Changes in Political Environment


Prime Minister Timeline

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Decline of Liberals - Development Timeline

1910 elections - retained power + formed government

1915 elections - strong representation in wartime coalition

During WW1 began to split and formed coalition with Tories after 1918

Loses 1922, 1924, 1928 + 1931 elections by large margins

Supported labour minority Governments of 1924 + 1929-1931

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Decline of Liberals - Party Unity

Heavily affected by WW1

DORA (1914) - gave extended government powers (economic control, conscription + rationing)

These were opposed by Liberals although David LLoyd George favoured these + in 1916 ousted traditional Liberal, Herbert Asquith as PM

This ousting outraged traditional liberals and Lloyd George seen as traitor

Shown in Maurice debate where an open letter by General Maurice accused Lloyd George of lying to Parliament about number of troops on front line

Asquith attempted to oust George with much support but failed

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Decline of Liberals - ROPA

1918 Representation of the People Act

Extended electorate by 13 million, including young working class people which Liberals failed to attract

Labour effectively took votes away from Liberals regarding these new voters (Labour went from 7.1% of the vote to 30.5% between 1910 + 1923 whearas Liberals went from 43.9% to 29.6%)

Despite this, Liberals failed to challenge the development of the FPTP system which damaged party in 1930's

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Decline of Liberals - 1918 Election

Due to divisions in party, contested with two parties, one with Lloyd George + one with Herbert Asquith

George joined coalition with Conservatives (who were desperate to be in office after 18 years) as didn't have enough Liberal support

Any candidate for coalition issued with coupon (coupon election)

Coalition won by landslide but with Conservative dominant with 335 seats, Lloyd George with 133

Asquith's liberals only won 28 seats + Asquith lost his


  • Asquith never recovered fully
  • Lloyd George's Liberals dependant on Conservatives so weak in Parliament
  • party split deepened - George ejected from 1920 party conference + George's attempts to make coalition permanent by proposing an anti-Labour 'Centre Party'
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Decline of Liberals -1922 Election

George honours selling scandal:

  • selling honours to peers (e.g. Knighthood for 10,000) but only to Liberals who supported him
  • portrayed as corrupt as well as warmongering after threatening Turkey
  • resulted in Conservatives withdrawing from the coalition + forcing George to resign

How tried to bounce back from 1922 election:

  • lost election clearly in third place as a result of George's unpopularity, rise of Labour + divisions in party
  • in 1922, 1923 + 1924 elections had little funds after George withdrew support so couldn't afford to field as many candidates
  • share of vote fell by 12% in 1924 as many voters turned to conservatives despite supporting a minority labour government
  • after Asquith's resignation in 1926, Lloyd George reunited the Liberals + attempted to reduce unemployment by presening the 'yellow book' but their vote continued to fall throughout the 1920's
  • FPTP further limited their ability to gain seats as favoured two party race e.g. in 1924 Liberals had 17.6% of vote + 40 seats, but Labour had 33% of vote + 151 seats
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Rise of Labour - Development Timeline

1900 - formed from Labour Representation Committee of the Trades Union Congress so closely tied with unions which aimed to support workers

1906 + 1910 - won some seats but working class representation made easier in 1911 when MP's could recieve a wage

1914 - WW1 massively increased trade union membership

1918 - had 57 seats + 1918 representation of people act tripled size of electorate, including most working class men

1922 - increased to 142 seats

1923 - won 191 seats + formed minority government with support of 158 Liberals

1924 - lost elections after being accused of being Soviet sympathisers

1929 - won 287 seats in election + forms minority government until 1931

1931 - meltdown of votes as only won 46 seats + lost many of its leading politicians

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Rise of Labour - Party Developments

Party Unity:

  • strong sense of class consciousness meant Labour had identity of representing working class
  • divisions concerning war healed when Labour ministers stepped down from wartime coalition
  • Arthur Henderson (leader 1914-17) first Labour cabinet representation brought party together

