History & Memory

The Daily Mail: it has plenty of form when it comes to smears

The Ralph Miliband smear story is merely one in a long line of Daily Mail smears. The most notorious one of all was the infamous Zinoviev Letter. This letter, apparently written by Grigory Zinoviev, a high-ranking Soviet official was passed to the Daily Mail by British military intelligence or MI6.

The first Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald was weak and relied on the support of the treacherous Liberal Party (plus ça change). A vote of no confidence on 8 October 1924 was triggered by the MacDonald government’s decision to drop its prosecution against John Ross Campbell, the editor of the Weekly Worker under the terms of the  Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797. The government lost the vote and MacDonald was forced to go to the king to request a dissolution of parliament.  He called a general election for 23 October.

During the weeks between the dissolution and the general election, the Daily Mail published the Zinoviev Letter, which purportedly claimed:

A settlement of relations between the two countries will assist in the revolutionizing of the international and British proletariat not less than a successful rising in any of the working districts of England, as the establishment of close contact between the British and Russian proletariat, the exchange of delegations and workers, etc. will make it possible for us to extend and develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England and the Colonies

Tories will tell you that the Zinoviev Letter had no effect on the outcome of the General Election but that view is naive at best and mendacious at worst.

Richard Norton-Taylor writing in The Guardian in 1999 said:

The Zinoviev letter – one of the greatest British political scandals of this century – was forged by a MI6 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked by MI6 or MI5 officers to the Conservative Party, according to an official report published today.

New light on the scandal which triggered the fall of the first Labour government in 1924 is shed in a study by Gill Bennett, chief historian at the Foreign Office, commissioned by Robin Cook.

It points the finger at Desmond Morton, an MI6 officer and close friend of Churchill who appointed him personal assistant during the second world war, and at Major Joseph Ball, an MI5 officer who joined Conservative Central Office in 1926.

The exact route of the forged letter to the Daily Mail will never be known, Ms Bennett said yesterday. There were other possible conduits, including Stewart Menzies, a future head of MI6 who, according to MI6 files, admitted sending a copy to the Mail.

Over the years the Tories have become masters of dirty tricks  and their very close relationship with the security services and Fleet Street allows them to undermine other political parties and rig elections.

On October 25, 1924, four days before the election, the Mail splashed headlines across its front page claiming: Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters: Moscow Orders To Our Reds; Great Plot Disclosed. Labour lost by a landslide.

Ms Bennett said the letter “probably was leaked from SIS [the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6] by somebody to the Conservative Party Central Office”. She named Major Ball and Mr Morton, who was responsible for assessing agents’ reports.

Labour lost the 1924 election and the Tories were returned to power. But it would not last long. In 5 year’s time, they would lose again to Labour, which found itself fronting another minority government.

Ten years after it published the Zinoviev Letter, the Daily Mail published its most infamous headline of all: “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”.

Yesterday, the Telegraph’s deputy editor, Benedict Brogan, couldn’t help himself and like some incontinent schoolboy wrote this blog titled “Whether he hated Britain or not, Ralph Miliband was one of the Cold War’s bad guys”.

Brogan was the Daily Mail’s political editor until 2009.


Filed under Ideologies, Journalism, Media, propaganda, Tory press, Yellow journalism

In the national interest

When the Tories and Lib Dems came together to form the coalition, they told us that they did it in “the national interest”. In 1931, the National Government was formed between Baldwin’s Tories, the Simonite faction of the Liberal Party and the scumbag faction of the Labour Party led by Ramsay MacDonald. They told the people that they formed this coalition in “the national interest”.

Then, as now, the National Government’s solution to the ever-deepening economic depression was to have no solution. The “Invisible Hand of the Market”, they believed, would magically come to their aid. It never did. Today’s Tories think the “Invisible Hand” will rescue them and the crocked economy. It won’t. Instead, the lessons of history are arrogantly ignored to promote such fallacies as The Laffer Curve.

