Ramsay MacDonald: The first Labour Prime Minister who still divides opinion 100 years on

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It is 100 years since Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister and the politician continues to divide opinion today.

MacDonald was first invited to form a government by George V following a close general election, leading without a clear majority.

"He was probably the most working-class Prime Minister the UK has ever had," explained political writer and historian David Torrance. "He was illegitimate, he didn't know his father, he grew up in grinding poverty in the North of Scotland."

However, it was not to last and MacDonald was replaced by Stanley Baldwin nine months later as the Conservatives won the next general election.

Ramsey MacDonald spent nine months as Prime Minister during his first term. Credit: PA

MacDonald, then MP for Seaham, returned as Prime Minister in 1929. He again led a minority Labour government until 1931, where amid a global financial crisis, he agreed to the King's request to lead a national government - a coalition dominated by Conservatives.

He was expelled from the Labour Party as a result and has still not been forgiven for his actions.

"Certainly in the mining communities that bore the brunt of the cuts in wages and the terrible reductions in conditions, I think he is considered to be a class traitor," said Labour MP for Easington Grahame Morris. "But I think history's been a bit kinder in retrospect."

MacDonald stood down as Prime Minister in 1935, again to be replaced by Baldwin. He lost his Seaham seat later to Labour candidate Manny Shinwell.

"I remember my grandmother telling me the songs: If it's Shinwell let him in, if it's MacDonald, kick his shin," Mr Morris joked.

Ramsey MacDonald continues to divide opinion today. Credit: PA

He made another political comeback back home in Scotland but died in 1937.

There has been little in the way of celebrations for the centenary, on 22 January, but the significance of the moment has not been underplayed.

"I think it's a hugely significant anniversary," Mr Torrance said. "The advent of the first Labour government established the two-party system which still exists in the United Kingdom to this day.

"Without that first minority Labour government, you wouldn't have had, or perhaps as soon as we did - the majority governments of Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair." Sir Keir Starmer will hope to be the latest Labour leader to follow in MacDonald's footsteps in the General Election expected later this year.

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