chapter  2
4 Pages


In May 1938 a cabinet reshuffle brought Malcolm MacDonald back to the Colonial Office as Secretary of State. It was a crucial appointment for although he was only 36, he was already a politician of considerable experience. As the son of Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister and later leader of the National Government, Malcolm MacDonald was brought up in a highly political home. He contested his first general election in 1923 at the age of 22 and became an M.P. in 1929. Moreover, he had been parliamentary undersecretary at the Dominions Office from 1931 to 1935 and had been in the cabinet for six months as Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1935 and since then as Secretary of State for the Dominions.30 This experience had made him aware not only of the current debate on general colonial and imperial questions but had given him some detailed knowledge of colonial conditions and problems. He had recently been concerned with the economic and social difficulties of Swaziland, Basutoland and Bechuanaland, the High Commission territories in South Africa for which the Dominions Office was responsible. They revealed in microcosm many of the troubles of the Colonial Empire as a whole. Later, in retirement, he claimed that even in 1935 he had been convinced that British colonial policy needed substantial revision. Certainly when he returned to the Colonial Office on 16 May 1938 he was determined to inaugurate a more active development policy. Genuinely disturbed by the evidence of social and economic distress in the empire, MacDonald was also sensitive to domestic and international criticism of Britain’s behaviour as a colonial power. What remained to be determined was the precise nature of a new initiative and whether he could persuade Treasury and cabinet to finance it.31