Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Can Labour Govern?, 1924

The first Labour Government and the struggle of the workers

by William Gallacher

image from Red Clydeside collection

In January 1924 the Labour Party formed a government for the first time with James Ramsay MacDonald as prime minister. It did so despite not having a majority in the House of Commons and had to rely on the support of the Liberal Party to get its policies through Parliament. Ultimately this position was to prove untenable as the party's performance and policies came in for increasing criticism from the Tories, Liberals and the right-wing press.

The Party's decision not to pursue a case of seditious libel against a Communist journalist, and the Party's apparent willingness to open up talks with Russia, left it open to accusations of Communist leanings. However it was the publication of the Zinoviev letter (a forgery that claimed the Labour Party had links with Soviet communists) in the Daily Mail, four days before polling day at the general election of October 1924, which was to prove costly for the Labour Party. The publication of the Zioviev letter and the fears instilled by the right-wing press of a Labour Party in collusion with communists led directly to Labour losing the October 1924 general election.

Although Wheatley's Housing Bill was passed and unemployment benefits were partially raised, the first Labour Government failed to enact strong socialist measures. This disappointed many working-class supporters of the party who wished to see a Labour government looking after their interests just as previous Conservative governments had looked after the interests of their middle classes supporters. The Labour Government's tactic of gaining respectability whilst in office was derided by the Communist Party of Great Britain who criticised the Labour Government as class traitors for their refusal to enact stronger socialist policies to improve the living standards of the working classes.

Source: Bissett Collection, Glasgow University Special Collections