1920-30 History Britain


Economic Slump 1921

  • Unemployment by 2 million by 1921
  • 3.5 million received war pensions//allowance UNAFRORDABLE
  • Rapid Deflation 1921-22 up to -14%
  • Debts could not be repaid due to defaulting of Russian debtors
  • Lack of Government spending to stimulate growth in the "anti-waste campaign"
  • 12% cut in funding by 1922
  • Coal- 1914, 97%  of ships used coal, by 1947, only 49%
  • Shipbuilding- 1913, UK Supplied  80%C of the world market, from 1936-8 it was only 20%. Key shipbuilding towns had high unemployment rates
  • E.G by 1934, 67.8% of Jarrow's population in unemployment
  • Textiles- Tiny Glossop was badly hit due to outdated weaving methods, by 1931, unemployment was over 55%
  • Iron and Steel- 1929 9.2million tons produuced, by 1932, only 5 million tons, Dowlas Steel Works closed leaving 73% of population in unemployment
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Carlton Club meeting 1922

  • Due to the Chank Crisis and the economic slump, DLG called an election
  • He had the support of Cabinet Conservatives but backbenchers did not want to campaign on a coalition tickect
  • Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin spoke out againsat DLG and the possibility of another coalition. They cited DLG's failures to maintain British international status
  • Simultaneously, a by-election was taking place in Newport (a Liberal seat). Labour were expected to win but the Conservative's took the seat with the Liberals finishing 3rd. Showed the Consevratives did not need the Liberals and newspaper reports agreed with this (The Times)
  • Vote 187/87 against coalition... Baldwin and Chamberlain resigned from the coalition cabinet.. Lloyd George resigned and Bonar Law became conservative leader and PM calling an immediate election.
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Reasons for DLG's Downfall

  • Chanak- led to Carlton Club
  • Ireland
  • Honours Scandal
  • Failure to deal with India and General Dyer
  • Economic Slump
  • Personal style of Govt
  • Industrial disputes
  • Relative failure of reconstruction
  • A PM without a Party, Liberal Decline
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Reasons for DLG's Downfall

  • Chanak- led to Carlton Club
  • Ireland
  • Honours Scandal
  • Failure to deal with India and General Dyer
  • Economic Slump
  • Personal style of Govt
  • Industrial disputes
  • Relative failure of reconstruction
  • A PM without a Party, Liberal Decline
  • Asquith/DLG split never recovered
  • Liberal values of freedom undermined by govt measures, e.g consciption and DORA cerca WW1
  • Parliamentary support from the Irish Nationalists had been lost when Sinn Fein boycotted the HoC 1918
  • FPTP system had cost them votes
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1922 Election

  • Bonar Law won easy majority
  • Labour filled the void left by the wavering Liberal Party to come second more than doubling their seat gain
  • Asquith's Libs 3rd, DLG National Liberals 4th
  • Bonar Law had to retire due to ill health after 8 months and S Baldwin took over as PM, he wished to return to a policy of protectionism.
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1923 Election

  • Baldwin called an election hoping to gain mandate for his plans.
  • Labour and Liberals improved on 1922 results, no party had had a majority.
  • Due to oppostion from both Labour and Liberals to protectionism, a coalition was not possible.
  • Baldwin then lost a vote of no confidence in the HoC, Baldwin resigned in 1924
  • Labour formed a minority government (Ramsay MacDonald PM), Labour had conditional Liberal support from Asquith
  • "Any minority government lives on borrowed time"- Lee
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First Labour Government 1924


  • Expansion of franchise- Rep of the People Act 1918 tripled the electorate from 7 million to 21 million and women over 21 could now vote
  • Demand for interventionism- nationalisation clause of the Labour Party constitution 1918 provided this and Labour were more likely to provide welfare reforms and reconstruction, new world order pro-socialism
  • Clear Policy goals due with the 1918 Constitution and support by trade unions
  • Decline of the Liberals... it was the last election that a third party was able to get more than 26% of the vote or more than 100 seats
  • Post war coalition proved very unpopular- GEDDES AXE, ANTI-WASTE CAMPAIGN, FAILURE OF RECONSTRUCTION
  • Dislike of the Conservative party- tariff reform
  • A. Delton: Faults of the election can be interpreted as a clear vote against tariff reform


