The Wild Men

The Remarkable Story of Britain's First Labour Government

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Pub Date 18 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 18 Feb 2024

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Description

The incredible story of the first Labour administration and the 'wild men' who shook up the British establishment.

In 1923, just a few short years since the end of the First World War, and after the passing of the Act which gave all men the vote, an inconclusive election result and the prospect of a constitutional crisis opened the door for a radically different sort of government: men from working-class backgrounds who had never before occupied the corridors of power at Westminster.

The Wild Men tells the story of that first Labour administration – its unexpected birth, fraught existence, and controversial downfall – through the eyes of those who found themselves in the House of Commons, running the country for the people. Blending biography and history into a compelling narrative, David Torrance reassesses the UK’s first Labour government a century after it shook up a British establishment still reeling from the War – and how the establishment eventually fought back.

This is an extraordinary period in British political history which echoes down the years to our current politics and laid the foundations for the Britain of today.

The incredible story of the first Labour administration and the 'wild men' who shook up the British establishment.

In 1923, just a few short years since the end of the First World War, and after the...


Advance Praise

'Lively and interesting . . . a highly readable guide to a landmark historical episode.' Richard Toye

'A fine and fascinating piece of work.' Peter Hennessy

'Lively and interesting . . . a highly readable guide to a landmark historical episode.' Richard Toye

'A fine and fascinating piece of work.' Peter Hennessy


Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9781399411431
PRICE £20.00 (GBP)
PAGES 336

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Featured Reviews

David Torrance has written an excellent, excellent book: The Wild Men. The subtitle positions it perfectly; “The Remarkable Story of Britain’s First Labour Government.” I’ll be honest, I expected this to be fairly dry and I only read it because I have a general interest in the inter-war period. Because subsequent Labour politicians have vilified Ramsey Macdonald since the 1930s, I anticipated a trudge through inter-generational Labour bickering. I was so wrong! Torrance’s book is (and I don’t think I have ever described a political history book in these words) riveting. It is a joy to read; it is highly illuminating; it is – to me – a revelation.

The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, called a general election for 6th December 1923 – primarily on the protectionist policy of Imperial Preference. He was far too complacent and the Conservatives lost their majority in the House of Commons. That is, although the Conservatives had more MPs than any other party, the combined non-Conservative MPs outnumbered the Conservatives. This unprecedented election result saw the Unionists (think Conservative – it’s a tad complicated!) with 258 MPs, Labour with 191 and the united Lloyd-George and Asquithian Liberals in third place with 158. Because Baldwin asked the country to support that specific issue by voting Unionist - and the country effectively turned him down, Baldwin resigned and advised the King to ask Labour to form a government. Torrance is very good at quoting contemporary diaries, correspondence and newspapers. At the time, Baldwin told the King’s Private Secretary, this “[…] has upset every calculation made by the experts on both the Conservative and Liberal sides.” One is tempted to reply, “No s**t, Sherlock!?”

It is really difficult for us, a century later, to imagine the reception that the mere possibility of a Labour government had upon British society. Even MacDonald himself was worried, anticipating that the new Labour MPs would “expect the Labour Government to do all sorts of impossible things.” Would these newly-elected “wild men” expect to remove the monarchy; destroy the Empire; nationalise all industries; and handover the county to the Russians? There was genuine concern that there would be virtually revolution. However, the UK’s first Labour Government was initially looked upon with forbearance by politicians from other parties. They expected Labour to totally muck up the opportunity and prove themselves unfit to govern, thus eliminating the Labour Party and returning Britain to the historic two-party system. How wrong they were!

Torrance gives several of the more colourful characters in that government a chapter each. Over and over again, we see how the new ministers were determined to master their brief and how they impressed civil servants by their dedication, unlike several of their Liberal and Conservative predecessors. Some of those civil servants had to adjust to new ways of working. When the previous Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Duke of Devonshire. wanted to see his private secretary, he rang a bell to summon him. His Labour successor, Jimmy Thomas, would put his head around the door and shout “Come ‘ere, you b****!!”

That first Labour government only lasted nine months and was terminated needlessly by Macdonald’s poor political judgement. However, the ‘wild men’ had shown that they were highly capable of governing and the see-saw of British politics saw Labour continue to rise as the Liberals continued their slide out of sight at a national level.

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