90 years ago today the first Labour Government was formed. It was a minority government, formed when the biggest party after the December 1923 Election, the Tories, could not gather a majority in the House. The first Labour government lasted a mere 266 days before losing the next Election (despite increasing its share of the vote, a Liberal collapse letting the Tories back in).
Often regarded as little more than a footnote in history, the importance of the 1924 Government was that it was the key milestone in the transition from the old Tory/Liberal order to the new two party era of Labour and Tories.
Ramsay MacDonald’s Government is often regarded as having few achievements in Office. But it established the National Grid and passed one of the most progressive Housing Acts ever seen. In their book, Britain’s First Labour Government, John Shepherd and Keith Laybourn say that the Housing Act was the Government’s ‘singular success’. With some justice, the Labour Manifesto for the 1924 Election called it ‘The Great Housing Charter’.
The Act was also the greatest achievement of John Wheatley, the Labour Minister of Health. He was determined to rectify the housing shortage caused by the disruption of the First World War and the subsequent difficulty faced by working class families in obtaining decent housing that could be afforded from their wages. Wheatley’s plan was simple: to greatly increase subsidies to build council houses and the extend the period of loans taken to build the homes. The Act was credited with achieving the construction of more than half a million rented homes at controlled rents over the next decade.
You can read a great article on the visionary pioneer John Wheatley, his origins and his contribution to the development of council housing, by Steve Schifferes posted on Red Brick in 2011.