Philip Snowden, 1st Viscount Snowden
|The Right Honourable
The Viscount Snowden
|Chancellor of the Exchequer|
7 June 1929 – 5 November 1931
|Prime Minister||Ramsay MacDonald|
|Preceded by||Winston Churchill|
|Succeeded by||Neville Chamberlain|
22 January 1924 – 3 November 1924
|Prime Minister||Ramsay MacDonald|
|Preceded by||Neville Chamberlain|
|Succeeded by||Winston Churchill|
|Born||18 July 1864
Cowling, Yorkshire, England
|Died||15 May 1937
Tilford, Surrey, England
|Political party||Labour Party (c. 1894-1931)
National Labour (1931-1932)
|Spouse(s)||Ethel Annakin (1881-1951)|
Philip Snowden, 1st Viscount Snowden PC (18 July 1864 – 15 May 1937) was a British politician. A strong speaker he became popular in trade union circles for his denunciation of capitalism as unethical and his promise of a socialist utopia. He was the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, a position he held in 1924 and again between 1929 and 1931. He broke with Labour policy in 1931 and was expelled from the party and excoriated as a turncoat, as the Party was overwhelmingly crushed in 1931 by the National Government coalition that Snowden supported.
Early life: 1864–1906
Snowden was born in Cowling in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His father John Snowden had been a weaver and a supporter of Chartism and then a Gladstonian liberal. Snowden later wrote in his autobiography: "I was brought up in this Radical atmosphere, and it was then that I imbibed the political and social principles which I have held fundamentally ever since". Although his parents and sisters were involved in weaving at the Ickornshaw Mill he did not join them, after attending a local board school he stayed on as a pupil-teacher. When he was 15 he became an insurance office clerk in Burnley. During his seven years as a clerk he studied and then passed the civil service entry examination, and in 1886 he was appointed to a junior position at the Excise office in Liverpool. Snowden moved on to other posts around Scotland and then to Devon.
In August 1891 in Devon when he was aged 27, Snowden was severely injured his back in a cycling accident and was paralysed from the waist down. He learned to walk again with the aid of sticks within two years. Following the accident his Inland Revenue job was kept open for him for two years but due to his condition he decided to resign from the civil service. While he was convalescing at his Mother's house at Cowling he began to study Socialist theory and history.
Snowden joined the Liberal Party and followed his parents in becoming a Methodist and a teetotaller. In 1893 Snowden was asked to give a speech for the Cowling Liberal Club on the dangers of socialism in the aftermath of the formation of the Independent Labour Party. In his research on socialism Snowden instead became convinced by the ideology. He eventually joined the executive committee of the Keighley ILP in 1899 and went on to chair the ILP 1903-06. He became a prominent speaker for the party and wrote a popular Christian socialist pamphlet with Keir Hardie entitled The Christ that is to Be in 1903. His strident rhetoric, well-laced with statistics, contrasted the evil conditions under capitalism with the moral and economic utopia of future socialism. He condemned as "bloodsuckers and parasites" local textile executives. In 1898 he launched Snowden the Keighley Labour Journal, using it to denounce waste, pettiness, and corruption. He ignored the concerns of the trade unions. By 1902 he moved his base to Leeds and toured Britain as a lecturer on politics and corruption, with his own syndicated column and short essays in numerous working class outlets. When he was elected Labour MP for Blackburn in 1906, he had become a well-known socialist figure, standing at the national level alongside Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald.
Member of Parliament: 1906–1924
In 1906 he became the Labour Party MP for Blackburn. He continued his writing and lectures, and now was advocating more radical measures than the ruling Liberals were implementing. He even devised his own "Socialist budget" to rival David Lloyd George's 1909 "People's Budget".
Snowden was in Australia on a worldwide lecture tour when the World War broke out in August 1914; he did not return to Britain until February 1915. He was not a pacifist but he did not support recruiting for the armed forces and he campaigned against conscription. His stance was unpopular with the public and he lost his seat in the 1918 general election. In 1922 he was elected to represent Colne Valley.
Chancellor of the Exchequer: 1924
In his budget Snowden lowered the duties on tea, coffee, cocoa, chicory and sugar; reduced spending on armaments; provided money for council housing but did not implement the capital levy. Snowden claimed that because of the lowering of duties on foodstuffs consumed by the working class that the budget went "far to realize the cherished radical idea of a free breakfast table". He profoundly believed in the morality of the balanced budged, with rigorous economy and not a penny wasted. He never grasped how serious unemployment was becoming. A. J. P. Taylor said his budget "would have delighted the heart of Gladstone".
Although he had chaired the ILP for a second time, from 1917 to 1920, Snowden resigned from the party in 1927 because he believed it was "drifting more and more away from...evolutionary socialism into revolutionary socialism". He was also opposed to the new Keynesian economic ideas and criticised its expression in the Liberals' manifesto for the 1929 election, titled We can Conquer Unemployment.
