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List of profiled attendees at the Round Table Conference. For a full list of delegates to each session, see the British Library's Round Table Conference records page.

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J Ramsay MacDonald

Full nameRt. Hon. James Ramsay MacDonald, PC 1924, PC Canada, 1929, FRS 1930, Hon. LLD, Universities of Wales, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford and McGill
Born12 Oct 1866, Lossiemouth, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died09 Nov 1937, Atlantic Ocean (at sea), None (died at sea)

Ramsay MacDonald was brought up by his mother and grandmother in humble circumstances in Lossiemouth, where he attended the parish school. In 1886 he left for London, working minor clerk jobs, studying by evening, and involving himself in socialist politics. In 1894 he joined the new Independent Labour Party, was elected Labour MP for Leicester in 1906, and became Party Leader in 1911. Unseated at the 1918 election, he was re-elected as MP for Aberavon in 1922, and became Leader of the Opposition. From January-November 1924 he was Prime Minister (and Foreign Minister) of a minority government, and in the 1929 election he led the Labour Party to a relative majority, again becoming Prime Minister.

MacDonald was Prime Minister throughout the conference and Chair of the Minorities Committee in the second session of the conference.

For additional biographical information, see the official delegate Who's Who for the Second Session. See also Emery Kelen's caricature, from his portfolio of delegates at the Round Table Conference.


  • July 1929: MacDonald pressed Simon, Benn and Irwin to make the proposed Viceroy’s declaration more liberal and affective. The declaration was eventually issued on October 31st, confirming the aim of British policy to be Dominion Status and announcing the RTC. (Moore, 1974:61)
  • June 1930: MacDonald secured cabinet backing for Irwin’s statement, issued in July, committing to the conference method, which could allow discussion of dominion status, but could not guarantee it. (Moore, 1974:109)
  • July 1930: MacDonald announce that the British opposition parties would be invited to send delegates to the RTC. (Moore, 1974:114)
  • October-November: Imperial Conference held in London, the character of dominion and the commonwealth is clarified.

First Session

  • 12th November 1930: MacDonald has key role in the opening ceremony of the RTC, the choreography of which was confirmed with Buckingham Palace in mid-November: 
    • “The Prime Minister will walk on the left of the King along the broad avenue between the seats to the Throne. His chair is immediately on the right of and close to the Throne. I will bring a plan with me to show the Prime minister when I come tomorrow morning. Assembly will raise and stand during speech. After King has left PM will resume seat to right of Throne, while Patiala and Khan make their speeches. As soon as the motion is accepted, the Throne will be removed from the central position and a chair placed for the Prime Minister to take its place.” (British Library: D712)
  • 16th November 1930: MacDonald agreed to meet British opposition delegates who sought clarification of the government’s policy on federation. MacDonald refused to anticipate the findings of the conference, except saying that there would be some reserved subjects and that he would encourage advance upon the lines of federation. (Moore, 1974:150)
  • 21st November 1930:  Moonje noted in his diary of MacDonald that “…he is an effective speaker and throws out words with emphasis and determination. All the while when he turned his face towards my side, he was looking into my face. I was in response looking into his face with a critical determined look to see if he really commits himself any where in our favour,..” (NMML: Moonje Diary)
  • 27th November 1930: Hailey wrote to the Viceroy regarding MacDonald’s concluding of the opening plenary session: “Earnest and sympathetic, he threw his soul across the table in just the way that India appreciates; he succeeded in the supreme task of saying nothing at satisfying length, but saying it very nicely.” (BL. E220.34)
  • 4th December 1930: Hailey informed Irwin that MacDonald had agreed to daily meetings at 10 Downing Street with Government of India advisors for advice on constitutional matters. (BL.E220.34)
  • 11th December 1930: During a meeting in MacDonald’s office at Parliament Moonje challenged the Prime Minister over accounts of their previous meetings which had appeared in The Times, which made MacDonald seem more pro-Muslim than pro-Hindu. He professed innocence “But I could make out that there was a conspiracy behind it between the Muslims and the Govnt with the connivance of the Prime Minister” (NMML Moonje Diary)
  • 19th December 1930: Moonje noted in his diary that MacDonald had called him to 10 Downing Street and suggested that the lack of communal agreement would block any transfer of power, and dismissed Moonje’s suggestion that the League of Nations should arbitrate. (NMML Moonje Diary)
  • 1st January 1931: MacDonald held an all-night meeting with delegates, attempting to square a commitment to federation with reassurances regarding communal protections. (Moore, 1974:162)
  • 12th January 1931: Cabinet approved MacDonald’s proposal to defer the settlement of the communal question. (Moore, 1974:162)
  • 24th August 1931: MacDonald forms a National Government to respond to the economic crisis.

Second Session

  • 7th September 1931: MacDonald opened the second session of the conference.
  • 8th October 1931: MacDonald received Gandhi’s notice that informal discussions had failed to present a communal proposition for the Minorities Committee, blaming the composition of the conference and the selection of delegates in part. Moonje felt that MacDonald was damning in his response and that when the meeting concluded “We then left feeling that we were abused, ridiculed, insulted and humiliated. Gandhiji’s speech was most tactless and he invited it all upon himself. Now let us see if he is capable of a manoeuvre.” (NMML: Moonje diary).
  • 27th October 1931: MacDonald Prime Minister of a National Government, at the head of a mostly Tory cabinet.
  • November 1931: Hoare pressured MacDonald to back a two-stage model of reform, with provincial autonomy coming before federation. Cabinet approved such a plan on 13th November, but Sapru’s protests sank the plans. (Moore, 1974:233)
  • 1st December 1931: In the Prime Minister’s closing address:
    • “I regard our discussions and our personal contacts here as of the highest value, and make bold to say that they have raised the problem of Indian constitutional reform far above the mere technicalities of constitution-making ; for we have won that confidence in, and respect for, each other which has made the task one of helpful political co-operation. That, I am confident, will continue to the end. By co-operation alone can we succeed.” (Statement made by the Prime Minister to the Conference)

Third Session

  • November 17th 1932: MacDonald opens the third RTC session, promising businesslike transactions, a fixed agenda, but only his partial attendance.


  • 7 Jun 1935: MacDonald was displaced as Prime Minister, swapping roles with the Lord President of the Council Stanley Baldwin
  • October 1935: Unseated at the general election, though he stayed on as President of the Council
  • February 1936: Elected in a by-election for the Combined Scottish Universities
  • 28 May 1937: Left the Cabinet, refusing a peerage

Sources used

Selected publications


Secondary literature

Online resources

ImagesPhotograph of J Ramsay MacDonald, from the published biographical guide to delegates at the second session of the Round Table Conference, 1931

"The Right Hon. J. Ramsay MacDonald, M.P.; Prime Minister, 1931; Chairman, Indian Round Table Conference, 1930-31; F.R.S., D.C.L. (Hon.) (Oxon); LL.D. (Hon.) (Univ. of Wales, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Toronto, Montreal); J.P." From Indian Round Table Conference Second Session 1931: Biographical Notes and Photographs of the British and Indian Delegates (London: St. James's Palace). By permission of the British Library (shelfmark T 11187). Reproduced under Open Government Licence v3.0 (

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