John Wheatley

(1869—1930) politician

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(b. Bonmahon, Ireland, 18 May 1869; d. Glasgow, 12 May 1930)

British; Minister of Health 1924 A labourer's son, Wheatley was brought up in Lanarkshire, left elementary school at 11 and worked first in the coal mines and later as a shop assistant. He joined the Independent Labour Party in 1908. He followed the unpopular ILP line of opposition to the First World War, but was nevertheless only narrowly defeated when he stood at Glasgow, Shettleston, in the 1918 general election. He won the seat in 1922 and held it until his death.

In the Commons, Wheatley associated with other newly elected ‘Clydeside Red’ MPs in numerous disorderly scenes and was more than once suspended for obstructive behaviour. But he also rapidly established himself as a most able debater, particularly on issues concerned with housing and health. He assumed responsibility for both in the first Labour government (1924) when Ramsay MacDonald appointed him to the Cabinet as Minister of Health. Despite the government's very brief lifespan, Wheatley secured the passage of a Housing Act providing for a substantial housebuilding programme.

When Labour returned to Opposition, Wheatley expressed increasing dissatisfaction with the gradualist approach of the party leadership and soon withdrew to the back benches, where he assumed the unofficial leadership of the party's left-wing MPs. They continued their independent activities after the formation of the second Labour government (1929–31)—from which Wheatley was, not surprisingly, excluded. Their strident criticisms of the government's approach to the problem of unemployment, with which Wheatley was closely identified, excited much ministerial anger. The Parliamentary Labour Party was on the point of introducing its first comprehensive disciplinary code limiting the freedom of action permitted to Labour MPs, as a response to these activities, when Wheatley died.

Subjects: Politics.

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