Nineteen Thirty-One Political Crisis

By R. Bassett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE BACKGROUND (1)

THE THREE-PARTY SYSTEM

What happened in 1931 can be properly understood only in the light of the extremely confused political situation which then existed. To-day ( 1957) the domestic political scene is dominated by two great parties, the Conservative and Labour Parties. That has been so, and to a steadily increasing degree, throughout the years following the Second World War and the abrupt ending of the war-time Coalition in the early summer of 1945; although the process was well under way before the War came. During this period, both major parties have held office with substantial majorities in the House of Commons; the Labour Party, for the first time in its history, from 1945 to 1950; the Conservative Party, for the first time since 1929, from 1955 to date. It is true that in 1950-51 the Labour Government had an extremely slender majority in the House of Commons, and that in the three-and-ahalf years immediately following the Conservative Government's majority, though larger, was still unusually small. It is also true that neither party has yet succeeded in obtaining a majority of the votes cast at a General Election, although both have come very near doing so. For the Liberal Party still survives, despite crippling electoral discouragement, and is much stronger in the country than its tiny representation at Westminster might suggest. Minor parties also exist; and certainly the influence of the Communist Party is not to be measured by the fact that it has no avowed representative in the House of Commons. None the less it is both usual and legitimate to speak of a Two-Party alignment or 'system' in present circumstances. But no such system functioned in the period between the Wars, nor had functioned, even leaving the Irish Nationalists out of account, for at least a decade before. In the 'twenties and early 'thirties, indeed, it was customary to speak of 'the Three-Party system', and that phrase over-simplified the

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