Politicians in the 1930s were treated as demi-gods: they were practically untouchable. The press fawned over them and it was more or less forbidden to mock them in print or on stage.

These days, we know our politicians are human. The trouble is that some politicians – especially the Tories – believe themselves to be superior to the rest of us. This is demonstrated to us on a near-daily basis by the numbers of Tory MPs who accuse the unemployed of choosing to live on benefits as a lifestyle choice. These people have never had to claim dole or work in a low-paid job. None of them have had to make the choice between paying their heating bill and eating.

Nick Clegg (see this excellent blog by The Mambo) is fond of saying how he formed the coalition with the Tories in “the national interest”. He repeats this mantra as often as anyone will listen. The trouble for him is that none of us are listening because we’ve heard enough. Clegg hates dissent… that’s because he’s never dissented in his life. Without dissent, we’d still have slavery and women would not have the vote. Clegg thinks that we should all shut up and let the coalition carry on destroying lives. The Cat has news for him: we dissenters won’t go away.

The national interest is just another way of saying “self-interest”. If these people were really working in “the national interest”, then they would be working hard to improve the economy. They would be working overtime to create jobs. They wouldn’t be punishing the unemployed and disabled for the crimes of the feral rich. Handing out tax cuts to millionaires is not working in “the national interest”, it’s working to shore up and extend the interests of your class.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics, Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems: a spent electoral force?

The Liberal Democrats are finished as an electoral force. Having accepted the poisoned chalice of going into coalition with the Conservatives and with members leaving the party for Labour and others, the party faces losing its own identity too.  They would have stood a better chance as partners to Labour – at least they could have pretended to be left-ish. They would have even stood a better chance propping up a minority Conservative government under a confidence and supply arrangement. But Clegg and the rest of the leadership wanted power…and who could blame them?

79 years of hurt and all that…

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the rightward drift of the Lib Dem leadership began with the appearance of The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism. Published by the think tank Centre Forum, the book contained essays by David Laws, Vince Cable, Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and others.  This group is generally referred to as the Orange Book tendency.  The Orange Book appeared at the same time as pressure was mounting on Charles Kennedy to resign (some felt that he was leading the party too far to the left). The book was not a hit with everyone as Richard Grayson of Goldsmiths College writes,

Many in the party were deeply hostile to The Orange Book; others simply tried to ignore it. A response eventually came in 2007, in the form of Reinventing the State: Social Liberalism for the 21st Century, which I co-edited with Duncan Brack (also a former director of policy) and David Howarth, then the MP for Cambridge. This sought to give a more sophisticated account of internal party divisions, and indeed included chapters from Orange Book-ers such as Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. It argued that, although there was much wrong with the state, the answer was not to reduce it, but to reform and relocate it, principally by making public services locally and democratically accountable.

This is confusing me, Clegg and Huhne wrote chapters in a response to the Orange Book? No wonder there is a such a lack of real focus to the party or a uniquely identifiable ‘brand’  image. Grayson also says that there are few factions within the party, which suggests that the Lib Dems are less split over issues that would split Labour and the Tory ranks. Nonetheless,

Political culture helps to explain the party’s support for the coalition. The Liberal Democrats have become extremely leadership-loyal. The trauma of losing Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell in quick succession should not be underestimated. However narrowly Clegg won, the party was always going to stick with him, and his brilliant personal performance during the election campaign consolidated support for him. The culture of the Liberal Democrats is also in*herently reasonable. There is a willingness to try to see all sides of an argument and a long-standing belief that coalitions are desirable.

At this point, we need to remind ourselves of the factions within the party. There is the traditional bearded Liberal, sandal-wearing wing; the Orange Book Tendency which is  represented by the party leadership; and the residue of the old Social Democratic Party (SDP), which merged with David Steel’s Liberals to form the Social and Liberal Democrats, the Democrats which then became the Liberal Democrats.

