The Pre-War Crises of Britain - OCR AS Level History

Just some notes in the Pre-WWI crises of Britain and British politics.

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The Conflict Between the Lords and the Commons

The House of Lords contained a majority of Conservatives. They used this to tried and 'veto' (block) any measures they disagreed with, for example the Peoples Budget was put forward by Lloyd George, who wanted to make landowners pay special taxes in order to help pay for Old Aged Pensions. Unionists wanted to block this as they felt it was an attack on property rights. Eventually, after 2 consecutive general elections where the Liberals remained in office, it was let through. As a result of this, the PARLIAMENT ACT was set up. The terms were:

  • Delaying Powers would be restricted to 2 years.
  • A Commons Bill sent up in 3 consecutive sessions would result in it becoming Law anyway.
  • General Elections would be held once every 5 years instead of once every 7 years.

This was resisted for over a year; the Conservative Lords were afraid that Irish Home Rule would be pushed through as a result. They also feared elective tyranny and lobby fodder. However they were threatened with the prospect of 500 new Liberal peers, and so eventually gave in. 

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The Suffragette Crisis

The Liberals were very slow to deal with the issue of votes for women. This frustration at lack of action lead to the development of suffragists and suffragettes. Particularly within some groups, this lead to violence and outrage among women.

Many women were for it, but others felt that women shouldn't be concerning themselves with politics. Some men shared these views, but others tried to campaign for women suffrage, for example David Lloyd George.

Some politicians wanted only middle class women to have the vote, however Lloyd George wanted all or nothing; he feared an increase in middle class voters and thus Conservative voters.

In 1910, a Conciliation Bill was proposed. This was a compromise, as only property owning women would be allowed to have the vote. This bill was abandoned. People feared that giving votes only to selective groups of women would weaken the case for giving it to all men. The Liberals were greatly damaged by their failure to resolve this crisis - it was very embarrassing!

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Industrial Unrest

The gap between the rich and the poor was growing, despite the Liberal Reforms, and as well as this, Labour MPs were making no positive difference for the workers. Unions were beginning to become doubtful of the Labour Party, and began to consider direct action.

This doubt was reinforced in 1910, when the OSBORNE JUDGEMENT denied the right of Unions to use funds for political purposes.  People were beginning to be attracted to the more militant unions. A series of industrial problems followed:

  • In 1910 the Miners Strike broke out because the miners were demanding a minimum wage. Churchill was accused of giving orders to shoot the strikers, and this subsequently led to riots. The striking miners called out to other workers to help them.
  • In 1912 the dockers, railwaymen and seamen joined the Miners Strike
  • In 1914 the 3 different Unions unofficially formed the 'Triple Alliance'. The government tried to appease them with wage boards, but there was still tension. They were planning a General Strike, however it never happened - the war brought an end to it.

Throughout this crisis the Liberal Values were challenged. Normally they didn't like to intervene in ordinary peoples lives, but here they were intervening between the workers and employers.

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The Ulster Crisis

Protestants wanted BRITISH RULE (Unionists)Catholics wanted NATIONALISM and HOME RULE.

Gladstone had tried to pass Home Rule bills in 1886 and 1893. Both had failed. This had split his party, and hardened the resolve of the Unionists to reject Home Rule. 

Ulster was the most economically advanced part of Ireland, so of course the Nationalists would want it should they ever gain independence as a country, but Ulster wanted to remain part of Britain. This meant the two groups were incompatible

In 1905, Nationalist groups unified to form Sinn Fein (ourselves alone). They were a political party claiming Ireland was only temporarily enslaved by British rule. They wanted a Dail (Parliament) of their own. Sinn Fein believed the Nationalist MPs in Westminster were too moderate, meaning there was conflict within the Nationalist cause.

In 1912, the Commons was evenly split between Liberals and Unionists. The government relied on John Redmond and his group of 84 Nationalists to force through the 3rd Home Rule Bill. This was again suspended due to the War that began in 1914. A temporary compromise was reached: the Catholic south would get Home Rule, while the Protestant North would remain part of the UK.

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