Valentine’s Day special


Valentine’s Day is of course a meaningless bourgeois concept cynically exploited by the capitalist system – much like ‘love’ infact. But we at the Paintbrush are still suckers for red roses, boxes of chocos and having a cuddle on the sofa whilst listening to some Marvin Gaye, so here’s an especially amorous post about Labour history to help get you in the mood.

I am currently reading Ramsay MacDonald (boooo splitter!) by David Marquand (boooo splitter!). The story of how Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister hooked up with his wife Margaret Gladstone is so cute that it demands to be retold here.

1895 saw Ramsay MacDonald standing for Parliament in the Southampton constituency as an Independent Labour Party candidate. On a political level he was quite unsuccessful (only getting 867 votes compared to the Liberals and Tories getting many thousands) but on the romantic side of things he was about to win a landslide victory.

Margaret Gladstone came from a progressively-inclined upper middle class family and she was working as a social worker in Hoxton when she first got turned on by the socialist zeitgeist. Mixing in leftie circles, she heard plenty of chit-chat about the dashing young Labour organiser Ramsay MacDonald who was standing for election in Southampton. Before she had even met him Margaret apparently decided that Ramsay MacDonald was exactly the sort of person whom she would like to marry.

She bought envelopes for his Southampton campaign and then sent him a cheque for £1. What better way can there be to win the heart of a political type than to make a contribution to their election fund? The first time she met him in person she did not like the red tie he was wearing but nevertheless romance gradually blossomed (naturally it had to be a gradual process since they were both enthusiastic Fabians).

Over the next year they went on hot dates to the Socialist Club in Bride Street (why don’t places like this exist anymore?!) and to the British Museum (where they got engaged) and the young leftie lovers started writing soppy letters to each other.


Margaret Gladstone persuaded the economist J.A. Hobson to assure her father that Ramsay MacDonald was suitable marriage material and not a cad. She also wrote to Ramsay MacDonald’s mother in the Scottish Highlands to ask what she should call him (“I really don’t know what Christian name he uses”) and to express her excitement about going up to Scotland to learn how to milk cows.

Soon they got married. Leftie groups and trade union branches sent them nice messages – for example a resolution was forwarded to them that declared: “That this meeting of the Workingmen of Long Eaton congratulates Mrs J. R. MacDonald in having won the esteem of Comrade J.R. MacDonald which in due time matured into love and it further resolves that she is one in a thousand”. Does this sort of thing still happen? And if not, why not?!

The MacDonalds had a happy marriage which involved having lots of babies and going on lots of holidays abroad. Unfortunately Margaret died in 1911 and Ramsay MacDonald never quite recovered. He did not remarry, became fairly miserable, and of course ultimately abandoned the Labour Party.

Captain Jako



4 Responses to “Valentine’s Day special”

  1. Morning(ish) roundup, Tuesday 17th February 2009 - Common Endeavour Says:

    […] comrades at Frank Owen’s Paintbrush on Mini and the plight of agency workers (and their Valentine’s special on Ramsay MacDonald is well worth a look. With a moustache like that, it’s not surprising he spent most of his time […]

  2. The days when the Prime Minister shopped at the Co-op and was expected to attend E.C meetings « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] while to get through Marquand’s biography of Ramsay MacDonald. Regular readers may recall my Valentine’s Day special post about how the first Labour Prime Minister hooked up with his missus. Well, I’ve just got to […]

  3. Right-wing nutters and their obsession with birth certificates « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] MacDonald (of whom I have posted a few times before!) faced similarly pathetic […]

  4. Summer reading « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] night I finally finished David Marquand’s biography of Ramsay MacDonald, the book that has inspired a number of my posts over the last few months. My conclusion on MacDonald’s life and his […]

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