Britain 1914-29

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  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 07-04-14 17:25

Political impact of First World War, 1914-18

  • 1914 Lib party been in power 8 years
  • Con party weak due to association with rebellious Ulster Unionists
  • Labour weak - in infancy

The Liberal Party

  • War undermined many Lib Party principles
  • Total War went against individual freedom, laissez faire, balanced budget and internationalism - split party
  • some Mp's resigned - opposed entry to war
  • some rebelled as didn't support DORA - called 'war socialism' - undermined individual liberties gave more power to gov.
  • L.G+ Churchill argued Total War not implemented properly
  • Concern about Asquith leadership undermined Lib unity - Failure of Galipoli April 1915 + Shell Crisis led to demands for coalition gov. - May 1915 Coalition formed Asquith head
  • April 1916 Asquith accepted conscription after fighting against for long time
  • December 1916 - Asquith resigned - refused to serve under L.G
  • L.G set up own political HQ & funding - widened gap between his supporters & Asquithians
  • 1918 - Lib split over Maurice Debate - fell in to decline
  • L.G won coupon election & continued heading coalition with Cons.
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Political impact of the First World War, 1914-18

The Conservative Party

  • War revived Cons. party
  • willingness to support total war
  • traditional, patriotic, militaristic and imperalist values - suited popular mood of war
  • Asquith's weak wartime leadership enable Cons to get back into gov. as part of coalition

Labour Party

  • Almost split 1914 over whether to go to war - some pacifist others saw capitalist war of no benefit
  • war benefit to Labour
  • socialist ideas of state control of supplies, industries & services viable
  • status of T.U's increased as contribution to war praised
  • experience gained by Labour's MP's in coalition, mainly Arthur Henederson
  • 1918 Representation Of People Act - all men 21+ given vote - more votes for Labour

war acted as catayst for political change - in particular the decline of Liberal party

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Social Consequences of First World War

Social Classes

  • pre-war patterns began to change
  • during war w/c full employment, higher wages, control on rents, stronger class equality - all men 21+ got vote 1918
  • rise in income tax lowered living standards for m/c who felt under threat from Labour's ideas of redistributing wealth through tax
  • landed class remained priviledged but suffered from land tax. Suffer loss as many junior officers died


  • 1918 - 1/3 workforce = women - 10% increase from pre-war
  • Women's pay increased 1/3 men's wage to 1/2
  • 1919 Sex Disqualification Act opened jobs in Civil Service & Jury to women
  • Fashion changes symbolise new social freedom - shorter hair & dresses
  • Women over 30 married to householder gained vote in 1918 Representation of People's Act
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Economic consequences of First World War

  • 1850-70 Britain = 'workshop of the world': economic decline began 1870's - competition from U.S & Germany, both had more technology & equipment
  • by 1914 Britain over reliant on traditional industries - coal, iron, steel, textiles, shipbuilding
  • War accelerated decline - slow in world trade - many countries protected selves with tarriffs

overall impact of war disastrous

  • cost Britain £11,235 million - huge increase in debt
  • Trade declined
  • prices+inflation rose faster than wages
  • pound overvalued on currency markets - British exports more expensive
  • valueable overseas markets lost

war caused gov. to quickly pull back from nationalisation = may have bought greater investment to declining staple industries

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post-war coalition & role of D.L.G 1918-22

Post-war coalition gov.

  • L.G+Bonar Law agreed coalition should continue after war
  • Coupon election returned 478 coalition MP's, 63 Labour, 28 Asquithians, 73 Sinn Fein

Government Achievements

  • Fisher's Education Act, 1918, raised school leaving age to 14
  • Addison's Housing Act, 1919, provided 2130,000 council houses
  • National Insurance Act, 1920, extended unemployment benefit most occupations
  • Old age pensions extended - war widow pension introduced
  • 5 million men de-militarised with no impact on unemployment
  • unpopular rationing gradually dissappeared
  • achievements limited because economic problems+ Cons. reluctance to increase taxation
  • spending cuts introduced - Geddes Axe - undercut L.G promise of 'land fit for heroes'
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post-war coalition & role of D.L.G 1918-22

Government Problems


  • Post war boom ended 1920 - staple industries uncompetitive and couldn't win back export markets
  • unemployment reached 2m by end 1921

