Aspects of British Political History, 1914-1995

By Stephen J. Lee | Go to book overview

5

BALDWIN AND THE CONSERVATIVE ASCENDANCY BETWEEN THE WARS

In theory Britain has a bipartisan political system. There have, however, been times when one party has exerted a long-term domination for several successive governments. The Conservatives had, for example, been on top between 1885 and 1905, when they had won four out of the five general elections. The pattern was broken at the beginning of the twentieth century when, in 1906, the Conservatives won only 133 seats to the Liberals' 400. But this proved to be the Liberal party's Indian summer and the Conservatives were already on the road to recovery before 1914. In the general elections of January and December 1910 they won 241 and 237 seats respectively, just over 30 short of a greatly reduced Liberal tally.

Between the two world wars the Conservative party reached summits not previously or subsequently achieved. As a result of the 1918 general election they were by far the largest party, with 335 seats, although they continued to serve under Lloyd George in the Coalition Government until 1922. The Conservative tally increased to 345 in 1922, but dropped back to 258 in 1923: although the largest single party, the Conservatives lacked an overall majority and Labour were put into power in 1924 with Liberal support. Following the collapse of this government at the end of the same year, the Conservatives won a landslide in 1924, securing 419 seats out of 615. In 1929 the Conservatives secured only 260, the only time between the wars that they came second in the number of seats; on this occasion Labour won 288 and formed a second government until 1931. During the 1930s the Conservative identity was, to some extent, merged with the National Government, but the party won two colossal victories in this period. In 1931 it secured 473 seats, followed by 432 in 1935, the largest numbers ever achieved by any party.

There is something paradoxical in all this. The Conservative revival

-68-

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