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

By David Powell | Go to book overview

6

Politicians and the slump, 1924-31

The late 1920s saw an apparent settling down of the new party system. The Conservative government elected in 1924 served a full five-year term and had expectations of being returned to power for a further period of office. However, at the 1929 election a combination of Labour advance and Liberal revival produced another 'hung' parliament and a second minority Labour government. Between 1929 and 1931 all three parties experienced serious internal problems and the renewed instability raised more general doubts about the future of the party system as a whole. Finally, in the summer of 1931, a major financial and political crisis led to the fall of the second Labour government and the formation of another coalition. The subsequent landslide victory of this 'National Government' in the general election of 1931 upset the delicate balance of forces that had been evolving in the 1920s, although whether this was a temporary diversion or a more fundamental change in the direction of Britain's political development it was too early to tell. What was clear, though, throughout the period, was the common thread provided by the inability of politicians and the existing party system to cope with Britain's deepening economic problems and the sudden consequences of world recession. As in other countries, where economic crisis resulted in the collapse of parties and a challenge to democratic values, so too in 1931 Britain stood on the brink of a more serious test of its social and political fabric than at any time since the First World War.


The new party system, 1924-9

Two trends that had been in train since the 1860s reached their culmination in the 1920s. One was the process of the formal democratisation of the political system by means of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act, which gave women over 21 the vote on the same terms as men, creating an enlarged electorate of 28.8 million in which for the first time women were in a majority. 1 The second was the trend that accompanied the transition from an aristocratic system to one of mass politics, namely the growing importance of a range of economic, social and labour questions in political debate. This 'industrialisation' of politics in turn had two related aspects. On the one hand it pushed industrial and welfare issues to the fore, so that in the 1920s politicians were having to grapple with the prob-

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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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