Interwar developments:

  • unions provided funding + membership
  • in 1917 developed local party branches + by 1924 all but 19 constituencies had local party branch - gave national identity and large number of candidates
  • distortion of funding for winnable areas with more popular trade unions e.g. mining towns
  • took a strong anti-German line in 1918 election which proved more succesful than pacifist line
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Rise of Labour - Breaking from Liberal Influence

Before 1914 - strong links with Liberals as both left wing parties but Liberals senior members in partnership

After 1914 - began to develop seperate identity as promoted free-trade, internationalism, social reform + nationalisation, especially after drawing up new constitution in 1918

Led to more ruthless approach as demonstrated by 1923 election where capitalised on splits within Liberals

1924 Labour minority Government then able to establish good economic and foreign affairs reputation which further distinguished them from Liberals

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Conservative Dominance - Development Timeline

1918-22 - David Lloyd George's Coalition Government dominated by Conservatives (335 Conservatives, 135 Liberals + 10 Labour)

1922 - withdrew from Coalition + won election

1923 - lose overall majority buty remain largest party in Parliament

1924 - win election by large majority

1929 - lose general election but no overall majority

1931-45 - agree to participate in National Government + remain dominant party in coalition

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Conservative Dominance - Electoral System

Plural voting remained until 1948 + suited Conservative voters who had multiple properties or attented Universities

In 1918, constituency boundaries changed in order to reflect population movements which gave middle class suburbs more representation

FPTP favoured due to uneveness - in 1918 took 15,943 to return Conservative MP, 29,898 for Labour MP + 26,116 for Liberal MP

Irish Free State gained indpendance in 1921 so UK lost 80 Nationalist MP's who supported Liberals

Still had support of 10 Northern Irish MP's

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Conservative Dominance - Opposition Divisions

Liberals plauged with division due to Lloyd George

By 1931 many right wing Liberals split from party to become National Liberals which formed alliance with Conservatives

Labour found it difficult to to establish themselves outside industrial working class heartlands

In 1931 Labour divided on how to handle economic crisis

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Conservative Dominance - Organisation + Image

Funding not a proplem so could field more candidates, distribute materials + use new technology such as cinema

Created Conservative Research Department in 1929 responsible for research, speeches and documents such as manifestos


  • from 1870 started to move away from party of wealth + privilege to 'one nation Tories' -promoted empire, patriotism + national defence to attract working class votes
  • between 1923 + 1937 Stanley Baldwin presented himself as straight-talking man of the people as known to run factories fairly + promoted good working relationships between employers + workers
  • Baldwin gained reputation for economic competence which attracted votes of middle class Liberals despite destroying Lloyd George Coalition
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Formation of National Government - 1929 Election

Conservatives didn't do enough to retain majority after 'safety first campaign'

Unusual result as Conservatives had largest share of vote at 38.2% but not overall majority in terms of seats as won 260/605 whearas Labour won 287 seats

Labour returned to power + led by Ramsey MacDonald with support of 59 Liberals

Labour had only been in power once before in 1924 where had to make harsh economic cuts which negatively affected poorest voters whilst being dependant on Liberals so lost support + had to call election which heavily lost to Conservatives

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Formation of National Government - 1929-31 Labour

MacDonald wanted to pass social welfare reforms which he couldnt do in 1924 so developed relationships with Liberal MP's to some success e.g. 1930 Housing Act

Warned in 1930 that Britain would go through 'economic blizzard'

1931 budget:

  • governement struggling to finance spending commitments so needed loans from US + France
  • to meet loan demands needed to raise taxes + cut benefits - including cutting unemployment benefits by 10%
  • these proposals split the party and resulted in party resigning from power
  • MacDonald remained Prime Minister
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Formation of National Government - 1931 Election

MacDonald ready to resign but King George V was against this as it would only increase instability

Conservatives led by Stanley Baldwin supported this as thought MacDonald would get brunt of unpopular economic measures