A fine mess.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that Charles Kennedy is uneasy about the coalition and so is The Emperor. But the Orange Bookers are in the ascendancy: they are the engine that drove the Lib Dems into the arms of the Tories. There is little difference between the Orange Bookers and the libertarian wing of the Conservative Party; they both want a smaller state. But how much of this ‘small statism’ can the social liberals stomach? Kennedy was once a member of the SDP, while Emperor Ming has always been a Liberal. Campbell stood by and watched as his Young Turks plunged the knife into Chatshow Charlie’s back. Once he became interim leader he rewarded them with front bench positions.

A big mistake.

Campbell, too, would find himself ousted by the very same forces he unleashed within the party: the Orange Book Tendency. They said he was “too old” to lead the party: they wanted a leader that could match David Cameron’s youth. Step forward, Nick Clegg.  Huhne  stood no chance against Clegg’s youthful good looks and his aristocratic background (he’s the great-great grandson of Ukrainian nobleman, Ignaty Zakrevsky and the great-great nephew of Moura Budberg, who was also known as “The Russian Mata Hari”). Perhaps it was inevitable that Clegg and Cameron would engage in full-blown inter-party relations. Cameron is, after all, an indirect descendant of William IV and therefore a cousin of the Queen.

Two blue bloods for the price of one!

That’s the parliamentary party, what about the membership? Lord Greaves is appalled at the news coming from the coalition. The Guardian ran a story on 15 May that told of grassroots Lib Dem members deserting their party. The leadership denied this

A Lib Dem spokesman claimed that fewer than 100 people had left since the coalition was announced four days ago, while more than 400 had joined.

“We don’t believe it’s anything to do with disillusionment over the new government. On the contrary, we have gained more than 1500 members over the election campaign,”

I find it hard to believe that 400 would join the party because of the coalition but then the Lib Dems have never played with a straight bat. Other parties are working hard to attract disillusioned Lib Dem voters including the Greens and Labour.  Harriet Harman claims that Labour has attracted 21,000 new members many of whom are former Lib Dems. But can we believe this? Why would anyone want to join Labour? Libdemvoice claims that 4,500 have joined since the election. Again, this seems a little far-fetched; people don’t join parties because they like the ‘chalk and cheese’ nature of the coalition.

I suspect that the Lib Dem leadership is in denial about the potential loss of members and voters. They prefer to content themselves with how things might look should their plans in the coalition succeed. But the proposed referendum on ‘political reform’ is an awful abortion of a compromise; AV is not proportional representation nor is it the first stop on the road to PR. As with most compromises this one will please no one but those who want to keep the present system for voting. Once voters see AV for what it is, they may decide to stick rather than twist. This will not help the Lib Dem’s cause in any forthcoming election or by-election, because they will not only be seen as liars, they will be seen as weak and wishy-washy.

Here is a history lesson for the Lib Dem leadership: in 1931, Ramsay MacDonald’s second Labour government lacked the numbers to form an outright majority. The Liberal Party agreed to prop up the government but this was too much for some Liberals who broke away to form the Liberal National Party. This party moved closer to the Conservatives and by August of that year, a national government was formed and headed by MacDonald. This coalition government contained many Tories as well as Liberal Nationals. MacDonald was famously expelled from the Labour Party and led his breakaway National Labour Party in the coalition. Most Liberals wanted nothing to do with this arrangement and consequently the support for the Liberal Party plunged and the party split into two camps that would never be reconciled. In fact many Liberal Nationals and National Liberals (as they later called themselves) joined with the Conservatives and fought elections together until 1968. But by then the pretence was over and they were subsequently absorbed into the Tory party. The Liberals on the other hand never scored more than 12 seats from 1945 to 1974 and by 1979 the party could  comfortably squeeze itself into a London black cab. Could history repeat itself?

I think so.

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Filed under Liberal Democrats