Ramsay MacDonald

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MacDonald took the post of Foreign Secretary as well as Prime Minister in January 1924 and made it clear that his main priority was to undo the damage which he believed had been caused by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, by settling the reparations issue and coming to terms with Germany. He left domestic matters to his ministers, including J.R. Clynes as Lord Privy Seal, Philip Snowden as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Henderson as Home Secretary. King George V noted in his diary that "He wishes to do the right thing...Today 23 years ago dear Grandmama died. I wonder what she would have thought of a Labour Government!"[39]

The Government was only to last nine months and did not have a majority in either House of the Parliament, nevertheless it was still able to support the unemployed with the extension of benefits and amendments to the Insurance Acts. In a personal triumph for John Wheatley, Minister for Health, a Housing Act was passed which greatly expanded municipal housing for low paid workers.[40]

MacDonald took the decision in March 1924 to end construction work on the Singapore military base despite strong opposition from the Admiralty. MacDonald believed the building of the base would endanger the disarmament conference; the First Sea Lord Lord Beatty considered the absence of such a base as dangerously imperilling British trade and territories east of Aden, and would mean the security of the British Empire in the Far East being dependent on the goodwill of Japan.[41]

In June, MacDonald convened a conference in London of the wartime Allies, and achieved an agreement on a new plan for settling the reparations issue and the French occupation of the Ruhr. German delegates then joined the meeting, and the London Settlement was signed. This was followed by an Anglo-German commercial treaty. Another major triumph for MacDonald was the conference held in London in July–August 1924 to deal with the implementation of the Dawes Plan.[42] MacDonald, who accepted the view of the economist John Maynard Keynes of German reparations as impossible to pay successfully pressured the French Premier Édouard Herriot into a whole series of concessions to Germany.[42] A British onlooker commented that “The London Conference was for the French 'man in the street' one long Calvary...as he saw M. Herriot abandoning one by one the cherished possessions of French preponderance on the Reparations Commission, the right of sanctions in the event of German default, the economic occupation of the Ruhr, the French-Belgian railroad Régie, and finally, the military occupation of the Ruhr within a year.”[43] MacDonald, the neophyte Prime Minister, was hugely proud of what had been achieved; this was the pinnacle of his short-lived administration's achievements.[44] In September he made a speech to the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva, the main thrust of which was for general European disarmament which was received with great acclamation.[45]

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