James Ramsay Macdonald
(1866-1937)

Died aged c. 71

James Ramsay MacDonald, FRS (12 October 1866 – 9 November 1937) was a British statesman who was the first Labour Party Prime Minister, leading Labour Governments in 1924, and 1929-1931, and having been expelled from the party he had helped to found, a National Government from 1931 to 1935. Historians credit MacDonald, along with Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson, as one of the three principal founders of the Labour Party. His speeches, pamphlets and books made him an important theoretician, but he played an even more important role as Leader of the Labour Party. He entered Parliament in 1906 and was the Chairman of the Labour MPs from 1911 to 1914. He was widely denounced for his opposition to the First World War, and he lost his seat in 1918. The antiwar mood of the 1920s led to his rehabilitation in the 1920s and he returned to Parliament in 1922, as his party replaced the Liberal Party as the second-largest party. The first Labour government—formed with Liberal support—in 1924 lasted only nine months but demonstrated that the Labour Party was sufficiently competent to run a government. MacDonald was widely applauded for his moderation and his support of the League of Nations, but Labour was defeated at the 1924 General Election, partly as a result of the fallout from the Campbell case. Labour returned to power—this time as the largest party—in 1929 but was soon overwhelmed by the crisis of the Great Depression, in which the Labour government was split by demands for public spending cuts to preserve the Gold Standard. In 1931, MacDonald formed a National Government in which only two of his Labour colleagues agreed to serve. His majority came from the Conservatives. He abandoned the gold standard and called a general election in 1931 seeking a "doctor's mandate" to do whatever was necessary to fix the economy. MacDonald's National coalition won an overwhelming landslide and the Labour Party was reduced to a rump of around 50 seats in the House of Commons. Expelled from the Labour Party, MacDonald remained Prime Minister of the National Government from 1931 to 1935; by this time he felt that the internal cohesion of the British Empire, a protective tariff, and an independent British defence programme would be the wisest policy. Nevertheless budget pressures, and a strong popular pacifist sentiment, forced a reduction in the military and naval budgets. His health rapidly deteriorated and he became increasingly ineffective as a leader. He stood down as Prime Minister in 1935, losing his seat at the general election that autumn and returning for a different constituency. He remained in the Cabinet as Lord President of the Council until retiring from the government in 1937 and dying, still an MP, later that year. Since 1931 MacDonald has been bitterly denounced by Labour supporters as a traitor to their cause, and he has also been seen as one of the prime appeasers of Hitler's Germany. Since the late 1970s historians have defended his reputation, emphasising his earlier role in building up the Labour Party and as a forerunner of the political realignments of the 1990s and 2000s.

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Commemorated on 3 plaques

Ramsay Macdonald 1866-1937 Prime Minister lived here 1916-1925

9 Howitt Road, Camden, NW3, London, United Kingdom where they lived (1916-1925)

James Ramsay MacDonald 1866-1937 Prime Minister. Donald Ogden Stewart 1894-1980 writer lived here

103 Frognal, NW3, London, United Kingdom where they lived

Guests at this hotel have included King Henry VII, Prime Ministers Ramsay MacDonald and Winston Churchill, author George Bernard Shaw and Queen Anne of Denmark

Sadler Street, Wells, United Kingdom where they stayed