Philip Snowden: First Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer – Attained High Office without Privilege

PHILIP SNOWDEN (1864-1937) British politician and the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. He married ETHEL ANNAKIN, a prominent member of the suffragette movement. She was Governor of the British Broadcasting Corp.

Born to quite a poor family in Middleton (Picture shows the cottage where he was born), Philip managed to receive a good education through the tenacity of his father – a Sunday school Superintendent, and due to the fact that he had two older sisters who started work and brought in wages for the family, allowing Philip to continue with his schooling instead of working half days as most of his peers did. Philip’s family moved to Nelson in search of work when he was fifteen, due to the mill they worked in going bankrupt. Due to his good education work as an insurance clerk was easy to find. Soon he joined the Civil Service and worked around the country until a cycling accident forced him to return to his mother in 1891. She had returned to Cowling two years earlier after the death of Philip’s father. In the two years it took to recuperate, Philip wrote for local papers, having also attended political meetings since his time in Nelson. When he was finally able, after much determined effort towards rehabilitation, he began public speaking in Keighley and despite a great following lost his first election in Burnley in 1900. A year after his marriage to Ethel Annakin in 1905 Philip became M.P. for Blackburn and came straight to his mother in Cowling. He was led into the village by a brass band to give a speech at the Liberal Club. Village children were given the day off school.

He began to work for the Independent Labour party. He was twice chairman of the party, from 1903 to 1906 and later from 1917 to 1920, but resigned in 1927 in favour of the Labour party proper as a protest against what he considered the revolutionary tendencies of the Independent Labour party. He belonged to the pacifist minority of the socialist group during World War One. Snowden served in the House of Commons from 1906 to 1918 and from 1922 until 1931. As an acknowledged specialist in finance, he became chancellor of the exchequer in the Labour ministries formed by Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929. He won popularity by his refusal to accept a reduction in the British share of German reparations in the Young Plan in 1929. His rigidly orthodox financial measures, including the maintenance of free trade and balanced budgets, were insufficient to stem the growing economic depression. Philip remained chancellor in the national government of 1931 and announced the suspension of the gold standard. Created Viscount Snowden of Ickornshaw in 1931, he served from 1931 to 1932 as lord privy seal but resigned when free trade was abandoned.