Britain and the Problem of International Disarmament, 1919-1934

By Carolyn J. Kitching | Go to book overview

7

THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT, 1929-31

The General Election of May 1929 brought defeat for Baldwin's Conservatives by a slender margin. They gained 260 seats, whilst the Labour and Liberal parties increased their seats to 288 and 59 respectively. Labour, therefore, was the largest single Party, though still in a minority. Baldwin resigned immediately, and on 5 June Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister for a second time, but once again heavily dependent on Liberal support. MacDonald accepted that this time he could not be both Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary; he had decided six months previously that he must 'develop the work of the Prime Minister' in order to co-ordinate the State policy of the various departments which, he believed, had 'never been properly done'. 1 He wished to appoint the veteran trade union leader, Jimmy Thomas, to the Foreign Office but Arthur Henderson declared that he would take no other position. According to MacDonald, he had to threaten to take that post himself, in view of the 'row' over the Foreign Office, 2 but eventually agreed that the Office should go to Henderson. MacDonald was not alone in believing that Thomas would make a better Foreign Secretary. Austen Chamberlain, the former Foreign Secretary, believed that Thomas was 'by far the abler man', whereas he had always thought Henderson Very stupid and rather afraid of responsibility'. 3 In the event, Henderson proved to be one of the successes of the second Labour government, but the dissension surrounding his appointment left its mark, and the resulting antagonism between MacDonald and his Foreign Secretary continued throughout the period of the Labour administration and beyond.

The foreign policy of the second Labour government, including the conflict between MacDonald and Henderson, has been well documented by David Carlton in his study, MacDonald Versus Henderson: The Foreign Policy of the Second Labour Government. However, whilst the present study is concerned primarily with the question of disarmament, one important aspect of the government's overall foreign policy does need to be stressed, and that is the question of the United States of America. MacDonald, in reluctantly handing foreign affairs to Henderson, insisted on retaining control of Anglo-American affairs. This resulted in what one historian has described as the

-115-

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Britain and the Problem of International Disarmament, 1919-1934
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The Concept and Context of Disarmament, 1919-34 7
  • 3 - The Human Element 23
  • 4 - The Lloyd George Coalition Government, 1918-22 42
  • 5 - The Conservative Governments, 1922-3, and the First Labour Government, 1924 65
  • 6 - The Conservative Government, 1924-9 87
  • 7 - The Labour Government, 1929-31 115
  • 8 - The National Government, 1931-4 136
  • 9 - Conclusion 174
  • Notes 181
  • Bibliography 207
  • Index 216
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