Philip Snowden, 1st Viscount Snowden

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The Viscount Snowden

Lord Snowden.jpg
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
7 June 1929 5 November 1931
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by Winston Churchill
Succeeded by Neville Chamberlain
In office
22 January 1924 3 November 1924
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by Neville Chamberlain
Succeeded by Winston Churchill
Personal details
Born18 July 1864
Cowling, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died15 May 1937(1937-05-15) (aged 72)
Tilford, Surrey, England
Political party Labour Party (c.1894–1931)
National Labour (1931–1932)
None (1932–1937)
Ethel Annakin (m. 1905)

Philip Snowden, 1st Viscount Snowden, PC ( /ˈsndən/ ; 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 that year by the National Government coalition that Snowden supported. He was succeeded as Chancellor by Neville Chamberlain.

Privy Council of the United Kingdom Formal body of advisers to the sovereign in the United Kingdom

Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council of the United Kingdom or just the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. Its membership mainly comprises senior politicians who are current or former members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.

The Labour Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom that has been described as an alliance of social democrats, democratic socialists and trade unionists. The party's platform emphasises greater state intervention, social justice and strengthening workers' rights.


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 later 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". [1] Although his parents and sisters were involved in weaving at the Ickornshaw Mill, he did not join them; after attending a local board school (where he received additional lessons in French and Latin from the schoolmaster) he stayed on as a pupil-teacher. [2] When he was 15 he became an insurance office clerk in Burnley. [2] During his seven years as a clerk, he studied and then passed the civil service entry examination; in 1886, he was appointed to a junior position at the Excise Office in Liverpool. [2] Snowden moved on to other posts around Scotland and then to Devon. [2]

Cowling, Craven village in the United Kingdom

Cowling is a village, electoral division and civil parish in the Craven district of North Yorkshire, England. It is situated on the borders with the adjacent counties of West Yorkshire, and Lancashire.

West Riding of Yorkshire one of the historic subdivisions of Yorkshire, England

The West Riding of Yorkshire is one of the three historic subdivisions of Yorkshire, England. From 1889 to 1974 the administrative county, County of York, West Riding, was based closely on the historic boundaries. The lieutenancy at that time included the City of York and as such was named West Riding of the County of York and the County of the City of York.

Chartism British democratic movement (1838-1857)

Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country, and the South Wales Valleys. Support for the movement was at its highest in 1839, 1842, and 1848, when petitions signed by millions of working people were presented to the House of Commons. The strategy employed was to use the scale of support which these petitions and the accompanying mass meetings demonstrated to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage. Chartism thus relied on constitutional methods to secure its aims, though there were some who became involved in insurrectionary activities, notably in south Wales and in Yorkshire.

In August 1891, when he was aged 27, Snowden severely injured his back in a cycling accident in Devon and was paralyzed from the waist down. [2] He learned to walk again with the aid of sticks within two years. [3] His Inland Revenue job was kept open for him for two years following the accident; however, owing to his condition, he decided to resign from the civil service. [2] While he was convalescing at his mother's house at Cowling he began to study socialist theory and history. [2]

Inland Revenue Defunct department of the British Government responsible for the collection of direct taxation

The Inland Revenue was, until April 2005, a department of the British Government responsible for the collection of direct taxation, including income tax, national insurance contributions, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, corporation tax, petroleum revenue tax and stamp duty. More recently, the Inland Revenue also administered the Tax Credits schemes, whereby monies, such as Working Tax Credit (WTC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), are paid by the Government into a recipient's bank account or as part of their wages. The Inland Revenue was also responsible for the payment of child benefit.

Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production and workers' self-management, as well as the political theories and movements associated with them. Social ownership can be public, collective or cooperative ownership, or citizen ownership of equity. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, with social ownership being the common element shared by its various forms.

Snowden joined the Liberal Party, and followed his parents in becoming a Methodist and a teetotaller. In 1893, in the aftermath of the formation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in neighboring Bradford, he was asked to give a speech for the Cowling Liberal Club on the dangers of socialism. Whilst researching the subject, 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 from 1903 to 1906. He became a prominent speaker for the party, and wrote a popular Christian socialist pamphlet with Keir Hardie in 1903, entitled The Christ that is to Be. His strident rhetoric, well-laced with statistics and evangelical themes, contrasted the evil conditions under capitalism with the moral and economic utopia of future socialism. He condemned as "bloodsuckers and parasites" local textile company executives. In 1898, he launched the Keighley Labour Journal, using it to denounce waste, pettiness, and corruption. However, he ignored the concerns of the trade unions, which he judged to be conservative and fixated on wages. [3] By 1902, he had 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. By the time he was elected Labour MP for Blackburn in 1906, he had become a well-known socialist figure, standing at the national level alongside both Keir Hardie, Professor Arnold Lupton and Ramsay MacDonald. [3] [4]

Liberal Party (UK) political party of the United Kingdom, 1859–1988

The Liberal Party was one of the two major parties in the United Kingdom with the opposing Conservative Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The party arose from an alliance of Whigs and free trade Peelites and Radicals favourable to the ideals of the American and French Revolutions in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, it had formed four governments under William Gladstone. Despite being divided over the issue of Irish Home Rule, the party returned to government in 1905 and then won a landslide victory in the following year's general election.

