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While he was aware of, and influenced by, intellectuals such as the German revisionist, Eduard Bernstein, MacDonald sought to fashion a British form of socialism as a moderate alternative to Marxist ideas. Between 1905 and 1921 MacDonald had set out his eclectic thinking on the reorganisation of society in 13 books of social and political theory, in the main published by the National Labour Press. Titles such as Socialism and Society and Socialism advocated cooperation rather than the class struggle.

8 Traditionally, gender divisions within the Labour Party often appeared to relegate women to routine groundwork, such as canvassing or arranging social activities, while industrial questions, foreign affairs and political strategy was deemed male territory compared ‘Over the Threshold’ 27 to ‘women’s questions’ such as health, children and education. However, as Matthew Worley has written, in a male-dominated political party, women were often unsung heroines who worked unstintingly in the service of Labour but also for the general advancement of women in British politics.

Social reform, rather than socialism and the transformation of British capitalism, has been the prime objective. As a minority government in 1924 seemingly dependent upon Liberal votes, MacDonald and his ministers could offer a defence to such accusations of ‘in office, but not in power’. Only modest and uncontroversial measures – it was believed – could hope to be achieved during their brief tenure of office. 73 From Foundation Conference to Government 21 Richard Lyman’s First Labour Government was published nearly fifty years ago.

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