Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Topical Budget 646-1: The Man Who Would Lead Labour (1924)


Main image of Topical Budget 646-1: The Man Who Would Lead Labour (1924)
35mm, black and white, silent, 121 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

The home and family life of incoming Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald.

Show full synopsis

The title of this Topical Budget item is somewhat misleading, as Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) had not only been leader of the Labour Party since 21 November 1922, but had previously held the same office from 1911 to 1914. What was actually happening was that MacDonald was on the verge of forming Britain's first Labour government, which took office on 22 January with MacDonald assuming the unusual dual role of Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.

This happened despite the Conservative Party having the largest number of MPs in the House of Commons. The General Election of 5 December 1923 resulted in a hung parliament after the Conservatives lost 86 seats, making them dependent on the Liberal Party for a coalition. Since Prime Minster Stanley Baldwin had called the election effectively as a referendum on free trade and tariff reform, it was seen as a defeat and Baldwin duly declined to form a government. Ramsay MacDonald was therefore invited to become Prime Minister, and took office on 22 January 1924.

This Topical Budget film offers a superficial look at the incoming PM, showing MacDonald at home in Lossiemouth, north-east Scotland. The intertitles reveal little other than that he enjoys walks, chatting with friends, and smokes cigarettes rather than the Tory-favoured pipe. His children Malcolm and Ishbel are introduced, and there's a note of poignancy at the end as we see the memorial to MacDonald's beloved wife Margaret, who died in 1911. He never remarried, and Ishbel (1903-82) would become his primary carer in his later years.

One intertitle stands out from the rest, offering the slightly exaggerated prediction that MacDonald's "advent to Power would mark a change in our history as revolutionary as Magna Charta [sic]". In fact, the first Labour Government was largely hamstrung by its Liberal partners and achieved relatively little, though it never managed to shake off accusations of closet Bolshevism. It would eventually fall in 1926 at least partially thanks to the so-called 'Zinoviev Letter' alleging collusion with Communists, which was published in the Daily Mail just before the election. This is now widely believed to have been a forgery aimed (successfully) at discrediting MacDonald's government.

MacDonald would serve a second term as Prime Minister from June 1929 to August 1931, and then two terms heading the National Government from August 1931 to May 1935. He died two years later during a supposedly convalescent voyage.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete item (1:59)
Rt. Hon. Ramsay MacDonald, The (1931)
Topical Budget 648-2: Rt. Hon. Ramsay MacDonald (1924)