Ex-PMs Part Four, Put Simply

Ex PMs

By Campaign Agent Adam Stockwell

Stanley Baldwin

“There is no country … where there are not somewhere lovers of freedom who look to this country to carry the torch and keep it burning bright until such time as they may again be able to light their extinguished torches at our flame. We owe it not only to our own people but to the world to preserve our soul for that.”

In 1921 he entered the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade, but in October 1922 he played a leading part in a Conservative rebellion that overthrew the coalition government and the premiership of Lloyd George. In Andrew Bonar Law’s Conservative government he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. When Bonar Law retired through illness in May 1923, Baldwin became Prime Minister. Determined to help reduce unemployment, he called a general election in November to seek support for a policy of trade protection. Failing to retain a majority, his government resigned in January 1924. Its replacement, the first Labour government also lacked an overall majority and, after it was defeated in another general election in October 1924, he returned as Prime Minister. His second Conservative government was responsible for several notable achievements: the Locarno non-aggression pact, expansion of pensions and house building, local government reform and extending the right to vote to women aged over 21. Baldwin’s particular concern was to reduce social tensions and secure industrial peace. Although faced by the General Strike in May 1926, his combination of firmness and conciliation guaranteed its defeat. After the Conservatives lost the May 1929 election, Baldwin endured a severe party crisis, with attempts to force his resignation as party leader. Against considerable criticism from the main popular newspapers, he successfully fought back with a still-famous condemnation of the great ‘press lords’. During the 1931 financial and political crisis, he contributed to the formation of a coalition government, led by the former Labour Prime Minister, James Ramsay MacDonald. As Lord President of the Council, Baldwin at first sought to promote international disarmament, warning of the difficulty of defence against air attack: “the bomber will always get through”. However, as the threat from Nazi Germany became obvious, he accepted the need to arm again and introduced new defence programmes each year from 1934 to 1937, against Labour and Liberal opposition. He became Prime Minister of the national government in June 1935 and in the autumn he won a general election, promising to continue to improve national defences. Baldwin is well known as a champion of parliamentary democracy, and notably served under three different monarchs – the most of any PM!

James Ramsay MacDonald

“We hear war called murder. It is not: it is suicide.”

Born October 12th, 1866 in Lossiemouth, Scotland. MacDonald is considered one of the three principle founders of the Labour movement which would evolve into the modern Labour party. Ramsay MacDonald was the first Labour Prime Minister and was PM twice. He first came to power in January 1924 in a minority government; it lasted only 10months before MacDonald had to call an election to fight for survival. The 1924 general election was dominated by the Zinoviev letter which claimed a radicalisation of the working class by linking the British Communist Party with the young Soviet Union. The election result was a Conservative Landslide.

At the 1929 election Labour became the largest party in Parliament but again MacDonald was only able to form a minority administration. Due to the Great Depression, the government was plunged into crisis and was forced to propose spending cuts which a minority of the cabinet felt betrayed and that this move was a direct attack on what is the main principle of the Labour movement. As a result of this split in the heart of his cabinet, MacDonald tendered his resignation in 1931, however, after being encouraged by King George V MacDonald agreed to form a national government with the Conservatives and the Liberals to deal with the global economic crisis. Ramsey MacDonald was expelled from the Labour party and formed the National Labour party and carried on as PM until 1935.

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