The Foundations of the Labour Party

If you're a Brit, you are probably pretty fed up with election talk by now but lets take a look at the roots of the Labour Party.
Keir Hardie NPG x13173

The Labour Party that we know today was founded in 1900 as the Labour Representation Committee and won its first 26 seats following the 1906 election. From this point on, they were known as the Labour Party. Prior to this in 1893, Keir Hardie founded the Independent Labour Party who assisted in the establishment of the LRC and were directly affiliated with the committee from 1906.

The LRC was established following years of struggle by the working class people. It comprised of an amalgamation of Trade Unionists and Socialists who wanted to provide fair representation for the working class in Parliament. At this time, the Liberal Party was the main opponent to the Conservative Party but this was soon to change.

Ramsay Macdonald NPG x83712 

First Government


The advantages of the newly formed Labour movement soon became evident to the masses who were keen to see social reform. The 1924 election saw the working class move away from voting for the Liberals and saw them placing their faith in a party that seemed to be working for their best interests.

And so, in 1924 the first ever Labour government was formed under Ramsay Macdonald. As you might expect, Macdonald was from a Scottish working class family. Initially he worked as an assistant to a Liberal Candidate until he joined the newly formed ILP in 1893.
Macdonald and his Cabinet of 1924 NPG x182171
Policies

Although the first Labour government didn't even last for a year, they managed to issue some appealing policies. In terms of foreign policy, Macdonald aimed to avoid aggression and military pursuits which was welcomed by a war weary nation. He claimed:
"the bargaining power of the British Foreign Secretary would depend not on military force, but on the reasonableness of the policy which he presented. " - Ramsay Macdonald

As for domestic policies, Labour focused predominantly on social welfare issues including housing, education, social insurance and unemployment. One of Labour's most notable pieces of legislation was the 1924 Housing Act which sought to tackle the housing shortage which had progressively worsened since the end of the First World War. The act aimed to build 190,000 council houses in 1925 with affordable rents.


Zinoviev Letter

Unfortunately, the the first Labour government was short lived. Following the First World War, Russia had come under Bolshevik rule which had made Liberal and Conservative officials and much of the general public cautious. One of Macdonald's first pieces of acts was to officially recognise the Soviet Union.

Following a vote of no confidence in Macdonald's leadership, an election was called in October 1924. In the lead up to the election, a document known as the Zinoviev Letter was leaked to the Daily Mail. The fake letter was supposedly from Grigori Zinoviev, President of the Comintern (the internal Communist organisation in the Soviet Union) asking British communists to mobilise sympathetic forces in the Labour party to support an Anglo-Soviet treaty. This left a lasting mark on the Labour party who lost the October election.

Extract of the Zinoviev Letter via TNA 
Although the first Labour government did not last, it certainly passed some well needed social welfare legislation that would make its mark on Britain forever.



Further Reading:
A Brief History of the Labour Party https://www.historyextra.com/period/20th-century/labour-party-history-facts-origin-uk-first-prime-minister-britain/
Labour's Legacy https://labour.org.uk/about/labours-legacy/
A.J.B. Marwick The Independent Labour Party in the 1920s https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2281.1962.tb01414.x
History of James Ramsay Macdonald https://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/james-ramsay-macdonald
 Housing Act 1924 https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/towncountry/towns/collections/labhousing1/housinga1/
Britain's First Labour Government Takes Office https://history.blog.gov.uk/2014/01/22/whats-the-context-britains-first-labour-government-takes-office-22-january-1924/
The Zinoviev Letter https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/coldwar/G1/cs2/s1.htm

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