Philip Snowden was born in Cowling, West Yorkshire on 18 July 1864. I will go so far as to say that he is perhaps the most famous “son” of Cowling – although others may have a different opinion. He was the son of a weaver and his parents were devout Methodists.
Never heard of him?
Well, Philip became interested in local politics at an early age and joined the Keighley Liberal Club. While researching the dangers of socialism he became converted to this new ideology and left the Liberal Party to join the local branch of the Independent Labour Party.
In 1899 he was elected to Keighley Town Council and in 1903 became national chairman of the Independent Labour Party.
The next obvious step was to try to get elected to the House of Commons. After two failed attempts at Blackburn in the 1900 General Election and Wakefield in a 1902 by-election he was eventually elected as the Labour MP for Blackburn in the 1906 General Election.
He developed a reputation as an expert on economic issues and advised David Lloyd George on his 1909 People’s Budget.
Philip Snowden was a pacifist and opposed to Britain’s involvement in the First World War. He joined various groups and organisations campaigning against the war. Like other anti-war Labour MP’s he was defeated in the 1918 General Election. However he was quickly forgiven and was elected four years later to represent Colne Valley.
When Ramsay MacDonald formed the first Labour Government in January 1924 he appointed Philip Snowden as his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Later that year Stanley Baldwin, the leader of the Conservative Party, became Prime Minister and Snowden’s period in office came to an end.
Five years on Snowden became Chancellor of the Exchequer again in the Labour Government of 1929. This coincided with an economic depression and Snowden’s main concern was to produce a balanced budget. He managed to make changes to the tax system that resulted in the wealthy paying more and the poor paying less. The economic situation continued to deteriorate and in 1931 Snowden suggested that the Labour government should introduce new measures including a reduction in unemployment pay. Several ministers refused to accept the cuts in benefits and resigned from office.
Ramsay MacDonald now formed a National Government with the Tories and Liberals. Philip Snowden remained Chancellor and introduced the measures that had been rejected by the previous Labour Cabinet. Labour MPs were furious with what MacDonald and Snowden had done, and both men were expelled from the Labour Party.
Snowden did not stand in the 1931 General Election and instead accepted the title of Viscount Snowden which enabled him to sit in the House of Lords.
Philip Snowden died on 15th May, 1937.
Why have I spent my Sunday telling you this story? Because I have just this morning been able to make a family connection – albeit tenuous with this controversial politician. I have Snowden’s in my family tree but hadn’t tried to find a link before today. Anyway I now know that Philip Snowden is the 2nd cousin 1x removed of the wife of my 2nd great grand uncle - William Dawson married Martha Langton Snowden in Q1 1850.
OK, we’re only related by marriage – but that’s close enough for me.
Here’s a couple more links with articles about him.