Snowden, Philip, MP, 1st Viscount

A leading figure in Socialist circles for nearly 30 years, born at Ickornshaw, near Cowling, Yorks, on 18 July 1864. His father was superintendent of the WM Sunday School and a staunch teetotaler. Philip derived strong religious and ethical principles (notably his stance on temperance and pacifism) from his Methodist upbringing, though in later years he had no denominational affiliation. Despite growing up in a radical environment, he opted for the civil service rather than politics. He was in the Excise service until forced to retire on health grounds in 1893. He then was busy with lecturing and journalism, his most successful 'sermon' being on 'The Christ that is to be' ( a phrase from In Memoriam).

Having moved from Liberalism into the Independent Labour Party under the influence of S.E. Keeble's Industrial Daydreams, in 1895 he unsuccessfully contested the Keighley division against Sir Isaac Holden. In 1906 he was elected at Blackburn and later, from 1922, represented Colne Valley. He was one of the architects of the Labour Party, serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 and again in 1929. He campaigned especially for reform of the drink trade, women's suffrage and the anti-war movement. He received the freedom of the City of London for his part in the Hague Conference of 1929. Having served briefly in the National Government of 1931, he did not stand at the 1931 election, but was created Viscount in the Dissolution Honours and was Lord Privy Seal until his resignation in 1932. 'Most autocratic of democrats', his public truculence covered a personal charm. His numerous writings included The Faith of a Democrat (1928) and two volumes of autobiography (1934). He died at Tilford, Surrey on 15 May 1937.

His wife, Ethel (née Annakin) shared his political and religious convictions and was known in her own right as a writer and speaker on social and moral issues. She was a Governor of the BBC, 1927-1933.

  • Times, 17 May 1937
  • Methodist Recorder, 27 May 1937
  • David James, '"Our Philip"; the early career of Philip[ Snowden' in Bradford Antiquary, 3rd series no.3, 1987, pp.39-47
  • Keith Laybourn, Philip Snowden: a biography, 1864-1937 (Aldershot, 1988)
  • Oxford DNB