Chancellor of the Exchequer: 1929–1931
Snowden was again appointed Chancellor after Labour formed a government in 1929 after emerging as the largest party in the general election. His economic philosophy was one of strict Gladstonian Liberalism rather than socialism. His official biographer wrote that "He was raised in an atmosphere which regarded borrowing as an evil and free trade as an essential ingredient of prosperity".
He was considered by many at the time and since as being the principal opponent to the government following any radical economic policy to tackle the Great Depression as well as blocking proposals to introduce protectionist tariffs. The government eventually collapsed over arguments about a budget deficit amidst refusals by a significant minority of ministers to enact cuts in unemployment benefit.
Snowden retained the position of Chancellor during the National Government of 1931. As a consequence he was expelled from the party, along with MacDonald and Jimmy Thomas. In a BBC radio broadcast on 16 October 1931 he called Labour's policies "Bolshevism run mad" and contrasted them unfavourably with his own "sane and evolutionary Socialism". Snowden decided not to stand for parliament in the election of November 1931. In that election Labour seats declined catastrophically from 288 to 52. It was during that year he had prostate gland surgery, following which his health and mobility declined.
Skidelsky is representative of the Keynesians who have charged that Snowden and MacDonald were blinded by their economic philosophy that required balanced budgets, sound money, the gold standard, and free trade, regardless of the damage it might do to the economy and the people. But with the decline of Keynesianism as a model after 1968, historians have reevaluated Snowden in a more favourable light. McKibbin argues that the Labour government had very limited room to manoeuvre in 1929-31 it as well as could be expected; it handled the British economy better than most foreign governments handled theirs, and the Great Depression was less severe in Britain.
Later life: 1931–1934
He was instead raised to the peerage as Viscount Snowden, of Ickornshaw in the West Riding of the County of York, and served as Lord Privy Seal in the National government from 1931 to 1932 when he resigned in protest at the enactment of a full scheme of Imperial Preference and protectionist tariffs. In 1932 Snowden said there was never a greater mistake than to say that Cobdenism was dead: "Cobdenism was never more alive throughout the world than it was to-day...To-day the ideas of Cobden were in revolt against selfish nationalism. The need for the breaking down of trade restrictions, which took various forms, was universally recognized even by those who were unable to throw off those shackles".
He subsequently wrote his Autobiography in which he strongly attacked MacDonald. In the 1935 general election, Snowden supported the Keynesian economic programme proposed by Lloyd George ("Lloyd George's New Deal"), despite it being a complete repudiation of Snowden's own liberal fiscal policies. Snowden claimed that he was returning to long-held economic views but that these had been "temporarily inadvisable" during the crisis of 1931 when "national necessity" demanded cutting public expenditure.
Lord Snowden died of a heart attack at his home, Eden Lodge, Tilford, Surrey on 15 May 1937, aged 72. After cremation at Woking Crematorium his ashes were scattered on Cowling Moor near Ickornshaw. His library of books and pamphlets was presented to Keighley Public Library by his widow and in 1938 a cairn was erected to his memory on Ickornshaw Moor.
His viscountcy died with him. Lady Snowden died in February 1951, aged 69.
- Philip, Viscount Snowden, An Autobiography. Volume One. 1864-1919 (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934), p. 19.
- "Lord Snowden." Times [London, England] 17 May 1937: 15. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.
- Duncan Tanner, "Snowden, Philip, Viscount Snowden (1864–1937)]", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004;
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945 (Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 209.
- Time, Labor's Budget, 12 May 1924
- Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, p. 212.
- The London Gazette: . 21 June 1929.
- Keith Laybourn (1988). Philip Snowden: a biography : 1864-1937. Temple Smith. p. 97.
- Robert Skidelsky, Politicians and the Slump: The Labour Government of 1929-1931 (1967)
- Kevin Jeffreys (1999). Leading Labour: From Keir Hardie to Tony Blair. I.B.Tauris. p. 33.
- Skidelsky, Politicians and the Slump: The Labour Government of 1929-1931 (1967)
- Ross McKibbin, "The Economic Policy of the Second Labour Government 1929-1931," Past & Present (1975) #68 pp. 95-123 in JSTOR
- The London Gazette: . 27 November 1931.
- The London Gazette: . 17 November 1931.
- The Times (8 July 1932), p. 9.
- Philip, Viscount Snowden, An Autobiography. Volume One. 1864-1919 (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934).
- Philip, Viscount Snowden, An Autobiography. Volume Two. 1919-1934 (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934).
- Duncan Tanner, ‘Snowden, Philip, Viscount Snowden (1864–1937)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011, accessed 1 July 2011.
- Colin Cross, Philip Snowden (Barrie & Jenkins, 1966).
- Keith Laybourn and David James (eds.), Philip Snowden. The First Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer (Bradford Arts, Museums and Libraries Service, 1987).
- Keith Laybourn, Philip Snowden. A Biography, 1864–1937 (Dartmouth Publishing, 1988).
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- "Snowden, Phillip". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). 1922.