Morgan Philips Price was born in Taynton, Gloucestershire, on 29th January, 1885. The son of William Edwin Price, MP for Tewkesbury, he was educated at Harrow. He later recalled: "When I was fourteen I went to Harrow. My father had been to Eton, but my Trevelyan uncle and cousins had all been to Harrow, so my mother found it easier to get my name down for a house. I was very glad she made that choice. I owe much to Harrow and in all my later life have looked back on the old School with veneration, love and respect."
Price then went to Trinity College. In 1906 he inherited a 2000-acre estate. A member of the Liberal Party, Price became prospective party candidate for Gloucester in 1911. He was on the left of the party and soon after his selection he argued: "What in general we have to realize is that the State has to compromise between private and public interests. Private interests, enterprise and initiative must be allowed free play up to a point, but the great Liberal principle is that wherever private interests can be shown to be in antagonism to public interests, then the public interests must prevail. One of the best ways of preventing abuse of private monopoly and privilege is by the free exercise of economic laws or, in other words, by free trade. I look also with great sympathy on the movement of organized labour, because I maintain that if it is properly guided it can be of the greatest progressive force in this country and I am sure that in time the Labour movement will become an international movement and the only great force that will secure international peace."
Price was against Britain's participation in the First World War. In his memoirs he recalled discussing the issue with Charles Trevelyan, E. D. Morel, Bertrand Russell, Arthur Ponsonby and Ramsay MacDonald: "All these doubts about the circumstances under which we had become involved in the First World War were welling up in my mind in the latter part of 1914. In London, I went to see my cousin, Sir Charles Trevelyan, who held the same views as I did, and together we went to see Bertrand Russell, E. D. Morel, Arthur Ponsonby, Lowes Dickinson and Ramsay Macdonald, who had made a very courageous speech in the House on the declaration of War." The men decided to form the Union of Democratic Control, the most important of all the anti-war organizations in Britain. Price's major contribution was the publication of The Diplomatic History of the War (1914).
Price spoke Russian and he was recruited by C.P. Scott to report the war on the Eastern Front for the Manchester Guardian. "He (C. P. Scott) asked me to lunch at his house in Fallowfield and there we arranged something that was to become one of the turning points of my life. It turned out that Scott had been thinking just as I had. He scouted the whole idea that Tsarist Russia was going to change as the result of being allied to us and France; rather he feared the reverse might happen. He wanted someone to go to Russia for the Manchester Guardian and keep him informed about what was happening there. He might not be able to publish everything that was sent for reasons connected with the War, but at least he wanted to be informed."
Price was sent to Petrograd and reported on the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II. On 8th July, 1917, Alexander Kerensky became the new leader of the Provisional Government. In the Duma he had been leader of the moderate socialists and had been seen as the champion of the working-class. However, Kerensky, like his predecessor, George Lvov, was unwilling to end the war. In fact, soon after taking office, he announced a new summer offensive.
The Bolsheviks grew in strength and Price watched their leaders, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, very closely during this period. "Lenin struck me as being a man who, in spite of the revolutionary jargon that he used, was aware of the obstacles facing him and his party. There was no doubt that Lenin was the driving force behind the Bolshevik Party... He was the brains and the planner, but not the orator or the rabble-rouser. That function fell to Trotsky. I watched the latter, several times that evening, rouse the Congress delegates, who were becoming listless, probably through long hours of excitement and waiting. He was always the man who could say the right thing at the right moment. I could see that there was beginning now that fruitful partnership between him and Lenin that did so much to carry the Revolution through the critical periods that were coming."
Price explained in the Manchester Guardian on 19th November, 1917, why the government of Alexander Kerensky fell: "The Government of Kerensky fell before the Bolshevik insurgents because it had no supporters in the country. The bourgeois parties and the generals and the staff disliked it because it would not establish a military dictatorship. The Revolutionary Democracy lost faith in it because after eight months it had neither given land to the peasants nor established State control of industries, nor advanced the cause of the Russian peace programme. Instead it brought off the July advance without any guarantee that the Allies had agreed to reconsider war aims. The Bolsheviks thus acquired great support all over the country. In my journey in the provinces in September and October I noticed that every local Soviet had been captured by them."
Price was initially sympathetic to the leaders of the Russian Revolution. However, he disapproved of the Constituent Assemby being closed down and the banning political parties such as the Cadets, Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Price reported on those Bolsheviks who disapproved of these tactics. This included interviewing Rosa Luxemburg in while in prison in Berlin. He later reported: "She asked me if the Soviets were working entirely satisfactorily. I replied, with some surprise, that of course they were. She looked at me for a moment, and I remember an indication of slight doubt on her face, but she said nothing more. Then we talked about something else and soon after that I left. Though at the moment when she asked me that question I was a little taken aback, I soon forgot about it. I was still so dedicated to the Russian Revolution, which I had been defending against the Western Allies' war of intervention, that I had had no time for anything else."
On his return to England, Price published My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution (1921). In the book he criticised Lenin's Bolshevik government and instead supported the views put forward by Rosa Luxemburg: "She did not like the Russian Communist Party monopolizing all power in the Soviets and expelling anyone who disagreed with it. She feared that Lenin's policy had brought about, not the dictatorship of the working classes over the middle classes, which she approved of but the dictatorship of the Communist Party over the working classes. The dictatorship of a class - yes, she said, but not the dictatorship of a party over a class."
Price worked for the Daily Herald in Germany (1919-23) and after joining the Labour Party, was its unsuccessful candidate for Gloucester in three successive elections (1922, 1923 and 1924). He was elected to represent Whitehaven in the 1929 General Election and was appointed by Ramsay MacDonald as Private Secretary to Charles Trevelyan, president of the Board of Education.
