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Philip Snowden

(1864—1937) politician


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(b. Ickornshaw, Yorkshire, 18 July 1864; d. Tilford, Surrey, 15 May 1937)

British; Chancellor of the Exchequer 1924 and 1929–31 The son of a weaver, Snowden received only an elementary education. After clerical jobs, he became editor of a socialist newspaper. His skills as a propagandist were significant in the development first of the Independent Labour Party and then of the Labour Representation Committee (later Labour Party). He sat on the National Administrative Committee of the ILP for many years and was twice its chairman (1903–6 and 1917–20). However, he resigned from the ILP in 1927 in protest at its alleged extremism.

After entering the House of Commons as member for Blackburn in 1906 Snowden established a reputation as an expert on public finance. His opposition to the First World War resulted in electoral defeat in 1918, but he re-entered parliament in 1922. His first ministerial post was the chancellorship of the Exchequer in the first Labour government (1924). His cautious policy incurred criticism from Labour's left wing, but he shared Ramsay MacDonald's determination to prove Labour ‘fit to govern’ by financial orthodoxy. He pursued the same line in the second Labour government (1929–31), but the policy exacerbated the economic depression and the unemployment problem.

In August 1931, Snowden was one of the few ministers to join MacDonald's national government when the Labour government collapsed. He continued as Chancellor and, after an emergency budget making further expenditure cuts, was compelled to respond to continuing pressure on sterling by suspending the gold standard. This was his final major decision as Chancellor. He did not contest the general election in October and went to the House of Lords as Lord Privy Seal. Early in 1932, differences arose over the introduction of a protectionist trade policy and Snowden was one of four ‘free traders’ whose resignations were averted only by the Cabinet's unprecedented adoption of an ‘agreement to differ’. This proved only a temporary solution to the government's internal tensions and they resigned eight months later over imperial trade preference. Out of office, Snowden became an outspoken critic of the government and of MacDonald personally, though he never rejoined the Labour Party from which he and other Labour members joining the national government had been expelled. His two-volume An Autobiography (1937) is a useful account of the formative years of the Labour Party.

Subjects: history — social sciences.


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