  • Reduce severity of cuts, especially in education
  • Reintroduce reconstruction
  • Fix high unemployment
  • Be a mediator in relation to foreign policy
  • Reduce debts


  • Wheatley housing act 1924- increased subsidies paid to local governments for housing construction and rent for low paid workers. e.g lowered rent from £9 to £6, 508,000 houses were built uner this act
  • Unemployment benefit were less resticted- u/e benefits  raised from 15 to 18 shillings a week and the duartion of claiming was extended from 26 to 41 weeks
  • Children's allowance doubled
  • More public funds directed to education. Local authorities could raise the school leaving age to 15, approval for over 40 new secondary schools, Education Act created a secondary school system for ages 11-14
  • Figured a solution to German reparations with the 1924 Dawes Plan with MacDOnald as PM and Foreign Sec...
  • Historian Marquand: Labour's success with foreign polcuy proved it could successfully govern
  • Although the recognition of the Soviet Union was the beginning of the end


  • The Labour Party was constantly linked to communism and despite MacDonald's dismissal, there was such a genuine fear of a socialist revolution
  • Labour had a minority government and could therefore implemetn little of its policy
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Campbell Case and Zinoviev Letter 1924 and Why Lab


  • Charge against a British Communist Newspaper editor for alleged "incitement of mutiny" caused by his open letter publication of members of the military
  • "turn your weapons on your oppressors"
  • It was later announced in the HoC that the Attorney General had advised the prosecution, however, under pressure from a number of Labour backbenchers, the charges were withdrawn.
  • The Libs and the Conservatives were able to brand Labour as under control of left wing radicals
  • The Libs and Cons easily passed a motion of a vote of no confidence, by 304 to 191 votes- an election was called
  • The defendants were later convicted by the subsequent Conservative majority


  • Daily Mail published a letter supposedly written by chief of comintern Grigor Zinoviev. It was addressed to the British Communist Party urging its members to infiltrate the Labour party and bring down the state.
  • This did not help the Labour Party remove the connotations of communism especially as MacDonald negotiated trade and diplomatic agreements with the Soviet Union
  • Loius Fischer- a decisive part in the Labour defeat
  • However other Historians have suggested that Labour were already destined for defeat


  • Campbell Case
  • Zinoviev Letter
  • Relations with Russia
  • Minority Government meant that they were destined to lose a vote of no confidence
  • MacDonald did not want to continue in office , Labour already proved it could legitimately gvern, but it would be best to return at a time of a majority
  • Pugh states that press coverage didnt help, Lord rothermere painted Lab as Bolsheviks
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General Strike and the Sankey and Samuel Commissio

  • Miners Strike 1921
  • The Miners continued their strike despite the lack of support from the Rail and Transport unions. From Black Firday (15th April) the Miners continued striking until July  1st when they were practically starving
  • Mining employed more than 1 million, the only industry to do this
  • First six months of 1925, the industry made a loss
  • 1922-24, 3603 miners killed, 597,158 miners injured

Sankey Comission 1919

  • After the War, the Miners federation of GB (MFGB)  was calling for the mines to be kept under national ownership, shorter hours, higher pay and better conditions
  • The Sankey commission was appointed by the DLG to reccomend possible reforms
  • It recommended that working conditions should improve via the reocntructing of the industry. It consisted of 3000 mines owned by more than 1500  people
  • Working day for miners must be cut from 8 to 7 hours
  • wages must be increased
  • The panel was divided on the issue of nationalisation although Sankey cast the deciding vote that voted in favour although DLG rejected the outcome
  • In JUly 1921, miners were forced to return to work with lower wages and with the knowledge that private ownership was likely to continue for the foreeable future
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Samuel Commission 1925

