1a: A changing political landscape: The National Government, 1931-45


MacDonald's premiership, 1931-35

  • His premiership was dominated by the economic challenges caused by the Great Depression.
  • National Government (NG) implemented harsh spending cuts e.g. public sector cuts of 10% felt to be so harsh that they led to mutiny in Royal Navy at naval base of Invergordon.
  • Also introduced a limited no. of tariffs - by 1933, the end of the Gold Standard & low interest rates had begun to stimulate economic recovery - NG's popularity  
  • Labour Party (led by Attlee) became official opposition to gov & gained 154 seats in 1935 election, showing Labour vote was rapidly recovering from slump in 1931.
  • Throughout 1930s there was ↑ in support for extreme ideas - communist & fascist parties saw ↑ in membership as more people became convinved that liberal democracy no longer had the answers to the economic crisis.
  • By 1934, British Union of Fascists had 50,000 members - at same time, Communist Party of Great Britain had 9,000 members & organised National Unemployed Workers' Movement.
  • Many left-wing intellectuals (e.g. Fabians Sidney & Beatrice Webb) visited Soviet Union & believed communism was an economic success - had impact on Britain from 1930s onwards as influential figures argued convincingly in favour of state planning.
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Disarmament and rearmament

  • From 1933, British people were more interested in world events - appointment of Hitler as chancellor in Germany divided public opinion between rearmament & disarmament.
  • Many had traumatic memories of WW1 & were attracted to organisations like the Peace Pledge Union & the League of Nations Union - supported peaceful resolution to conflict.
  • By early 1930s, many people blamed arms races & secret treaties for WW1 rather than Germany.
  • Gov negotiated with other powers to disarm at the World Disarmament Conference (1932-34) however the conference broke down in 1933 when Germany withdrew.
  • After Germany's exit, Baldwin argued for agreements limiting arms & Britain started to rearm from 1934 onwards:
  • RAF  in size to 40 squadrons
  • British Army was reorganised
  • Royal Navy was expanded
  • Munitions industry was developed in partnership w/ private capital
  • 1934 - League of Nations Union organised Peace Ballot - 11 million people answered questions & it was clear they supported the idea of 'collective security'.
  • Peace Pledge Union set up by Father **** Sheppard & 100,000+ people sent him postcards pledging to oppose war.
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Oswald Mosley, 1896-1980

  • Labour MP - inspired by Mussolini's economic policies.
  • 1931 - Mosley was frustrated w/ NG so resigned & set up the New Party in March - put forward a manifesto for change ('Mosley Memorandum'(MM)) - demanded a coordinated national economic plan to deal w/ economic crisis.
  • MM had temporary support from both left & right however moderates withdrew their backing when Mosley established 'Biff Boys' - group of violent enforcers who were tasked w/ attacking his opponents.
  • 1932 - Mosley drew all the fascist organisations in Britain together to form the British Union of Fascists (BUF)  NG passed 1936 Public Order Act which banned groups from wearing uniforms & required permission for marches & demonstrations.
  • Mosley never became a threat to NG & his movement began to decline after 1936, however the BUF shows that there were significant numbers of people (50,000 members at its height) who did not believe the existing political system of parliamentary democracy was capable of working at the height of the depression.
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The abdication crisis, 1936

  • Jan 1936 - King George V died & Edward VIII inherited the crown.
  • Edward had a ******* lifestyle & had many affairs w/ married women which were hidden from the public by self-censoring newspapers as public attitudes towards sexual morality were v. conservative.
  • Nov 1936 - Edward told Baldwin of his intention to marry Wallis Simpson (American divorcee) & Baldwin told him the marriage would be seen as morally acceptable to many in Britain.
  • The British Cabinet & the Dominions rejected even a morganatic marriage & gave him 3 choices; abandon marriage plans, marry & risk a constitutional crisis, or abdicate.
  • 11 Dec 1936 - Edward abdicated & George VI became King.

Dominions - self-governing former colonies that retained close ties to Britain

Morganatic marriage - marriage where the offspring cannot inherit

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Baldwin's premiership, 1935-37

  • 1935 - MacDonald unwell & forced to step down  Baldwin became PM for 3rd time.
  • Throughout his premiership, opposition Labour Party were divided on the question of peace & security - left of the party argued rearament made war more likely, whereas Attlee argued that collective security would make war impossible & therefore rearming unecessary - (but world events made collective security seem more difficult).
  • 1936 - Hitler broke Treaty of Versailles by reoccupying the Rhineland - Labour opposed the threat of economic sanctions against Germany but NG was divided between taking action & backing down.
  • Harold Nicholson (National Labour MP & diplomat) believed any threat of action would result in a general strike in Britain.
  • Britain & France did nothing following Germany's actions but Baldwin continued w/ rearmament.
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Chamberlain's premiership, 1937-40

  • Main problem NG faced was that the breakdown of international order made war increasingly likely, but the antiwar movement was growing in strength - made rearmament more difficult.
  • Chamberlain is often associated w/ the policy of appeasement of Hitler - on 3 occasions he went to Germany in 1938 to try to prevent war by negotiating w/ Hitler & the Munich Agreement of Sept 1938 granted nearly all of Hitler's demands & allowed him to annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. 
  • Declared war on Germany in Sept 1939 after Hitler attacked Poland.
  • Resigned in 1940 after having lost support of many MPs due to a failed military expedition to Norway in April 1940.
  • Has been characterised as weak, vacillating & naive due to his dealings w/ Hitler however he had written multiple times throughout the 1930s that Hitler could not be trusted & was a threat to international peace & war w/ Germany may be necessary.
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Churchill's premiership, 1940-45

  • German successes in WW1 brought about a new political crisis in gov as some ministers considered whether or not to make peace.
  • 25 May 1940 - Halifax proposed a negotiated settlement w/ Germany, clashing w/ Churchill 
    Churchill called a meeting of the whole cabinet, arguing that Britain would be a 'slave state' if it agreed to German terms.
  • This debate was when most of the popular view of Churchill's stoicism in the face of adversity was formed.
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