MacDonald therefore called an election and announced he would lead a National Government

Some Labour joined him whilst others split to join seperate Labour party led by George Lansbury, with Liberals also similarly split

Resulted in overwhelming victory for National Government by winning 554 seats (473 Conservative)

Labour performed poorly and won just 52 seats

MacDonald's health starts to decline and Baldwin effectively in charge through his tenure

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National Govenrment - Baldwin

Effectively in charge from 1931

Went ahead with spending cuts

Elected in 1935 

Plans to appease Mussolini by giving him 2/3rds of Abyssinia was very unpopular

Nazi Germany growing threat which split nation as some wanted rapid rearmament, whilst others wanted disarmament and cooperation with League of Nations

Baldwin offered compromise by increasing spending on rearmarment to fulfil the leagues military requests

1936 abolition crisis - dealt with well by Baldwin who advised King Edward VIII to abdicate in order to marry Wallace Simpson - an American divorcee

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National Government - Chamberlain

Neville Chamberlain elected in 1937 

Attempted to find 'peace in our time' but criticised for appeasement

Flew to see Hitler 3 times in 1938

Failed to prevent war begining

After war started forced out of Parliament after vote of no confidence

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National Government - Churchill

Long term opponent of Hitler and critic of appeasement

Appointed after backing of Labour + Liberal MPs

Set up a war cabinet of just 5 men to make quick decisions

Created new ministries e.g. Ministry of Aircraft production

May 1940 Emergency Powers Act gave wider powers to government

Maintained public moral with inspirational speeches

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Failure of Extremeism

Failed to gain success due to success + unity of National Government

British Union of Fascists:

  • formed by Oswald Moseley in 1932 to emulate Mussolini
  • racist + anti-semetic
  • funded by Moseley and wealthy aristocrats
  • 50,000 members in 1930's 
  • unpopular after 1936 'battle of cable street' where BUF marched through East London with many Jews and Irish immigrants which turned into violent clash
  • WW2 made more unpopular + Moseley imprisoned for 3 years whilst party banned

Communist Party of Great Britain:

  • far right with more success than Moseley - gained one MP in 1924 + 1935
  • despite this only gained maximum 0.4% of electorate due to strength of TU + Labour
  • used 'entryism' by infiltrating Labour and attempting to change ideas
  • funded by USSR - against WW2 until Germany's invasion of Russia in 1941
  • gained some support after Russia helped defeat Nazi's
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Consensus - Effects of WW2

Why war allowed consensus:

  • National Government showed Ministers from rival paries could work together on key policies
  • success of collectivism where certain problems tackled by taking away rights for greater good
  • showed the success of increased governement control
  • shift from free market economy to mixed one with rationing, conscription + censorship meaning by 1945 1/3 of all citizens doing war related work
  • Beveridge Report of 1942 which envisioned a welfare state that cared for people from cradle to grave was hugely popular + sold 635,000 copies

Why Labour won 1945 General Election:

  • Leadership - Clement Atlee portrayed as man of the people as led home front during war
  • Campaigns - broke off the wartime coalition in order to force an election and campaigned saying 'let us face the future' whilst Atlee toured the country, whearas Conservatives put little effort in and Churchill's 'Gestapo' speech concerning Labour proved distasteful
  • Policies - Labour promised to implement the Beveridge Report with detailed manifesto whearas Churchill rejected report + had little strategy for post war recovery
  • Public mood - public wanted change after harsh war years + 20's/30's under tories
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Consensus - Labour 1945-51

Under Atlee key consensus policies established: mixed economy, universal healthcare, welfare state, full employment + cooperation with trade unions

Key achievements:

  • 1944 Education Act - split schools into grammar, modern + technical whilst raising leaving age to 15 + building 900 primary schools + 250 secondary schools
  • 1945 Family Allowance Act - introduced child benefits
  • 1946 National Insurance Act - provides benefits for sickness, unemployment, retirement, maternity, widows + orphans
  • 1946 National Health Service Act - healthcare for all paid for by taxes but free at point of need which allowed for creation of NHS in 1948
  • nationalisation of coal, steel, iron + railway to prevent their collapse

Changes were very popular + led to Conservatives 1947 Charter that accepted ideas of mixed economy + protection of Labour rights

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Consensus - 1950 + 1951 Elections

Labour only narrowly won the 1950 election as had a majority of just 5 seats

Called another election in 1951 to try and increase majority which Conservatives led by Churchill won by small majority

Why Labour unsuccesful in in 1950 + 1951 elections?

