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1931 Film clip: Ramsay MacDonald's election appeal

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In this newsreel, Ramsay MacDonald calls for people to support the National Government coalition before the election of October 1931.
©British Film Institute

Ramsay MacDonald was leader of the Labour Party in the 1920s. He belonged to the moderate wing of the party, which made him popular with voters but less popular with radicals within Labour. In 1929 Labour formed a government that coincided with the arrival of the greatest economic crisis the world had ever seen. In July 1931 MacDonald put forward a series of emergency measures which most of his own Labour ministers rejected. MacDonald resigned in August, but soon retuned to form a National Government made up of MPs from the Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties. He called an election in October 1931 and this newsreel clip shows him speaking about the upcoming election.

Questions to consider

  1. According to MacDonald, what problem is Britain facing and why?
  2. How did MacDonald try to appeal to women voters?
  3. Why did he phrase his appeal in this way?
  4. How would you sum up the basic message of MacDonald in this film clip?
  5. What does this newsreel reveal about MacDonald's relations within his own party?
  6. Which of these two interpretations could be drawn from this source?
  • The trade unions were opposed to MacDonald's actions; the fact that he went ahead shows they had no real influence.
  • Trade unions were so influential that MacDonald had to take this extreme action to pass the measures he wanted.


Duration: 0:01:55

The Rt. Hon. Ramsay MacDonald delivers a speech

Text slide: The Rt. Hon. Ramsay MacDonald.
Image shows Ramsay MacDonald standing in a Garden facing the camera.

Audio: My friends; we are beginning a contest which will be one of the most historical in the story of our country, and I hope most sincerely that you are all to bear a noble part in the fight.

Our country, in the course of its history, has had to meet many storms and many stresses but it has always come out successfully by the courage and the determination of our people. We are going to do that again.

The question you have to settle, and I have to try to settle, is whether the pound sterling is going to fluctuate so much from day to day that not one of you housewives, not one of you women who are responsible for the expenditure of your household income, will know from week to week how much the pound is going to bring to you.

I appeal to you to give us during this [inaudible] time a Government that will be a union of all parties.

Image cuts to close up of Ramsay MacDonald's head and shoulders.

Audio: And I ask you therefore at this election to return a [inaudible] of men of all parties united in serving the national interest and give them power to carry out the task they have placed before them to a successful end.

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