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

By David Powell | Go to book overview

7

Crisis resolved: the 1930s and after

The 1930s were a dangerous decade. Across the world, their passage was marked by economic depression, war and the approach of war. There was a rising challenge to democracy and liberal parliamentary systems of government, which few countries survived unscathed. The United States escaped its worst excesses, thanks to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, the Soviet Union and many of the countries of central and eastern Europe fell under the rule of dictatorship or a one-party state of left or right, while France suffered the near-permanent political crisis of the dying days of the Third Republic. Britain stood aside from these trends, but not wholly so. The National Government has been viewed as a species of dictatorship or one-party state. There were movements committed to extremism, revolution and political violence and opposed to parliamentary democracy. Not until the mid-1930s had the threat posed by these movements been neutralised and a measure of balance restored to the party system. This final chapter, accordingly, examines the nature and impact of the National Government, assesses the challenge presented by political extremism and concludes with a survey of the reviving party system as it was developing in the late 1930s and beyond.


The National Government

The reputation of the National Governments of the 1930s has fluctuated over time. For a long while, judged mainly on a Churchillian view of their foreign policy and the 'Guilty Men' perspective of their critics, they stood condemned in the dock of popular memory. These were the politicians, the 'little men', who had failed to deal with the mass unemployment of the depression and who had failed to stand up to Hitler, exposing thousands to poverty and thousands more to the death and destruction of the Second World War. 1 Recently a more balanced view has prevailed. 2 The foreign policy of the National Governments, especially relating to the 'appeasement' of Hitler and the question of rearmament, has been sympathetically reappraised. 3 The governments have been given credit, too, for the imagination and variety of their domestic policies, including those in the economic and social field, and for their handling of other

-171-

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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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