22 January 1924: Ramsay MacDonald becomes prime minister

Ramsay MacDonald was one of the founder members of the Labour party, which he took to power on this day in 1924.

Ramsay MacDonald was born in 1866 and moved from Lossiemouth in Scotland to London at the age of 20. In 1900 he became one of the founder members of the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour party. He was elected Labour leader after the 1906 general election, but his opposition to World War I cost him the leadership, membership of the local golf club and eventually his seat (in the 1918 election).

MacDonald returned to parliament in 1922. The Tories lost their majority in the election of 1923 and relinquished Downing Street to a Labour-Liberal coalition headed by MacDonald on this day in 1924. This proved to be short-lived. One of the first acts of the government was the resumption of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. A letter purporting to be from Zinoviev, a senior Soviet official, to the Communist Party of Great Britain, suggested the Soviets saw this as the first step to revolutionary change in Britain.

The Conservatives regained power on the back of the scandal that engulfed MacDonald when the letter was published in the Daily Mail (the letter is now known to have been a forgery). Labour lost the resulting election in 1924. Five years later MacDonald was returned to high office, this time as head of the largest party, but was soon overwhelmed by the crisis of the Great Depression. Huge public spending cuts were needed to preserve the Gold Standard, and the issue split the party.

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He invited the Conservatives to form a National Government, for which he was expelled from Labour, and he ended up as the figurehead of a de facto Conservative government in 1931. He lost his seat in the 1935 election, and died two years later.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

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