Arthur Henderson
Henderson c. 1910–15
Leader of the Opposition
In office
1 September 1931 – 25 October 1932
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byStanley Baldwin
Succeeded byGeorge Lansbury
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
28 August 1931 – 25 October 1932
DeputyJohn Robert Clynes
Preceded byRamsay MacDonald
Succeeded byGeorge Lansbury
In office
5 August 1914 – 24 October 1917
Preceded byRamsay MacDonald
Succeeded byWilliam Adamson
In office
22 January 1908 – 14 February 1910
Preceded byKeir Hardie
Succeeded byGeorge Barnes
Foreign Secretary
In office
7 June 1929 – 24 August 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byAusten Chamberlain
Succeeded byThe Marquess of Reading
Home Secretary
In office
23 January 1924 – 4 November 1924
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byWilliam Bridgeman
Succeeded bySir William Joynson-Hicks
Minister without portfolio
In office
10 December 1916 – 12 August 1917
Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George
Preceded byThe Marquess of Lansdowne
Succeeded byGeorge Nicoll Barnes
Paymaster General
In office
18 August 1916 – 10 December 1916
Prime MinisterH. H. Asquith
Preceded byThomas Legh
Succeeded byJoseph Compton-Rickett
President of the Board of Education
In office
25 May 1915 – 18 August 1916
Prime MinisterH. H. Asquith
Preceded byJack Pease
Succeeded byRobert Crewe-Milnes
Parliamentary offices
Member of Parliament
for Clay Cross
In office
1 September 1933 – 20 October 1935
Preceded byCharles Duncan
Succeeded byAlfred Holland
Member of Parliament
for Burnley
In office
28 February 1924 – 7 October 1931
Preceded byDan Irving
Succeeded byGordon Campbell
Member of Parliament
for Newcastle upon Tyne East
In office
17 January 1923 – 16 November 1923
Preceded byJoseph Nicholas Bell
Succeeded bySir Robert Aske
Member of Parliament
for Widnes
In office
30 August 1919 – 26 October 1922
Preceded byWilliam Hall Walker
Succeeded byGeorge Christopher Clayton
Member of Parliament
for Barnard Castle
In office
30 August 1903 – 25 November 1918
Preceded bySir Joseph Pease
Succeeded byJohn Edmund Swan
Personal details
Born13 September 1863
Glasgow, Scotland
Died20 October 1935(1935-10-20) (aged 72)
London, England
Political partyLabour

Arthur Henderson (13 September 1863 – 20 October 1935) was a British iron moulder and Labour politician. He was the first Labour cabinet minister, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934 and, uniquely, served three separate terms as Leader of the Labour Party in three different decades. He was popular among his colleagues, who called him "Uncle Arthur" in acknowledgement of his integrity, his devotion to the cause and his imperturbability. He was a transitional figure whose policies were, at first, close to those of the Liberal Party. The trades unions rejected his emphasis on arbitration and conciliation, and thwarted his goal of unifying the Labour Party and the trade unions.

Early life

Arthur Henderson was born at 10 Paterson Street, Anderston, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1863, the son of Agnes, a domestic servant, and David Henderson, a textile worker who died when Arthur was ten years old. After his father's death, the Hendersons moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in the North-East of England, where Agnes later married Robert Heath.[1]

Henderson worked at Robert Stephenson and Sons' General Foundry Works from the age of twelve. After finishing his apprenticeship there aged seventeen, he moved to Southampton for a year and then returned to work as an iron moulder (a type of foundryman) in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Henderson became a Methodist in 1879 (having previously been a Congregationalist) and became a Local Preacher. After he lost his job in 1884, he concentrated on preaching.

Union leader

In 1892, Henderson entered the complex world of trade union politics when he was elected as a paid organiser for the Friendly Society of Iron Founders. He also became 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 Unions, as he was convinced that it would lead to more strikes.

The Labour Party

Henderson (on left) in 1906, with other leading figures in the party

In 1900 Henderson was one of the 129 trade union and socialist delegates who passed Keir Hardie's motion to create the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). In 1903, Henderson was elected Treasurer of the LRC and was also elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Barnard Castle at a by-election. From 1903 to 1904, Henderson also served as mayor of Darlington, County Durham.[2]

In 1906, the LRC changed its name to the Labour Party and won 29 seats at the general election. In 1908, when Hardie resigned as Leader of the Labour Party, Henderson was elected to replace him. He remained Leader until his own resignation two years later, in 1910.

Cabinet Minister

In 1914 the First World War broke out and Ramsay MacDonald resigned from the Leadership of the Labour Party in protest. Henderson was elected to replace him. The two became enemies.[3]

In 1915, following Prime Minister H. H. Asquith's decision to create a coalition government, Henderson became the first member of the Labour Party to become a member of the Cabinet, as President of the Board of Education.