  • growing dissatisfaction over continued rationing
  • austerity (after 1947) wasn't bringing quick enough recovery
  • taxation high at 45%
  • Labour ministers tired, disillusioned + divided after Bevanite revolution in 1951 + over nuclear weapons in Korean War
  • Conservatives seen as united over nationalisation of iron + steel which impressed electorate
  • Conservative 1947 Industrial Charter showed willing to adapt + adopt consensus policies
  • 1950 saw influx of bright young Conservative politicians
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Consensus - Conservative PM's

Churchill 1951-55 - 77 years old with poor health lacking passion + drive + retired 

Eden 1951-57:

  • young airstocratic + popular
  • had to resign after Suez Crisis where Britain agreed with France + Israel to invade Suez Canal for Egyptian President Nasser but USA hadn't been consulted + refused to loan more money
  • Britain forced to pull out + humiliated 

MacMillan 1957-1964:

  • cheerful, confident + nicknamed Supermac
  • increased Conservative majority in 1959 election to 49.9%
  • 1959 - Chancellor, Treasury Minister + Financial Secretary resigned cause thought government spending too much money
  • 1962 - 'night of long knives' MacMillan sacked 7 cabinet ministers to replace with younger politicians but seen as weak/ruthless rather than strong + less aristocratic
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Consensus - Conservative Achievements

Housing 1951-55:

  • built over 300,000 new houses per year
  • 1952 - housing subsidy increased from £25 to £35
  • mortgages more widely available
  • 80% of house building state

1953 - iron + steel denationalised 

1954 - war time rationing ended 

1959 Mental Health Act modernised treatment + in 1962 revealed plans for 90 new hospitals

Education 1957-64:

  • pledged to build 6000 new schools + built 10 technical colleges
  • allowed local authorities to set up comprehensive schools
  • 1963 Robbins Report suggested need for more Universities - 7 established
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Consensus - Met by Conservatives?

+ adhered to many Labour policies such as funding + improving NHS, commiting to full emploment + use of Keynesian style economics

+ welfare state expenditure continued to grow - 19.3% of GDP spent on it in 1964, up from 16.1% in 1951

+ Butskellism (a mixture of Tory Chancellor R.A. Butler + Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell) used to describe identical economic policies of two parties

- Conservatives criticised for use of 'stop-go' economic policies, inflation begins to become problem

- resignation of Chancellor, Treasury Minister + Financial Secretary as believed government spending too much + believed inflation bigger threat than unemployment so wanted spending cuts, tax rises + end of subsidies

- reversed nationalisation of steel + iron with support of people

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Consensus - 1951-64 Golden or Wasted?


  • building of houses, 6000 new schools + 11 new universities
  • leading member of UN + NATO by 1964 + closer to USA
  • 1950's - nearly 3% growth per annum
  • 1951-64 - unemployed at 2%, economy grew by 40% + consumer spending by 45%
  • families ate better with wages rising by 72%, improving TV ownership to 91% + car ownership quadrupled to 8 million by 1964
  • NHS improved e.g. Mental Health Act 1959


  • economic rivals sent more young people to university + productivity lowest in Western Europe
  • failed to tackle inflation at 3/4% for fear of increasing unemployment + stop-go short term policies causing stagflation
  • economic growth comparitively low (2.4% compared to 5.6% in Italy + 5.1% in Germany)
  • imbalance of payments from stop-go prevented investment + £750 million deficit
  • humiliated at Suez + failure to find place in world + application to join EU vetoed
  • lack of investment in manufacturing meant Germany + Japan did better in these years
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Consensus - End of Conservative Dominance

