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ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BRITAIN
 
  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

 
More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Ramsay MacDonald

(James Ramsay MacDonald, 1866–1937)
The *Labour party's first prime minister, in 1924 and 1929–35. Born the illegitimate son of a farm servant in a Scottish *but and ben, he made an early name for himself in radical politics and was in 1900 the first secretary of the newly formed Labour Representation Committee (the original name of the party). He became MP for Leicester in 1906 and succeeded Keir *Hardie as leader in 1911. He was without a seat from 1918 (his pacifism had lost him much public sympathy in the war) but was elected for Aberavon in 1922. The election of 1923 returned 258 Conservatives, 191 Labour members and 159 Liberals, enabling MacDonald to become prime minister with Liberal support in January 1924.
 






The Conservatives recovered an overall majority later in 1924 (in an election influenced by the *Zinoviev letter), but in 1929 Labour was for the first time the largest party. MacDonald's new government had to grapple with the problems of the *Depression, and a financial crisis in 1931 caused him to offer his resignation to the king. Instead he was persuaded to stay on as head of a 'national' government, a coalition with the Conservatives and the Liberals. His own Labour party became the Opposition, headed now by Arthur Henderson (1863–1935). They lost nearly all their seats in the subsequent election, a sequel for which many in the party never forgave MacDonald. In 1935 he resigned the premiership to another member of the national government, Stanley *Baldwin.
 








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