Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) British politician
On February 6, 1911, James Ramsay MacDonald succeeded Keir Hardie as the chairman of the Labour Party in England and made an exciting debut as leader in a speech supporting the Liberals in their struggle against the uncompromising House of Lords.
He was the illegitimate son of a Scottish farm worker. In spite of early troubles, he grew up to be a talented and active man with a gift for oratory. MacDonald had his first encounters with left-wing ideas in the Social Democratic Federation in London, after which he joined the Fabian Society. By 1900 he had become the first secretary of the Labour Representation Committee, the Labour Party's predecessor.
He was one of the first MP's ever for Labour when he was elected in 1906. His performance made him the natural choice for chairman after Hardie's resignation. He was discredited and labeled a traitor for his pacifist stand at the outbreak of World War I. He lost his seat in Parliament in 1918 but was re-elected in 1922.
The general election of 1923 ended in a deadlock, with the opposing Tories gaining the largest number of seats but not enough to form a government. Labour became second choice, being the party with the next largest number of MP's in the House of Commons. King George V asked Ramsay MacDonald to form a government on January 22, 1924. Not even a quarter of a century after its formation, the Labour Party found itself in power.
MacDonald's minority government did not enact strong socialist measures. In foreign affairs, however, MacDonald helped secure acceptance of the Dawes Plan and supported the Geneva Protocol. In 1929, MacDonald became prime minister in the second Labour government. Again it was a minority administration and could not press a socialist program. In 1931 proposed cuts in unemployment benefits split the Labour cabinet and MacDonald agreed to lead a coalition, leaning heavily on Conservative support. Never completely trusted by his new Conservative allies, MacDonald was no more than a figurehead in this government. In 1935 he resigned his post to Stanley Baldwin. He lost his parliamentary seat in the same year but returned soon and remained in the cabinet until his death in 1937. His writings include Parliament and Revolution (1920) and Socialism: Critical and Constructive (1924).