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National Government

National Government. The Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald in 1931 faced a severe economic crisis with more than 2 million unemployed and a run on the pound. It fell in August when the cabinet split on a proposal to cut unemployment benefit. MacDonald consulted Baldwin, leader of the Conservative Party, and Sir Herbert Samuel, leading the Liberals during the illness of Lloyd George. Samuel urged a coalition and Baldwin agreed to serve under MacDonald. Intended as a temporary measure, the coalition stayed in power until the Second World War when Churchill in 1940 formed a wartime national government. MacDonald's new cabinet contained four Conservative ministers, four Labour, and two Liberals, but the great majority of the parliamentary Labour party repudiated the deal and expelled MacDonald. In the general election which followed in October 1931, the National Government won a landslide victory with 473 Conservative seats, 35 National Liberals, and 13 National Labour, against a Labour opposition reduced to 52 seats. Baldwin replaced MacDonald as prime minister in June 1935, dissolved in November, and won a handsome majority, though Labour went up to 154 seats. Baldwin gave way to Neville Chamberlain in 1937. In Labour demonology, MacDonald was the arch class and political traitor and the National Government a Tory sham. The poor showing of National Labour in the 1931 election (when MacDonald was himself beaten at Seaham) gave support to the second opinion, but MacDonald was under the impression that he was putting country before party and probably committing political suicide. A majority of his Labour cabinet had, after all, supported the unemployment benefit cut. George V's role has also been criticized. He urged MacDonald to remain as prime minister. But monarchs are often disposed to favour governments of national unity and the king had acted on the advice of the three party leaders.

J. A. Cannon

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