Industrial unrest

  • Decontrol returned wartime nationalised industries to pre-war owners - led to new industrial confrontation between unions and owners.
  • Membership of T.U's rose 4m -> 8m 1914-20 large unions such as Transport and General Workers' union emerged
  • April 1921 - national miners strike, owners cut wages. Gov. used October 1920 Emergency powers Act to declare state of emergency - sent troops to effected areas - called off after 3 days. referred to as 'Black Friday'
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The post-war crisis and role of D.L.G, 1918-22


  • 1918 - Irish Nationalists lost influence to Sinn Fein - wanted total independence
  • 73 Sinn Fein elected in 1918 refused take seats at Westminster - set up illegal Dail, Dublin, 1918
  • Caused outbreak Anglo-Irish war - led to confrontation IRA and Black and Tans
  • 1920 Government of Ireland Act created 2 govs. one in Belfast one in Dublin - limited powers.Irish Unionists accepted but Nationalists continued fighting
  • July 1921 truce called
  • 6th December 1921 Anglo Irish treaty signed - partitioned Ireland. South self-governing North governed from Westminster
  • Treaty didn't please all Nationalists, but did prevent continuation of war
  • L.G recieved little credit for solving Ireland
  • many condemned use of Black and Tans - added to National debt.
  • Cons never forgave L.G for breaking up union
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The post-war crisis and role of D.L.G, 1918-22

party political problems and fall of Lloyd George

  • L.G respected by Cons.cabinet members - 'the man who won the war'
  • March 1921- Bonar Law resigned - Chamberlain in and L.G position in danger
  • many blamed L.G for continuing economic problems, high unemployment, high interest rates
  • 'Irish Solution' alienated many
  • Honours scandal reinforced idea L.G corrupt and unprincipled
  • Chanak affair seemed symbolic of his over-dictatoral style.
  • Many feared L.G would split as he had done to Libs.
  • October 1922 - Carlton Club - Con's MP's voted 187 to 87 to abandon coalition.
  • L.G resigned, as did chamberlain, and Bonar Law returned as Cons. leader and PM
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Conservative and Labour govs. 1923-29

Conservative gov. 1922-23

  • won clear majority Nov. 1922 under Bonar Law. Only lasted until Dec 1923.
  • party split; many leading figures rejected Carlton Club decision - did not join Bonar Law cabinet
  • Bonar Law serious decline in health. May 1923 replaced by Stanley Baldwin - inexperienced figure
  • Baldwin called for return to protectionism, hoped would reunite party, failed miserably. 
  • Although Cons. won 258 seat majority in Dec 1923 - they lost majority over Labour and Libs who reunited behind Asquith on issue of free trade.
  • Jan 1924 - parliament recovened, Libs(158), Labour(191) allowed Ramsay Macdonald to form first Labour gov.
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Conservative and Labour govs. 1923-29

Labour gov. January-October 1924

  • first Labour gov. actions seen as moderate
  • suffered heavy defeat in October 1924 general election for following reasons:
  • internal tension: mainly between Labour and trade unions
  • inexperienced leadership: Macdonald showed political naivety by negotiating treaties with Soviet Union and moshandlign cambell case, allowed opposition to say Labout pro-Communist and internationalist.
  • unfavourable circumstances: Labour minority gov. reliant on Lib support, political establishment conspired against Lab because it was socialist - leaked Zinoviev letter

Achievements of Labour gov

  • ncreased unemployment benefit & pensions
  • set up Hadow Committee to review secondary education
  • £9m state subsidy for construction of council houses(Wheatley Housing Act, August 1924)
  • proof party could govern/be trusted
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Conservative and Labour govs. 1923-29

Conservative gov. 1924-29

  • by Oct 1924 Baldwin healed rifts in Cons. party. Tariff reform dropped, former coalition cons. returned, moderate 'new Conservatism' broad appeal
  • Cons won 412 seats - landslide win
  • Gov made big contributions through work of Neville Chamberlain @ Ministry of Health
  • Widows, Orphans and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, lowered age for old age pensions 70 -> 65 provided benefits for dependents of deceased workers
  • Local gov. Act, 1929, removed old poor law - transferred its duties to new Public Assistance Committees. stopped all farms+quarter factories from paying rates in order to stimulate business
  • Chamberlain enacted 21 bills - did more for welfare state than any other inter-war minister(even DLG)
  • Electrical Supply Act, 1926, set up National Grid
  • Establishment of BBC, 1927.
  • Representation of People's Act, 1928, granted vote to women on same basis as men