  • British Coal Industry in a desperate state- mine owners sought to reduce wages further
  • MFGB agreed with TUC to strike but Baldwin agreed to subsidies miners' wages temporarily while the Samuel Commission investigated the failings of the mining industry 
  • In March 1926, the commission recommended that the industry be restructured, but not nationalised
  • The blow to miners was that the commission also reccomended miners to take a wage cut
  • The MFGB angrily disagreed and tried to organise a General Strike beginning on the 30th of April with the TUC
  • At the same time of the publishing of the report, mine owners implemented an extension of the seven hour day, and a reduction in wages for all miners by about 10%-15%
  • If the miners did not agree by May 1st, they would be locked out of the pit
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Events of the 1926 General Strike

  • Largest Strike in British History, 1.5million people participated, the TUC meeting of 1st May concluded in the anouncement of a General Strike in tow days time
  • The Leaders of the TUC and Labour Party were unhappy and efforts were made to reach an agreement between the MFGB and the Conservative Govt. Jimmy Douglas led negotiations  for the TUC but no agreement was reached- printers at Daily Mail refused to print story
  • Baldwin offered an ultimatum to the TUC, to condemn the printers- obviously, the TUC refused. 4th to 9th of May the strike took place involving dockers, iron and steel workers, miners, transport and rail workers, gas electricity and chemical workers as well as shipbuilding and construction- state of emergency declared by govt
  • The TUC did not call in medical workers of food distributors// In a Glasgow strike, 400 arrests were made// Russia sent large cheque to the TUC but TUC returned it
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Was the Strike Successful

  • The TUC did not actually want to strike (lynch) and therefore workers were not prepared, the govt called TUC's bluff// on the other hand, govt were prepared for a strike
  • The Emergency Powers Act 1920 granted  the executive wide authority in the event of a disruption of essential services. Under this, the govt had created the Organisation for the maintenance of supplies (OMS)
  • London Buses ran with a police escort and the military continued some train services. Hyde Park was closed off and used as a centre for distributing milk.
  • 50,000 constables hired to stop riots and violence
  • Military convoys were used to help lorries leave docks
  • The High Court declared the Strike Illegal
  • RESULTS: 162 million working days lost
  • Coal exports fell from 54.5 million tons in 1920 to 20.5 million tons in 1926
  • Trade Union membership fell from 8.3 million in 1920, to 5.3 million in 1926, to 4.3 million in 1933
  • Total losses including wages estimated at £200 million
  • Mine owners suspended the 7 hour day for five years, and reverted to the 8 hour day
  • striking became less common, Allan Bullock states that the General Strike failure made TUC see the need to reduce no. of strikes
  • AJP Taylor: 1926 sealed nationalisation of mines in 1945 and end of era where class shapend industrial relations
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Trade Disputes Act 1927

  • Outlawed General and sympathetic strikes
  • Restricted strike action to specific disputes
  • Forbade TU funds being used for political purposes unless the individual member agreed to "contracting in"- reuced Labour's funding by 1/3

Arcos Affair 1927

  • The All Russian Cooperative Society was responsible for anglo-russian trade
  • A raid by MI5 in 1927 found classified documents at the Headquarters of the Soviet run- Arcos in London
  • All employees were arrested at the dismay of the Soviet Embassy and diplomatic relations severed
  • It showed extent of soviet interference in Britain and led to another backlash against socialist politics in the UK, made the General strike more popular
  • Andrew Williams suggests that the Conservatives were looking to accuse the Soviet Union and subsequently demonstrate espionage activities before they even raided as they wanted to severe UK/USSR ties
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Baldwin's Govt 1924-9 policies