Popularity had declined by 1962

Increasing consumer spending led to inflation + balance of payments deficit

People began to become more opposed to 'establishment'

Failed to gain entry to EU in 1963

Night of long knives makes MacMillan seem ruthless

Profumo affair - Conservative Secretary for War John Profumo had an affair with Christine Keller,who had also been sleeping with Soviet naval attache which he denied until truth exposed which damaged MacMillan's confidence + Conservatives image

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Consensus - Harold Wilson 1964-70

Represented Labour + opposite of establishment as state school education + northern


  • Depertmant of Economic Affairs run by drunkard George Brown put together 'National Plan' in September 1965 to expand economy but without knowing how to raise prodution or exports + caused tresury to refuse to cooperate with DEA due to feeling like they were competing
  • Ministry of Technology run by maverick MP Tony Wedgewood stifled by lack of funds but encouraged British markets to compete in world trade with projects such as Concord (1968) + nuclear energy
  • new universities + polytechnics built aswell as Open University
  • liberal reforms - 1965 Race Relations Act, 1967 Abortion Act + Family Planning Act, homosexual acts legal, death penalty abolished 1969 + 1970 Equal Pay Act with only small balance of payments surplus by end of 60's

Problems faced - left with £800 million balance of payments deficit, unemployment at 900,000, high union unrest (3.6 million days lost to strikes in 60's) but still relying on trade unions for funding, recssion + inflation from stop-go policies + forced to devalue pound in 1967 from $2.80 to $2.40

Consensus? - ambitious plans to invest in technolgy showed enthusiasm for consensus but consensus policies of cooperation with trade unions + full employment under strain which undermined ability to invest in welfare state (NHS charges abolished in 1965 then reinstated at higher rate in 1969)

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Consensus - Edward Heath 1970-74

Key achievements/policies:

  • cut taxes + spending, ending Wilson's income policy so more free market than Keynsian
  • 1971 Industrial Relations Act limited TU power + 1973 Britain joined EU (ECC at time)
  • Seldon Man - originally wanted Tories to break from consensus with fewer government controls

Problems + U-turn:

  • 1971 budget - cut in government spending + income tax but inflation increased due to lack of government intervention
  • unemployment had risen to 1 million by 1972 so Heath did U-turn to increase government controls in process + incomes as well as industrial relations with 1974 miners strike forcing 3 day week + pumping £2.5 billion into economy
  • this brought down unemployment to 550,000 by 1974 although 1973 oil crisis affected economy


  • showed first major shift away from consensus policies with attempt to move away from working with TU's + full employment
  • this failed and left the government having to put £2.5 billion into economy and relationship with TU's in tatters - industrial relations act, 1972 strike + 1974 strike
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Consensus - Wilson + Callaghan 1974-79

Labour struggled to keep consensus with 3 seat majority, Wilson resigned in 1976 + replaced by James Callaghan

Economic problems:

  • 1973 oil crisis - oil prices rose by 70% + dramatic rise in inflation to over 20%
  • in 1975 Chancellor Heady abandoned commitment to full employment
  • pound devalued - record low against dollar in June 1976
  • 1976 IMF loan - Britain forced to take out £4 billion loan from IMF so had to make large spending cuts

TU problems:

  • replaced Industrial Relations Act with 'social contract' but unsuccesful as wanted pay increases
  • 'winter of discontent' in 1978-79 with public services on strike as wage freeze sensationilised by media


  • economic problems made consensus policies of economic growth, full employment + welfare state hard to maintain
  • IMF crisis reinforced a change in policy from full employment + social welfare towards control of inflation + expenditure
  • ditched Keynesian economics with unemployment rising to 1.6 million in 1978
  • claimed Britain must 'pay its way' in world
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