In March 1931 MacDonald asked Sir George May, to form a committee to look into Britain's economic problems. The committee included two members that had been nominated from the three main political parties. At the same time, John Maynard Keynes, the chairman of the Economic Advisory Council, published his report on the causes and remedies for the depression. This included an increase in public spending and by curtailing British investment overseas.
Philip Snowden rejected these ideas and this was followed by the resignation of Price's uncle, Charles Trevelyan, the Minister of Education. "For some time I have realised that I am very much out of sympathy with the general method of Government policy. In the present disastrous condition of trade it seems to me that the crisis requires big Socialist measures. We ought to be demonstrating to the country the alternatives to economy and protection. Our value as a Government today should be to make people realise that Socialism is that alternative."
When the May Committee produced its report in July, 1931, it forecast a huge budget deficit of £120 million and recommended that the government should reduce its expenditure by £97,000,000, including a £67,000,000 cut in unemployment benefits. The two Labour Party nominees on the committee, Arthur Pugh and Charles Latham, refused to endorse the report. As David W. Howell has pointed out: "A committee majority of actuaries, accountants, and bankers produced a report urging drastic economies; Latham and Pugh wrote a minority report that largely reflected the thinking of the TUC and its research department. Although they accepted the majority's contentious estimate of the budget deficit as £120 million and endorsed some economies, they considered the underlying economic difficulties not to be the result of excessive public expenditure, but of post-war deflation, the return to the gold standard, and the fall in world prices. An equitable solution should include taxation of holders of fixed-interest securities who had benefited from the fall in prices."
The cabinet decided to form a committee consisting of Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden, Arthur Henderson, Jimmy Thomas and William Graham to consider the report. On 5th August, John Maynard Keynes wrote to MacDonald, describing the May Report as "the most foolish document I ever had the misfortune to read." He argued that the committee's recommendations clearly represented "an effort to make the existing deflation effective by bringing incomes down to the level of prices" and if adopted in isolation, they would result in "a most gross perversion of social justice". Keynes suggested that the best way to deal with the crisis was to leave the Gold Standard and devalue sterling. Two days later, Sir Ernest Harvey, the deputy governor of the Bank of England, wrote to Snowden to say that in the last four weeks the Bank had lost more than £60 million in gold and foreign exchange, in defending sterling. He added that there was almost no foreign exchange left.
The cabinet met on 19th August but they were unable to agree on Snowden's proposals. He warned that balancing the budget was the only way to restore confidence in sterling. Snowden argued that if his recommendations were not accepted, sterling would collapse. He added "that if sterling went the whole international financial structure would collapse, and there would be no comparison between the present depression and the chaos and ruin that would face us."
Ramsay MacDonald went to see George V about the economic crisis on 23rd August. He warned the King that several Cabinet ministers were likely to resign if he tried to cut unemployment benefit. MacDonald wrote in his diary: "King most friendly and expressed thanks and confidence. I then reported situation and at end I told him that after tonight I might be of no further use, and should resign with the whole Cabinet.... He said that he believed I was the only person who could carry the country through."
On 24th August 1931 MacDonald returned to the palace and told the King that he had the Cabinet's resignation in his pocket. The King replied that he hoped that MacDonald "would help in the formation of a National Government." He added that by "remaining at his post, his position and reputation would be much more enhanced than if he surrendered the Government of the country at such a crisis." Eventually, he agreed to form a National Government.
MacDonald returned to 10 Downing Street and called his final Labour Cabinet. He told them that he had changed his mind about resigning and that he agreed to form a National Government. Sidney Webb recorded in his diary: "He announced this very well, with great feeling, saying that he knew the cost, but could not refuse the King's request, that he would doubtless be denounced and ostracized, but could do no other." When the meeting was over, he asked Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and John Sankey to stay behind and invited them to join the new government. All three agreed and they kept their old jobs. Other appointments included Stanley Baldwin (Lord President of the Council), Neville Chamberlain (Health), Samuel Hoare (Secretary of State for India), Herbert Samuel (Home Office), Philip Cunliffe-Lister (Board of Trade) and Lord Reading (Foreign Office).
Morgan Philips Price commented: "I found Members delighted that Ramsay Macdonald, Philip Snowden and J. H. Thomas had severed themselves from us by their action. We had got rid of the Right Wing without any effort on our part. No one trusted Mr Thomas and Philip Snowden was recognized to be a nineteenth-century Liberal with no longer any place amongst us. State action to remedy the economic crisis was anathema to him. As for Ramsay Macdonald, he was obviously losing his grip on affairs. He had no background of knowledge of economic and financial questions and was hopelessly at sea in a crisis like this. But many, if not most, of the Labour M.P.s thought that at an election we should win hands down."
The 1931 General Election was held on 27th October, 1931. MacDonald led an anti-Labour alliance made up of Conservatives and National Liberals. It was a disaster for the Labour Party with only 46 members winning their seats. Several leading Labour figures, including Morgan Philips Price, Arthur Henderson, John R. Clynes, Arthur Greenwood, Hastings Lees-Smith, Herbert Morrison, William Graham, Tom Shaw, Emanuel Shinwell, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Hugh Dalton, Susan Lawrence, William Wedgwood Benn, Albert Alexander, Margaret Bondfield and Frederick Roberts, lost their seats.
Price became the Labour Party candidate for the Forest of Dean and won the seat in the 1935 General Election. He held the seat until the 1950 General Election when he switched to Gloucestershire West. He retired from the House of Commons in 1959. His memoirs, My Three Revolutions, was published in 1969.
Morgan Philips Price died on 23rd September, 1973.