The Decline of the Liberal Party

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Background Information

  • In August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany.
  • In December 1916, Asquith resigns over the War Committee and Lloyd George takes over
  • Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) introduced censorship and an increase in political powers
  • The introduction conscription and erosion of free trade undermined liberal values, as many liberals were anti-war.


  • National Insurance 1920-21 – extension to 8 million more workers (12 million in total) this was pivotal in the 1921 depression.
  • Pensions – lowered the age to 65
  • Benefits increased to 15 shillings a week
  • Fisher Education Act 1918 – leaving age was extended to 14 and it doubled teacher’s salaries, which encouraged ex-servicemen to teach. 
  • Maternity and Child Welfare Act 1918 – introduced the monitoring of children and mothers health.
  • Housing and Planning Act 1919 – clear slum housing, the introduction of low rent houses (council houses), by 1922, over 200,000 houses were built in Addison’s ‘Homes fit for Heroes’.


  • Housing fell to the Geddes Axe, as well as education and the Navy, the party lost their reputation of being social reformers.
  • The extension of National Insurance alienated the left due to high unemployment (by 1922 unemployment was over 1 million).
  • Addison had no economic experience and his spending on houses caused a budget deficit


  • Introduction of conscription in to Ireland in 1918 was unpopular, much of Ireland shifted their support to Sinn Fein. Thus the Irish Parliamentary Party had 6 seats compared to Sinn Fein’s 73 seats. This removed the solid bloc of 85 Nationalist MPs that had supported the party since 1886.
  • Government of Ireland Act 1921 – established Home Rule
  • Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921- ended the Irish War of independence

*To the left by offering Home Rule it looked like the government was condoning Terrorism by the IRA (Michael Collins murdered 14 British Intelligence Officers and by 1922, over 2000 people had died in the Irish War of Independence). Further, DLG fought violence with violence, which made him look unstable like with the ‘Black and Tans’ at Bloody Sunday. To the right, Home Rule was a problem, as they were traditionally known as the Conservative and Unionist Party.


  • Introduction of Conscription into Ireland was due to the War.
  • Split reached its peak in Maurice Debate 1918 – 98 MPs against the PM to 72 for, as DLG was accused of misleading the House of Lords about troop levels in France. 
  • 1918 Coupon Election (first election after the Representation of the People Act) – betrayal of Squiffites, when the Liberal Party ran as two separate parties. The Coupon was sent to 373 Tories and 159 Liberals. By maintaining the coalition, the Liberal Party remained split.
  • 1918 Liberal Asquith 12%, DLG Liberals 13.5%, Labour 22% and Tories 32.6% (335 seats).
  • Split weakened the party, which led to a lack of new policies.

 Other Parties

*War provided an opportunity for some parties, thus they were able to take advantage of the split in the Liberal Party


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