  • 1923- Hosuing Act provided subsidies for private companies
  • 1925 Return to Gold Standard at the pre-war parity, deflationary, dec. imports, cotton industry improved by 10%
  • 1925-Pensions Act reduced to 65
  • 1925-Income Tax Cut
  • 1925-Locarno Treaty- positivve attempt to resolve Franco-German border disputes
  • 1926-Electricity Act set up National Grid, an acceptance of national +social service by govt
  • 1927-Establishment of the BBC- helped Baldwin maintain control during the General Strike, was supposed to be impartial but was not
  • 1927-Trade Disputes Act- Labour attempted to repeal the act in 1931 but unsuccessfully
  • 1927-Unemployment benefit improved 
  • 1928- Second Representation of the people act (Equal Franchise Act)- granted the vote to all women over 21 providing electoral equality
  • 1929-Local Govt Act- Exempted all farms and a quarter of factories from local rates in order to stimulate production. Many working class voters were faced with Public Assistance Committees that had greater inquisitorial powers. Got rid of workhouses
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WHY Did Conservatives dominate politics in the 20s

  • Liberals and Labour were no longer cooperating as they had done during the war. In both 1924 and 1929, the Liberals helped the Conservatives bring down Labour
  • Inter-party disunity in Liberals and Labour. Up to 1926, Liberals were still split between Asquith and DLG and Labour was split between radicals and moderates
  • Untiy of Conservatives was good. There was only temporary diagreement over tariff reform
  • Stanley Baldwun was a strong leader. He dealt with the general strike well and the abdication crisis in 1936
  • Neither Labour or the Liberals came up with any radical policies during this period to challenge anything
  • The FPTP system worked in favour for the Conservatives
  • REASONS FOR DOWNFALL: Failed to cut u/e or stop industrial decline. Betwen 1921 and 1929, u/e never dropped below 6%
  • The Conservatives had the uninspiring "safety first" campaign
  • The loss to Labour was in fact lucky as the minority Labour govt was faced with dealing with the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the subsequent depression
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1929 Election "Flapper Election"

  • Labour won the most seats with 287 to the conservative's 260 but still not a majority
  • Labour won a smaller percentage of the popular vote (by 1%) but the Conservative's share of the votes dropped by 10%
  • Liberals gained 19 seats with a total of 59
  • First election with full suffrage
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Conservatives mistakes/weakness

  • Leadership- Old and exhausted (Paul Doerr), however generally considered to be calm in government with a strong leader in Baldwin who promoted British National image
  • Campaign and Manifesto "safety first" campaign was believed to be ineffective and uninspiring. Lynch believes that this is the reason for lost record in govt, Been in power for a long time but had failed to decrease u/e and improve the structural failure of British industry- tough on trade unions...made conservatives unpopular with many moderates
  • Party unit-not really an issue although the issue of free trade had caused concern
  • Organisation and funding- after JCC Davidson took over as Conservative party chairman in 1926, he noted how the party was disorganised, although he is believed to have vastly improved the party by 1929. Blake states that he left a lasting imprint in the party. Therefore not really a reason for loss
  • Franchise and political system-FPTP favoured Labour's city centre support in 1929. Also lost out on the equal franchise act increased the electorate further...younger voters tend to vote left wing policies i.e Labour. The libs benefitted from a 5.8% swing in their favour away from cons
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Labour Strengths

  • Leadership- MacDonald wanted to appear moderate. Did not want to be too socialist
  • Campaign and manifesto- Both were relatively weak although Labour focused on social reformz
  • record in govt- had never had majority government but had proven that it could govern. Had a controversial exit with Z letter and C case, however a successful implementation of housing scheme with Wheatley Housing act
  • Party Unity- the party approved of MacDonald
  • Organisation and Funding- Trade Disputes Act 1927 had reduced Labour earnings by 1/3 and the reduction in trade union membership meant less bargaining power
  • Franchise and political system-Benefitted from equal franchise 1928, trade unions still had significant power and supported labour, the FPTP system effectively won Labour the most seats (it had less popular votes)
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