Lib Party

  • plagued by divisions, Asquith weak leader - L.G force for division, not unity, 'third party' in 2 party system, lacked distinctive policies

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Economic porblems, 1923-29

Economic Problems

  • war caused loss of overseas markets. Took until 1925 for world trade reach 1913 levels. britains share trade fell 18% to 11%. Prior to ww1, 25% Britains produced goods exported - loss of these markets devastated employment.
  • Britain forced off Gold Standard - wekeaned pound and London as financial centre
  • Staple industries suffered as countries put tarriffs to protect selves, Britain machinery outdated, poor industrial relations & restrictive practice
  • decline staple industries high structural unemployment - 17% workforce affected by June 1921. Increased industrial disputes - 86 million days lost through strikes in 1921 - compare to 35 million 1919
  • most deppressed regions = Glasgow and Belfast(shipbuilding), Manchester and Liverpool(cotton, textiles, coal, shipbuilding), Newcastle and Sunderland(coal, shipbuilding), Cardiff and Newport(coal and steel)
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Economic porblems, 1923-29

Positive economic developments

  • new industries - chemicals, electrical goods, canned foods, motor vehicles grew rapidly
  • development national grid 1926 forward bought flexible power to industry and domestic users
  • productivity as a whole increased
  • economic growth 1924-29 faster than pre-1914
  • service sector(retail, mass entertainment and admin) grew creating 1m new jobs by 1929
  • living standards increased

government economic policies

  • coalition gov 1918-22 passed further Insurance Act, 1920, extended 1911 scheme to most workers and gave allowances to dependants
  • cons(1922-3) proposed tariff reforms - rejected 1923
  • labour(1924) attempted launch public works programme for roads and housing - lost office before could go through
  • Cons(1924-29) restored G.Standard 1925 - limited impact worsened economic impact by increasing export costs 10%

signs of recovery by end decade - no economic boom in Britain, unlike US. Unemployment didn't fall below 2 million

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Industrial unrest and the 1926 General Strike

  • May 1926 TUC called for general strike to support miners who were in dispute with mine owners - wanted them work longer hours less pay. 3 million workers responded - dockers,railwaymen, bus drivers, steel workers, printers and utility workers
  • Baldwin set up Organisation for Maintenace of Supplies(OMS) and put Churchill in charge of British Gazzette - won public sympathy against strike
  • TCU called off strike after 9 days - miners fought for 7 months


  • grievances of miners+widespread industrial unrest at end of war+staple industries, partly political

Economic background

  • undamental issue = return of nationalised industries - had guaranteed wages/work conditions - back to private owners after ww1. end post-war boom 1921 owners cut wages combat falling prices
  • 1925 return Gold Standard higher coal exports = owners cutting wages compensate
  • July 1925 Baldwin gov intervened subsidised miner wages owner profits. Set up Samuel Commission - supported wage cuts didn't favour nationalisation
  • subsidies ended owners threatened lockouts if miners didn't accept wage cuts+longer hours miners appealed to TUC "not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day"
  • 2 days later TUC agreed support, General Strike began May 3rd 1926

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Industrial unrest and the 1926 General Strike

political background

  • increasing strength syndicalism and rise of union membership caused unions to be more willing to strike
  • militancy rooted in class conflict, during war many w.c men thought officers saw them as cannon fodder
  • Many Cons. saw strike as threat to constitution and was Comm. inspired


  • Baldwin gave in to right wing by passing Trade Disputes Act, 1927. Failed to prevent victimisation of miners.
  • Labour benefit by not baccking militants and for backlash against Cons. and mine owners. paved way for 1929 success - saw by-election gains
  • TUC gained credibility no longer seen as revolutionaries for calling off strike
  • employers showed greater willingness to negotiate, evidence = Mond-Turner talks 1929
  • strike failure showed limitation of direct confrontation
  • biggest losers were miners; victimised and broken - took many years to gain reputation back within T.U's
  • A.J.P. Taylor - " The General Strike strengthened Labour movement in long term because it convinced many union leaders to adopt less extreme tactics to gain concessions"
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really amazing resource, have been trying to find something which offers more detail and insight than the book 

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