In 1916, David Lloyd George forced Asquith to resign and replaced him as Prime Minister. Henderson became a member of the small War Cabinet with the post of Minister without Portfolio on 9 December 1916. The other Labour representatives who joined Henderson in Lloyd George's coalition government were John Hodge, who became Minister of Labour, and George Barnes, who became Minister of Pensions. Henderson resigned on 11 August 1917 after his proposal for an international conference on the war was rejected by the rest of the Cabinet.[4][5] The Labour National Executive Committee had rejected the Second International's request for a meeting of European socialist parties on the war in Stockholm, but after Henderson convinced it to give provisional support after visiting the Russian Republic as an envoy and recognizing that the Russian Provisional Government would collapse if the war continued.[6]

In August 1917, three months before the Balfour Declaration, the Labour Party issued a statement in support of a Jewish state in Palestine. Henderson spoke in favor of a Jewish state.[7]

Henderson turned his attention to building a strong constituency-based support network for the Labour Party. Previously, it had little national organisation, based largely on branches of unions and socialist societies. Working with Ramsay MacDonald and Sidney Webb, Henderson in 1918 established a national network of constituency organisations. They operated separately from trade unions and the National Executive Committee and were open to everyone sympathetic to the party's policies. Secondly, Henderson secured the adoption of a comprehensive statement of party policies, as drafted by Sidney Webb. Entitled "Labour and the New Social Order," it remained the basic Labour platform until 1950. It proclaimed a socialist party whose principles included a guaranteed minimum standard of living for everyone, nationalisation of industry, and heavy taxation of large incomes and of wealth.[8]

The "Coupon Election" and the 1920s

Henderson lost his seat in the "Coupon Election" of 14 December 1918, which had been announced within twenty-four hours of the end of hostilities and which resulted in a landslide victory for a coalition formed by Lloyd George.[9] Henderson returned to Parliament in 1919 after winning a by-election in Widnes. He then became Labour's Chief Whip.

Vladimir Lenin held Henderson in very low regard. In a letter to the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Georgy Chicherin, written on 10 February 1922 and referring to the Genoa Conference, Lenin wrote: "Henderson is as stupid as Kerensky, and for this reason he is helping us."[10] [11]

Henderson lost his seat again, at the general election of 1922. He returned to Parliament via another by-election, this time representing Newcastle East, but again, he was unseated at the general election of 1923. He returned to Parliament just two months later after winning another by-election in Burnley.

In 1924, Henderson was appointed as Home Secretary in the first-ever Labour government, led by MacDonald. This government was defeated later the same year and lost the general election that followed.

Having been re-elected in 1924, Henderson refused to challenge MacDonald for the party leadership. Worried about factionalism in the Labour Party, he published a pamphlet, Labour and the Nation, in which he attempted to clarify the party's goals.

Foreign Secretary

In 1929, Labour formed 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 First World War. Diplomatic relations were re-established with the Soviet Union and Henderson guaranteed Britain's full support to the League of Nations.[12]

The MacDonald "betrayal"

The Great Depression plunged the government into a terminal crisis. The Cabinet agreed that it was essential to maintain the Gold Standard and that the Budget needed to be balanced, but were divided over reducing unemployment benefits by 10%. At first, Henderson gave strong support to Prime Minister MacDonald throughout the financial and political crisis of August. The financial crisis across Europe was worsening and Britain's gold reserves were at high risk. New York banks provided an emergency loan; but additional money was needed and to get it, the budget had to be balanced. MacDonald and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Snowden proposed cuts in unemployment benefits. Henderson rejected that solution and became the leader of nearly half the Cabinet. The Labour Cabinet decided to resign. King George V implored MacDonald to remain and form an all-party National Government that would make the budget cuts. MacDonald agreed on 24 August 1931 and formed an emergency National Government, with members from all parties. The new cabinet had four Labourites (now called the "National Labour Organisation") who stood with Macdonald, plus four Conservatives and two Liberals. Labour unions were strongly opposed and the Labour Party officially repudiated the new National government. It expelled MacDonald and his supporters from the party. Henderson cast the only vote against the expulsions. Against his inclinations, Henderson accepted the leadership of the main Labour Party and led it into the general election on 27 October against the cross-party National coalition. It was a disastrous result for Labour, which was reduced to a small minority of 52. MacDonald won the largest landslide in British electoral history. Yet again Henderson lost his seat, at Burnley. The following year, he relinquished the party leadership.[13]

Later career

Henderson speaking at the World Disarmament Conference on 2 February 1932

Henderson returned to Parliament after winning a by-election at Clay Cross, achieving the unique feat of being elected five times at by-elections in constituencies where he had not previously been the MP. He holds the record for the greatest number of comebacks from losing a previous seat.

Henderson spent the rest of his life trying to halt the gathering storm of World War II. He worked with the World League of Peace and chaired the Geneva Disarmament Conference, and in 1934 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Henderson's Nobel Prize medal was stolen in a burglary of the office of the Lord Mayor of Newcastle on 3 April 2013.[14] A man was subsequently jailed for the theft; the medal has never been recovered.[15]

Plaque dedicated to Henderson, his wife and sons at Golders Green Crematorium

Henderson died in 1935, aged 72, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. All three of Henderson's sons saw military service during the Great War, the eldest, David, being killed in action in 1916 whilst serving as a Captain with the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own). His surviving sons also became Labour politicians: second son William was granted the title of Baron Henderson in 1945, while his third son, Arthur, was created Baron Rowley in 1966.

