Nineteen Thirty-One Political Crisis

By R. Bassett | Go to book overview

fresh advance. Labour's longer-run prospects, it is true, were overshadowed at the time, and for another decade, by the shock of the crisis itself, by the crushing electoral defeat which followed, and by the slowness of the subsequent recovery. What happened, or rather what is supposed to have happened, in 1931, made a deep and still potent impression in Labour Party circles. It aroused embittered and still continuing controversy. MacDonald's conduct, in particular, has been subjected to savage criticism. 'The denunciations heaped upon MacDonald's head by many who had previously idolized him were', wrote the late Viscount Simon, 'the most violent I have ever known in British politics.'1

Any change of Government is a major political event. The resignation of the second minority Labour Government would in itself have been unusually exciting because of its occasion, its causes, and its unavoidable consequences. The formation, in time of peace, of any kind of Coalition or 'National' Government, though often suggested during the previous months, would in any event have produced a radical transformation in the political situation and considerable controversy. But it was MacDonald's retention of the Premiership which provided the great surprise and sensation. Labour's first Prime Minister became the head of a Ministry which included the Leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties; and sensation was added to sensation when his action was quickly repudiated by the Labour Party organization. The course of events, moreover, led unexpectedly to a General Election in which the former Labour Premier, with his Conservative, Liberal and Labour allies, fighting against the bitter opposition of the Labour Party and its Liberal associates, gained the greatest electoral victory, both personal and political, so far recorded in British experience.

Our political history provides no near parallel to the events of 1931. It is not surprising that they have figured prominently in commentaries upon our political system. The crisis raised interesting and important constitutional issues, and on that plane as well as on those of party politics and personalities there has been much controversy.

A re-examination of the crisis itself, and of the various controversies arising therefrom, is desirable on several grounds. In the first place, accounts emanating from Labour sources (as most

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1
Retrospect, p. 168.

-xii-

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