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Arthur Henderson

Arthur Henderson (September 13, 1863 - October 20, 1935) was a British politician and union leader.

Table of contents
1 Early Life
2 Union leader
3 The Labour Party
4 Cabinet Minister
5 The Khaki election and the 1920's
6 Foreign Secretary
7 The MacDonald "betrayal"
8 Later career

Early Life

Arthur Henderson was born in Glasgow in 1863, the son of a textile worker, who died when his son was only 10 years old. After his father's death, the Hendersons moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. Henderson worked in a locomotive factory from the age of 12, and was converted to Methodism (having previously been a Congregationalist) in 1879, This had a major impact on Henderson and he became a Lay Preacher. In 1884 Henderson lost his job, and concentrated on his education, and preaching commitments.

Union leader

However by 1892, Henderson had entered the complex world of Trade Union politics, when he was elected as a paid organiser for the Iron Founders Union, and was also a representative on the North East Conciliation Board. Henderson believed that strikes caused more harm than they were worth, and tried to avoid them whenever he could. For this reason he opposed the formation of the General Federation of Trade Union, as he was convinced it would lead to more strikes.

The Labour Party

In 1900 Henderson was one of the 129 trade union and socialist delagates, who passed Keir Hardie's motion to create the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and in 1903 Henderson was elected treasurer of the LRC, and was also elected MP for Barnard Castle following a by-election. In 1906 the LRC changed it's name to the Labour Party and won 29 seats in the general election of that year (which was a Liberal landslide). In 1908, when Hardie resigned as Leader of the Labour Party, Henderson was elected to replace him, and was leader for two fairly quiet (from Labour's perspective) years, before resigning in 1910.

Cabinet Minister

In 1914 the First World War broke out, and the then Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, resigned in protest. Henderson was elected to replace him, and in 1915, following Prime Minister Asquith's decision to create a coalition government, became the first member of the Labour Party to become a member of the Cabinet, as president of the Board of Education. In 1915 David Lloyd George forced Asquith to resign and became Prime Minister. It is doubtful that Henderson was one of the plotters, but he himself resigned in August 1917 when his idea for an international conference on the war, was voted down by the rest of the cabinet; shortly afterwards he resigned as Labour leader.

The Khaki election and the 1920's

Henderson was against punishing Germany too harshly, and as a result lost his seat in the "khaki election" of 1918, but returned to Parliament in 1919 after winning a by-election in Widnes. After his election he became Labour's chief whip, only to lose his seat in the 1922 general election. Again he returned to Parliament via a by-election, this time representing Newcastle East, however he lost this seat in the 1923 general election, but returned to Parliament 2 months later after winning a by-election in Burnley, after which he became Home Secretary in the first ever Labour government (led by MacDonald), which was defeated in 1924 and lost the following election partially because of the infamous Zinoviev letter printed in the right-wing tabloid the Daily Mail. Unusually Henderson was re-elected in 1924, and he refused to challenge MacDonald for the party leadership, despite being apparently begged by other MPs to do just that. Worried about factionalism in the Labour Party, He published a pamphlet called Labour and the Nation, in which he attempted to clarify the Labour's goals.

Foreign Secretary

In 1929 Labour won another minority government, and MacDonald appointed Henderson as Foreign Secretary, a position Henderson used to try to reduce the tensions that had been building up in Europe since the end of the War. Diplomatic relations were re-established with the USSR and the League of Nations was given Britain's full support. The government was able to funtion properly, even without a parliamentary majority. However this did not last. The Great Depression plunged the government into a terminal crisis.

The MacDonald "betrayal"

The crisis began in 1931 when Phillip Snowden, the Chancellor of the Exechequer, proposed balancing the budget by reducing unemployment pay. As the world was in the middle of the Great Depression with poverty and unemployment figures rising every other day, Henderson and most of the rest of the cabinet were able to vote this measure down. MacDonald was furious that his cabinet had voted against him and promptly resigned, but was (allegedly) persuded by the King to create a "National" government, in effect a Tory dominated coalition that would also include the Liberals and some Labour members. Henderson and the vast majority of the Labour Party regarded a pact with the Tories as a betrayal of everything they stood for, and resigned along with all but three other cabinet members. But it was too late. MacDonald decided to call an election and unsuprisingly, the National Government won by a landslide and Labour was reduced to just 46 MPs. Yet again Henderson lost his seat.

Later career

Henderson returned to Parliament after winning a by-election (Clay Cross), and spent the rest of his life trying to halt the gathering storm of war. He chaired the Geneva Disarmament Conference and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934. Arthur Henderson died aged 72 in 1935.