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Pathe does elections: The 1930s

By Matthew Bailey and Philip Cowley 

In August 1931 the Labour Cabinet was at an impasse over the economic measures it needed to take in order to balance the nation’s books. By the end of the month the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, had tendered his resignation to the King only to return to Downing Street – still Prime Minister – but this time the leader of a National Government.

Very soon MacDonald felt the need to appeal to the electorate for a fresh mandate and an election was held on Tuesday 27 October. Just as they had in the previous decade Pathe newsreels gave politicians the ideal opportunity to reach a large and captive audience at the cinema. In this film Ramsay MacDonald is heard making the case – particularly to hard-pressed housewives – for the continuation of the National Government. MacDonald’s appeal to the national interest above that of party and to the world economic crisis (rather than a merely home grown one) sound particularly familiar 80 years on.

The National Government was returned with a huge majority and Pathe filmed the new Cabinet gathering in the Downing Street garden complete with Ministers being issued with lucky heather to wear in their lapels.

By 1935 Conservative leader, Stanley Baldwin had taken over as Prime Minister in the National Government and he too sought a fresh mandate from the electorate at the end of that year. Here Pathe (‘impartial in political matters’) capture a somewhat urgent Baldwin (literally throwing his papers aside to address us) making his case for re-election. He is followed by the new – and rather stiff – Leader of the Opposition, Clement Attlee, who attacks the Government for being too concerned with rearmament rather than the various domestic issues he claims it has neglected.

Pathe’s round up of that year’s election suggests that it would be ‘remembered as the quietest since the war’ – although there is some pretty hearty cheering at the results and a speech made by George Lansbury. Nonetheless, thanks to the outbreak of another war this would be the last General Election Pathe newsreel covered for some time.

Matthew Bailey is a Research Fellow at the Centre for British Politics at Nottingham. He has published work on a variety of topics regarding British politics, in particular the Conservative Party and Margaret Thatcher’s election as party leader. Philip Cowley is a Professor of Parliamentary government at the University of Nottingham and is the co-editor of the book ‘Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box‘. 

Published inBritish PoliticsGeneral Election 2015Politics

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