Independent Labour Party UK political party

The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was a British political party of the left, established in 1893, when the Liberals appeared reluctant to endorse working-class candidates, representing the interests of the majority. A sitting independent MP and prominent union organiser, Keir Hardie, became its first chairman.

Bradford city in the City of Bradford, Yorkshire, England

Bradford is a city in West Yorkshire, England, in the foothills of the Pennines, 8.6 miles (14 km) west of Leeds, and 16 miles (26 km) north-west of Wakefield. Bradford became a municipal borough in 1847, and received its charter as a city in 1897. Following local government reform in 1974, city status was bestowed upon the City of Bradford metropolitan borough.

Snowden married Ethel Annakin, a campaigner for women's suffrage, in 1905. He supported his wife's ideals, and he became a noted speaker at suffragette meetings and other public meetings. [3]

Ethel Snowden British socialist, feminist, womens suffrage and pacifist campaigner

Ethel Snowden, Viscountess Snowden, was a British socialist, human rights activist, and feminist politician. From a middle-class background, she became a Christian Socialist through a radical preacher and initially promoted temperance and teetotalism in the slums of Liverpool. She aligned to the Fabian Society and later the Independent Labour Party, earning an income by lecturing in Britain and abroad. Snowden was one of the leading campaigners for women's suffrage before the First World War, then founding The Women's Peace Crusade to oppose the war and call for a negotiated peace. After a visit to the Soviet Union she developed a strong criticism of its system, which made her unpopular when relayed to the left-wing in Britain.

Womens suffrage the legal right of women to vote

Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote in elections. Beginning in the late 1800s, women worked for broad-based economic and political equality and for social reforms, and sought to change voting laws in order to allow them to vote. National and international organizations formed to coordinate efforts to gain voting rights, especially the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and also worked for equal civil rights for women.

Member of Parliament: 1906–1924

Snowden (fourth from left) in 1906, with other leading figures in the party Labour Representation Committee leaders 1906.jpg
Snowden (fourth from left) in 1906, with other leading figures in the party

Snowden unsuccessfully contested the Wakefield constituency in West Yorkshire in a by-election in March 1902, where he received 40 percent of the votes. [5] In 1906, he became the Labour MP for Blackburn. [6] 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". [3]

Wakefield (UK Parliament constituency) Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom

Wakefield is a constituency created in 1832 represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2005 by Mary Creagh, a member of the Labour Party.

David Lloyd George Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, was a British statesman and Liberal Party politician. He was the last Liberal to serve as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Peoples Budget

The 1909/1910 People's Budget was a proposal of the Liberal government that introduced unprecedented taxes on the lands and incomes of Britain's wealthy to fund new social welfare programmes. It passed the House of Commons in 1909 but was blocked by the House of Lords for a year and became law in April 1910.

Snowden was in Australia on a worldwide lecture tour when the First World War broke out in August 1914; he did not return to Britain until February 1915. He was not a pacifist; however, 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. [3]

Chancellor of the Exchequer: 1924

Upon Ramsay MacDonald's appointment as Prime Minister in January 1924, Snowden was appointed as the Labour Party's first ever Chancellor of the Exchequer [7] and sworn of the Privy Council. [8] [9]

In his budget, Snowden lowered the duties on tea, coffee, cocoa, chicory and sugar; reduced spending on armaments; and provided money for council housing. However, he did not implement the capital levy. Snowden claimed that because of the lowering of duties on foodstuffs consumed by the working class, the budget went "far to realize the cherished radical idea of a free breakfast table". [10] He profoundly believed in the morality of the balanced budget, with rigorous economy and not a penny wasted. He grasped how serious unemployment was becoming, but differed with the rising belief in deficit spending as a way to combat it. A. J. P. Taylor said his budget "would have delighted the heart of Gladstone". [11]

In his first budget, Snowden earmarked £38 million for the reduction of food taxes, the introduction of pensions for widows, and a reduction in the pensionable age to 65. However, only the first of these measures was realized during the first Labour Government's time in office. [12]

Opposition: 1924–1929

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 which provided a rationale for deficit spending, and criticized their expression in the Liberals' manifesto for the 1929 election, titled We can Conquer Unemployment. [3]

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. [13] His economic philosophy was one of strict Gladstonian Liberalism rather than socialism. His official biographer wrote, "He was raised in an atmosphere which regarded borrowing as an evil and free trade as an essential ingredient of prosperity". [14]

