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

By David Powell | Go to book overview

5

Three-party politics, 1922-4

The twenty-five months from October 1922 to October 1924 were some of the most confused and disturbed in British political history, with three general elections, three changes of government and four of prime minister. They were also crucial in the emergence of the outlines of a new party system from the ruins of the Coalition. The brief period divides into two main phases. In the first, from October 1922 to December 1923, the Conservative government which Bonar Law formed after the fall of the Coalition won a majority at the 1922 general election, taking office with the opposition divided between an enlarged Labour party and two separate Liberal fragments, headed by Asquith and Lloyd George. Bonar Law was forced to retire from the premiership in May 1923 because of ill health and was succeeded by the for-some-unlikely figure of Stanley Baldwin, whose decision to call a further general election in November 1923 in pursuit of a mandate for protection ended the life of the first Conservative government of the twentieth century and plunged politics into crisis once more. The December election, which marks the start of the second phase, cost the Conservatives their majority and enabled Labour and the Liberals to gain ground at the Tories' expense, both parties benefiting from their identification with Free Trade. When Baldwin resigned, having been defeated in the Commons, the Conservatives were replaced in January 1924 by the first Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald, a minority administration which held office with the tacit acceptance of the other parties. The Labour government lasted only nine months and came to an end amid some controversy, but its short existence consolidated Labour's position as the main alternative to the Conservatives and exposed the Liberals to external pressures and internal conflict. The election of 1924, which saw Labour's defeat and the return of the Conservatives to power, also witnessed what appeared to be the final collapse of the Liberal party, its uncertain future resting in the hands of a mere forty MPs. The sequence of events that brought about this outcome needs to be examined with some care, as do the underlying processes of realignment which were influencing the evolution of the party system in the 1920s. How far were the developments that occurred the inevitable product of broad forces of social and political change, how far the result of the calculations and miscalculations of politicians themselves?

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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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