Record

CodeNA8633
Dates1866-1936
Person NameMacDonald; James Ramsay (1866-1936); Labour politician
SurnameMacDonald
ForenamesJames Ramsay
EpithetLabour politician
ActivityRamsay MacDonald was born the illegitimate son of a servant in 1866 in Lossiemouth, Moray. He was educated at boarding school where he became a pupil teacher then moved to London where he attempted to make a living as a clerk and journalist. He became a member of the Social Democratic Federation in 1885 and of the Fabian Society in 1886, then joined the newly formed Independent Labour Party acting as its Secretary from 1900 to 1911. MacDonald became a member of parliament in 1906 and leader of the Labour Party in 1911 until his pacifist stand at the outbreak of the First World War led to him being labelled a traitor and he was forced to stand down. He lost his seat in 1918 but was returned and elected as leader in 1922. After the 1923 election MacDonald agreed to form a minority government and became the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924. The government was defeated in an election of the same year after the publication of the Zinoviev letter. MacDonald continued in Parliament as leader of the opposition and his moderate image and actions during the General Strike of 1926 contributed to his party's re-election in 1929. In 1931 the question of how to deal with the depression in the economy and rising unemployment led to a split in the Cabinet. MacDonald was persuaded by George V not to resign and formed instead a coalition government, the National Government, with the Conservatives and Liberals. Most members of the Labour Party saw his actions as unforgivable and MacDonald was expelled from the party although the National Government was successful in the election. MacDonald continued as Prime Minister but was never much more than a figurehead and resigned in 1935. He lost his seat in the same year but was chosen to represent the Scottish Universities in 1936 and became a member of Stanley Baldwin's cabinet. He died the following year while on a cruise.
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