THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT, 1929–31
The General Election of May 1929 brought defeat for Baldwin’s Conservatives by a slender margin. They gained 260 seats, whilst the Labour and Liberal parties increased their seats to 288 and 59 respectively. Labour, therefore, was the largest single Party, though still in a minority. Baldwin resigned immediately, and on 5 June Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister for a second time, but once again heavily dependent on Liberal support. MacDonald accepted that this time he could not be both Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary; he had decided six months previously that he must ‘develop the work of the Prime Minister’ in order to co-ordinate the State policy of the various departments which, he believed, had ‘never been properly done’.1 He wished to appoint the veteran trade union leader, Jimmy Thomas, to the Foreign Office but Arthur Henderson declared that he would take no other position. According to MacDonald, he had to threaten to take that post himself, in view of the ‘row’ over the Foreign Office,2 but eventually agreed that the Office should go to Henderson. MacDonald was not alone in believing that Thomas would make a better Foreign Secretary. Austen Chamberlain, the former Foreign Secretary, believed that Thomas was ‘by far the abler man’, whereas he had always thought Henderson Very stupid and rather afraid of responsibility’.3 In the event, Henderson proved to be one of the successes of the second Labour government, but the dissension surrounding his appointment left its mark, and the resulting antagonism between MacDonald and his Foreign Secretary continued throughout the period of the Labour administration and beyond.