The Labour History Archive and Study Centre at the People's History Museum in Manchester holds the papers of Arthur Henderson in their collection, spanning from 1915 to 1935.[16]


See also


  1. ^ "Arthur Henderson".
  2. ^ "Arthur Henderson: a Labour pioneer". The Northern Echo.
  3. ^ Christopher Howard, "MacDonald, Henderson, and the Outbreak of War, 1914." Historical Journal 20.4 (1977): 871-891. online
  4. ^ Eric Hopkins, 'A Social History of the English Working Classes, 1815–1945 (Hodder & Stoughton, 1979) p. 219. ISBN 0713103167.
  5. ^ UK National Archives, CAB 23-3, pg. 372 of 545
  6. ^ Thorpe, Andrew (1997), "The Surge to Second-Party Status, 1914–22", A History of the British Labour Party, London: Macmillan Education UK, p. 35, doi:10.1007/978-1-349-25305-0_3, ISBN 978-0-333-56081-5, retrieved 16 June 2022
  7. ^ Vaughan, James (8 November 2023). "Israel, Palestine and the Labour party history that has made Keir Starmer's position so difficult". The Conversation. Retrieved 24 May 2024.
  8. ^ Bentley B. Gilbert, Britain since 1918 (1980) p 49.
  9. ^ Katz, Liane (4 April 2005) "Women and the Welsh Wizard". Retrieved on 12 September 2015.
  10. ^ Handwritten note at the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History, fond 2, opis 2, delo 1,1119, published as Document 88 in The Unknown Lenin, ed. Richard Pipes, Yale University Press, 1996. ISBN 0300076622.
  11. ^ "Письмо Г.В. Чичерину. 10 февраля 1922 г." [Letter to G. V. Chicherin, 10 February 2022]. 15 July 2023. Archived from the original on 15 July 2023.
  12. ^ David Carlton (1970). MacDonald versus Henderson: The Foreign Policy of the Second Labour Government. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781349006755.
  13. ^ Andrew Thorpe, "Arthur Henderson and the British political crisis of 1931." Historical Journal 31#1 (1988): 117-139. in JSTOR
  14. ^ "Nobel Peace Prize medal stolen in Newcastle". BBC News. 3 April 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  15. ^ "Newcastle man jailed for Nobel Peace Prize medal theft". BBC News. 2 October 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  16. ^ Collection Catalogues and Descriptions, Labour History Archive and Study Centre, archived from the original on 13 January 2015, retrieved 20 January 2015


Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byJoseph Pease Member of Parliament for Barnard Castle 19031918 Succeeded byJohn Edmund Swan Preceded byWilliam Hall Walker Member of Parliament for Widnes 19191922 Succeeded byChristopher Clayton Preceded byJoseph Nicholas Bell Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne East 19231923 Succeeded bySir Robert Aske Preceded byDan Irving Member of Parliament for Burnley 19241931 Succeeded byGordon Campbell Preceded byCharles Duncan Member of Parliament for Clay Cross 19331935 Succeeded byAlfred Holland Political offices Preceded byJack Pease President of the Board of Education 1915–1916 Succeeded byThe Marquess of Crewe Preceded byThe Lord Newton Paymaster General 1916 Succeeded bySir Joseph Compton-Rickett Preceded byWilliam Bridgeman Home Secretary 1924 Succeeded bySir William Joynson-Hicks Preceded bySir Austen Chamberlain Foreign Secretary 1929–1931 Succeeded byThe Marquess of Reading Preceded byStanley Baldwin Leader of the Opposition 1931–1932 Succeeded byGeorge Lansbury Party political offices Preceded byNew position Treasurer of the Labour Party 1904–1912 Succeeded byRamsay MacDonald Preceded byJohn Hodge Chairman of the Annual Conference of the Labour Party 1905–1906 Succeeded byJ. J. Stephenson Preceded byKeir Hardie Chairman of the Labour Party 1908–1910 Succeeded byGeorge Nicoll Barnes Preceded byRamsay MacDonald General Secretary of the Labour Party 1912–1934 Succeeded byJames Middleton Preceded byRamsay MacDonald Chairman of the Labour Party 1914–1917 Succeeded byWilliam Adamson Preceded byNew position President of the Labour and Socialist International 1923–1924 Succeeded byCharlie Cramp Preceded byCharlie Cramp President of the Labour and Socialist International 1925–1929 Succeeded byEmile Vandervelde Preceded byRamsay MacDonald Treasurer of the Labour Party 1929–1936 Succeeded byArthur Greenwood Preceded byRamsay MacDonald Leader of the Labour Party 1931–1932 Succeeded byGeorge Lansbury