From Foundation Conference to Government

  • John Shepherd
  • Keith Laybourn


On leaving his Whitehall office on a cold January evening in 1924, Thomas Jones, Assistant Cabinet Secretary, saw the newspaper placards announcing: ‘Lenin Dead [official]. Ramsay MacDonald Premier.’1 After six weeks of political uncertainty and rumours, Britain’s first-ever Labour government had taken office with its Scottish leader as prime minister and foreign secretary. The general election in December 1923 had produced an inconclusive result — Conservatives 258, Labour 191 and Liberals 158. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister, had waited to resign until defeated in the new Parliament on 21 January 1924. At this time, democratically elected left-wing governments had already taken office in Western Europe — in Sweden (as a Social Democratic — Liberal coalition in 1917 and in 1920 as a minority administration) and in Germany (where the SPD joined the 1918 coalition in the Weimar Republic).2 In Australia, seen as a laboratory for social democratic politics, the ministry formed by the Australian Labour Party in Queensland in 1899 before federation — albeit for a few days — was the first Labour government in the world. New Zealand was also a pioneer of Labour administrations, where the first Labour MP was elected in 1905, the New Zealand Labour Party founded in 1916 and a majority Labour government led by Michael Savage was returned in 1935.3


Trade Union Coalition Government Party Leader Labour Government Labour Party 
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Copyright information

© John Shepherd and Keith Laybourn 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Shepherd
  • Keith Laybourn

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