British Politics, 1910-1935: The Crisis of the Party System

By David Powell | Go to book overview

2

The crisis of partisanship, 1910-14

Between 1910 and 1914 political conflict in Britain reached new levels of intensity. The period began with the two general elections of 1910 and the controversy over Liberal plans to reform the House of Lords. It continued with the deepening confrontation over Irish Home Rule and popular protest linked to large-scale labour unrest and the campaign for votes for women. There were problems within each of the major parties as well as in relations between the parties and in the relationship between the parties and the wider political community. By the summer of 1914, as Home Rule was about to be placed on the statute book and a general election loomed, there were fears that the normal conventions of parliamentary and party government were breaking down and that the country stood on the verge of civil war. In the event, such fears were not realised, not least because the outbreak of the First World War interposed itself into domestic concerns. But the increasingly febrile and partisan atmosphere of pre-war politics nonetheless played its part in the developing crisis of the party system, even if the coming of war prevented this phase of the crisis from reaching its natural conclusion.


The elections of 1910

Although other questions - women's suffrage, the government's National Insurance Bill, labour unrest, an international crisis arising from the German government's despatch of the gunboat Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir in a challenge to French influence - obtruded, the political scene in 1910-11 was dominated by the consequences of the Lords' rejection of the 1909 budget. From the prorogation of parliament on 3 December 1909 to the closing of the polls on 10 February 1910 - 'the longest election campaign in modern British history' 1 - the country was in thrall to an at times violent general election centred on the merits of the budget, the Unionist alternative of Tariff Reform and the actions of the House of Lords. Even when the election was over, little was resolved. The Liberals remained in office, the Lords allowed the budget to pass, but the Unionists were determined to block Liberal plans for constitutional reform. The death of Edward VII and the accession of George V in May provided time for a political pause, and the summer of 1910 saw a 'constitutional

-34-

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British Politics, 1910-1935: The Crisis of the Party System
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface and Acknowledgements vi
  • Abbreviations vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Parties and Politics in Edwardian Britain 10
  • 2 - The Crisis of Partisanship, 1910-14 34
  • 3 - The Crisis of War, 1914-18 58
  • 4 - Coalitionism and Party Politics, 1918-22 90
  • 5 - Three-Party Politics, 1922-4 117
  • 6 - Politicians and the Slump, 1924-31 142
  • 7 - Crisis Resolved: the 1930s and After 171
  • Conclusion 192
  • Notes 199
  • Further Reading 212
  • Index 215
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