The First Labour Government, 1924

By Richard W. Lyman | Go to book overview

XIII
PROBLEMS OF MINORITY GOVERNMENT

THE great weaknesses of the first Labour Government were the obvious ones: the inexperience of its members, and its minority position in the House of Commons.

Experience seemed to bear little relation to success in administration, however. Clynes, among the more experienced, did badly; Wheatley, the neophyte, did so well that for a while Beatrice Webb thought him a possible rival to MacDonald for the party leadership.1 No one of the trade unionists made a distinguished record as Minister, but neither did Lord Olivier or even Sidney Webb, much less poor Colonel Wedgwood, who was "almost completely lost to view".2 The new Ministers seem generally to have got on well with their officials, however.3 And some of them were strong men; an experienced and sober civil servant has called Snowden "the ideal of what a Minister should be", clear and decisive in matters of policy, yet careful not to meddle in matters of administration.4

Where inexperience did hurt was in the ability of Ministers to get the unfamiliar routine of their new offices under such control as to free them for effective planning of long-range policy. By the time MacDonald got through opening all mail marked "Private" or "Personal" himself, and answering the private telephone which he had installed in his room to avoid using the official one for his private calls, he was exhausted.5 No wonder that he is to be found lamenting the difficulty of managing both to conduct the complex business of administration and "to retain enough leisure and enough freedom from the details of its responsibilities to survey the whole field, and to see how progress as an organic whole is being advanced".6 Add to this the fact that the Labour programme contained "no real focusing point for action on any one thing because of the multitude of things to be attempted",7 and it is not surprising

-230-

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The First Labour Government, 1924
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • I - The Labour Party, 1918-1923 1
  • Notes 16
  • II - The Election of 1923: the Conservatives 18
  • Notes 39
  • III - The Election of 1923: the Liberals Lloyd George and the Dragon 42
  • Notes 52
  • IV - The Election of 1923; Labour The Politics of Glorious Aspirations 53
  • Notes 67
  • V - Results of the Election of 1923 A House Divided 69
  • Notes 80
  • VI - The Path to Office 81
  • Notes 94
  • VII - Cabinet Making 96
  • Notes 107
  • VIII - Housing 110
  • Notes 129
  • IX - Unemployment The Intractable Million 131
  • Notes 154
  • X - The European Problem Year of Opportunity 157
  • Notes 181
  • XI - Russia Path of Most Resistance 184
  • Notes 207
  • XII - Labourites, Socialists and Reformers 210
  • Notes 227
  • XIII - Problems of Minority Government 230
  • Notes 245
  • XIV - The Election of 1924 Red Letter Day 248
  • Notes 262
  • XV - The Election of 1924 Dimensions of Defeat 264
  • Notes 271
  • XVI - Aftermath 272
  • Notes 281
  • Appendix A: the First Labour Ministry - (january 22 to November 4, 1924) 284
  • Appendix B: the Unsolved Mystery of The Zinoviev Letter 286
  • Notes 289
  • Bibliographical Note 290
  • Index 295
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