Nat. Govt.

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  • The National Government - Domestic Affairs, 1931-1937
    • The formation of the National Government
      • Knowing that MacDonald would be dependent on them and that they would fill the majority of the cabinet posts, the Conservatives fully backed the National Govt.
      • DLG did not personally join the Govt., but did commit the official Liberal Party to the support of it
      • Loan of £80 million immediately advanced by American bankers in return for continuing with the programme of cuts
        • Strong opposition to cuts - Invergordon Mutiny = protest. 12,000 sailors from the 15 ships of the Atlantic fleet refused to obey orders
          • Govt. limited cuts due to opposition to around half the original figures proposed
        • Hostile reaction to cuts and £80 million quickly being used up led to abandonment of the gold standard on 19th September - pound fell from $4.86 to $3.40 - long term impact = British exports cheaper and more competitive
      • 1931 election - Nat. Govt. gained over 2/3 of the aggregate vote (67%).
        • Both Oswald Mosley's New Party and the Communist Party won 0 seats.
    • The Depression - October 1929
      • Staple industries that were already in decline were badly hit
        • NW England - 16.2%, NE England - 16.6%, Scotland - 18%, N. Ireland - 23%, Wales - 28.5%
      • USA immediately introduced restrictive measures - erected prohibitive trade barriers to keep out foreign goods and it recalled its foreign loans
        • Since the American market was now largely closed, British manufacturing industries could not sell their goods in what had been their biggest outlet
    • Living standards between the wars
    • Growth in consumerism
      • Between 1924 and 1935 real wages rose as a national average by 17%. Gave the majority of people in Britain greater purchasing power - a fact proved by the expanding sales of consumer goods known as 'mod cons'
      • Cosmetics industry experienced a rapid growth as working class women began to use more make-up. Access to popular entertainment became widespread. Between 1924 and 1935 cinema audiences grew from 36,000 a year to 8 million.
    • A housing revolution
      • Over 1 million council houses, many having indoor lavatories and hot running water, were provided at low rent by local authorities. 2.5 million houses also provided by the building industry for private sale.
      • Increase in the 1930s of the number of building societies - finance companies that advanced mortgages over long periods of time - e.g. 20/25 years so more people on regular incomes could buy houses and pay the mortgage payments more easily
      • National Government's Housings Acts of 1933 and 1935 were a development of the measures introduced by Greenwood in 1930 - increased govt. subsidies to those local councils prepared to tackle slum clearance and overcrowding
      • In 1936 the average weekly rent paid by council house tenants in Britain was an affordable 11 shillings (55 pence)
      • By 1939 1/3 of the 4 million houses in Britain had been constructed in the 20 years since 1918, many of those during the 1930s
      • In 1914, only 10% of the population owned their own homes. 50 years later, this proportion had grown to 60%
      • By 1939, the spread of the National Grid was providing electricity to nearly all of urban Britain - better living standards across the nation, especially for women, who were traditionally the workers in the home - burdens lessened a little
    • The National Government's economic policies
      • Only response was to return to protective tariffs in an attempt to stimulate industrial recovery - this was unimaginative
      • Economic policies were not realistic enough for the problems they faced
      • Only strategy for dealing with unemployment was a set of largely ineffectual deflationary gestures. This meant cuts in public expenditure in the hope that this would limit inflation, thus encouraging manufacturers to keep producing and therefore employing workers
      • Practically ignored the advice and intervention offered from Keynes and Mosley
      • Hunger marches and protests by the unemployed in desperation - for example the Jarrow March 1936 - 200 unemployed Tyneside shipyard workers marched from Jarrow to London
      • What ultimately helped the Nat. Govt. was not its own policies, but the recovery in world trade that occurred towards the mid-1930s and which was sustained by large-scale rearmament in the late 1930s.
      • Unemployment fell from 2.6 million in 1932 to 1.7 million in 1938
      • 1935 election showed that despite its inability to deal with unemployment, it had largely maintained its support...
        • 1935 election results: Cons.(including National Lab and National Lib) - 432 seats, 53.7%, Labour - 154 seats, 37.9%, Libs - 20 seats, 6.4% (Libs clearly no longer a political force)
    • Ramsay MacDonald's record as PM
      • In his last years he often became rambling and incoherent
      • The development of the Labour Party as an electable and acceptable part of the political system was largely his work
      • His attempts to create harmony in international relations won him the admiration of many in Britain and abroad
      • His decision to lead his minority parliamentary party into office showed Labour had arrived as a party of government
      • His pursuit of moderate policies freed Labour of the accusation that it was a front for Marxist extremists
      • He broke  the party over his decision in 1931 to stay in office and form a coalition, which resulted in Labour being out of office for the next 15 years
      • He  earned a deserved reputation as a peacemaker in international affairs
      • In putting 'country before party' and leading the National Government he was advancing the notion of consensus politics
    • Baldwin as PM, 1935-37
      • His policy of 'masterly inactivity' appeared to suit the situation
      • Lack of pettiness, generosity of spirit, calm leadership, lack of vindictiveness
      • Like Ramsay MacDonald, he appears genuinely to have believed in putting country before party when Britain's interests were at stake.
      • It is doubtful that the Nat. Govt. could have worked at all had Baldwin not backed it from the beginning with his special brand of moderation and absence of political rancour. Political uncertainties after 1931 meant that traditional politics may have fractured had he not been there to hold things together.
        • Even while MacDonald was PM, it was Baldwin who was the chief stabilising influence
      • Wanted class divisions to be eradiated from politics and society - some of the right-wing Cons. disapproved of him, complaining that his notions were 'half-way to socialism'
      • Received strong criticism from the press whose proprietors (owners) found his 'safety-first' approach unattractive
      • His calm but firm leadership was of great value in Britain at a time of political extremism elsewhere in Europe
      • His lack of small-mindedness and respect for opponents made him a figure around whom compromise and conciliation could develop
      • He rode major domestic crises ably, e.g. General Strike 1926 and the Abdication Crisis
      • He made the Nat. Govt. work when there was a risk of politics fracturing
      • His lack of insight in economic matters meant he made no significant contribution to resolving unemployment
      • His detachment from foreign affairs limited his understanding of the character of developments in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy
    • The Abdication Crisis, 1936
      • Edward VIII wanted to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. Baldwin took a consistently constitutional approach, refusing to be drawn into the moral issues at stake. He simply advised the King that to marry a divorcee would be incompatible with his position as head of the Church, and that if he did do this, the govt. might have to consider resigning.
        • Although a group of Cons. formed an unofficial 'King's Party', the majority of MPs, the whole of the Labour Party and public opinion supported the PM's principled, high-minded stand. In December 1936, Baldwin's view prevailed, as after just 325 days as uncrowned King, Edward VIII abdicated.

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