He was considered by many at the time and later 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. [15]

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 unfavorably with his own "sane and evolutionary Socialism". [16] Snowden decided not to stand for parliament in the election of November 1931. At that election, Labour's number of seats declined catastrophically from 288 to 52. It was during that year he had prostate gland surgery, following which his health and mobility declined. [3]

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 that Keynesians thought it would do to the economy and the people. [17] However, with the decline of Keynesianism as a model after 1968, historians have reevaluated Snowden in a more favorable light. McKibbin argues that the Labour government had very limited room to manoeuvre in 1929-31, and it did as well as could be expected; and that it handled the British economy better than most foreign governments handled theirs, and the Great Depression was less severe in Britain than elsewhere. [18]

Later life: 1931–1937

Vera Weizmann, Chaim Weizmann, Herbert Samuel, Lloyd George, Ethel Snowden, and Philip Snowden Vera & Chaim Weizmann, Herbert Samuel, Lloyd George, Ethel Snowden, Philip Snowden.jpeg
Vera Weizmann, Chaim Weizmann, Herbert Samuel, Lloyd George, Ethel Snowden, and Philip Snowden

In the 1931 Dissolution Honours he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Snowden of Ickornshaw, in the West Riding of the County of York, [19] and served as Lord Privy Seal in the National government from 1931 [20] to 1932, when he resigned in protest at the enactment of a full scheme of Imperial Preference and protectionist tariffs. That year, 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". [21]

He subsequently wrote his Autobiography in which he strongly attacked MacDonald. In the 1935 general election, Snowden supported the Keynesian economic program proposed by Lloyd George ("Lloyd George's New Deal"), despite it being a complete repudiation of Snowden's own classical 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. [3]

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 a cairn was erected to his memory on Ickornshaw Moor in 1938. [3]

His viscountcy died with him. Lady Snowden died in February 1951, aged 69.

Styles of address


  1. Philip, Viscount Snowden, An Autobiography. Volume One. 1864-1919 (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934), p. 19.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Lord Snowden." Times [London, England] 17 May 1937: 15. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 September 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Duncan Tanner, "Snowden, Philip, Viscount Snowden (1864–1937)]", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004;
  4. Millman, Brock, Domestic Dissent in First World War Britain, 2000, page 186.
  5. "Election intelligence". The Times (36725). London. 26 March 1902. p. 10.
  6. "No. 27885". The London Gazette . 13 February 1906. p. 1038.
  7. "No. 32901". The London Gazette . 25 January 1924. p. 770.
  8. "No. 32901". The London Gazette . 25 January 1924. p. 769.
  9. "No. 13992". The Edinburgh Gazette . 29 January 1924. p. 147.
  10. Time, Labor's Budget, 12 May 1924
  11. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, p. 212.
  12. Foundations of the Welfare State, 2nd Edition by Pat Thane, published 1996
  13. "No. 33508". The London Gazette . 21 June 1929. p. 4106.
  14. Keith Laybourn (1988). Philip Snowden: a biography : 1864-1937. Temple Smith. p. 97.
  15. Robert Skidelsky, Politicians and the Slump: The Labour Government of 1929-1931 (1967)
  16. Kevin Jeffreys (1999). Leading Labour: From Keir Hardie to Tony Blair. I.B.Tauris. p. 33.
  17. Skidelsky, Politicians and the Slump: The Labour Government of 1929-1931 (1967)
  18. Ross McKibbin, "The Economic Policy of the Second Labour Government 1929-1931," Past & Present (1975) #68 pp. 95-123 in JSTOR
  19. "No. 33775". The London Gazette . 27 November 1931. p. 7658.
  20. "No. 33772". The London Gazette . 17 November 1931. p. 7409.
  21. The Times (8 July 1932), p. 9.


Secondary sources
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir William Coddington
Sir Harry Hornby
Member of Parliament for Blackburn
With: Sir Harry Hornby 1906–1910
Sir Thomas Barclay 1910
Sir Henry Norman 1910–1918
Succeeded by
Percy Dean
Sir Henry Norman
Preceded by
Frederick Mallalieu
Member of Parliament for Colne Valley
Succeeded by
Lance Mallalieu
Party political offices
Preceded by
Bruce Glasier
Chairman of the Independent Labour Party
Succeeded by
Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by
Fred Jowett
Chairman of the Independent Labour Party
Succeeded by
R. C. Wallhead
Preceded by
T. D. Benson
Treasurer of the Independent Labour Party
Succeeded by
George Benson
Political offices
Preceded by
Neville Chamberlain
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Winston Churchill
Preceded by
Winston Churchill
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Neville Chamberlain
Preceded by
The Earl Peel
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
Stanley Baldwin
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Snowden

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