Politics in Confusion
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Politics in Confusion 1918-24

Coupon election 1918

  • First general election since representation on people act 1918
  • 8 million new voters eligible, 6 million women and 2 million men
  • Election not fought on typical party lines
  • Coalition of Lloyd George Liberals and Conservatives continued
  • Lloyd George now totally dependent on Conservatives to remain in office
  • Conservatives saw continuation of Coalition as a good thing for them, continue in power and could remove Lloyd George anytime
  • Liberals still split, many areas had 2 Liberal candidates standing
  • ‘Coupon Election’ as Lloyd George and Bonar Law gave coupons to their candidates
  • This let the electorate know who was genuine coalition candidate
  • Coalition won easily, mainly due to popularity of Lloyd George(man who won war)
  • Also Lloyd George offering ‘Country fit for heroes’ if remained in office
  • Coalition won 478 seats, 335 Conservatives, 133 Lloyd George Liberals and 10 Labour supporters
  • Labour won 63 seats making them the opposition for the first time
  • Election disaster for Liberals whose representation was halved and Asquith lost seat
  • Though triumph for Lloyd George as remained on power was dependent on Conservatives
  • Had majority enough to form own government
  • However, Bonar Law was admirer of Lloyd George and recognised popularity in election partially due to Lloyd George

Problems faced by coalition

Demobilisation of troops

  • Began by allowing those holding key civilians jobs to leave first
  • Protests broke out and the government changed to ‘first in first out’ policy
  • By 1919 4 million troops had been demobbed
  • Most found jobs due to post war boom
  • Encouraging beginning to post war Britain


  • Sudden rise in inflation after end of war
  • Partly due to governments removal of wartime controls on prices, profits and guaranteed wage levels
  • Prices and profits rose but wages fell behind
  • Trade unions fought to protect their members, over 2000 strikes in 1919-20
  • However, disillusionment not caused simply by low wages
  • Working class had become bitter about position after life in the trenches
  • This only intensified the gap between the classes in Britain
  • The workers had been conscripted into the fighting, while the capitalists and profiteers had had earned money from the war
  • The government were fearful of a revolution happening as had recently taken place in Russia
  • Strikes and riots happened in Scotland in February and March 1919
  • Miners wanted 6 hour working day, 30% wage increase and continued government control of all mines
  • Fearful of revolution Lloyd George offered 7 hour day continued government control for time being and ordered the Sankey Commission to investigate the problem
  • The miners accepted the offer for a while

Economic slump 1921

  • 2 million unemployed by end of 1921
  • Caused by slow decline of British economy which had been underway since 1870
  • The requirements of war had boosted steel, coal and textile industries
  • Peace meant demand fell
  • Many foreign buyers had been unable to obtain British goods during war and had sought other alternatives
  • Once the war was over British exports, Shipbuilding, textiles, coal, iron and steel never returned to previous levels

National Insurance

  • In 1920 the government had extended the National Insurance Act to pay unemployment for longer than the 15 weeks arranged in the 1911 Act
  • Boom conditions had applied and mass unemployment was not expected
  • After the slump of 1921 payments were outweighing contributions
  • Labour criticised the payments as treating the symptoms rather than finding a cure
  • Claimed the payments were too low
  • Conservatives condemned the payments as they would demoralise the workers
  • However, with the payments the Coalition eased the situation and could have prevented a revolution

Coal Industry troubles

  • Whether to remain under government control or return to private ownership
  • Matters worsened on 1 April 1921 when the entire industry went on strike
  • This was because the Sankey commission had failed to agree on a solution
  • Some recommended return to private some continued government control
  • Bitterly disappointed miners who wanted nationalisation
  • Lloyd George able to return mines to private ownership on findings of Sankey report
  • Miners felt Lloyd George, one of their own, had turned his back on them
  • Miners were told that due to lowering demand in exports wages would be reduced
  • Miners threatened general strike
  • On 15th April 1921 triple alliance allies, railwaymen and transport workers, abandoned idea
  • Known as ‘Black Friday’ of the trade union movement
  • Miners continued alone for 3 months
  • Position was hopeless and they had to give way on all points
  • Soon after workers in other trades had to accept wage reductions
  • Shipbuilding, engineering, building, textiles, printing and railways
  • Lloyd George had been victorious in sense that strike had failed and general strike avoided
  • However, he was quickly losing popularity with working community

Reduction in Government Revenue and ‘Geddes Axe’

  • Lack of money coming into treasury through taxation
  • Caused by slump in exports and internal sales
  • Lowering of taxation on wages due to unemployment
  • And unemployment benefits being paid
  • Committee under supervision of Sir Eric Geddes recommended drastic cuts in expenditure
  • Government took advice and saved £64 million
  • Became known as ‘Geddes Axe’
  • Involved reduction of expenditure in army, navy, education, health services and building of council housing
  • Measures were successful but highly unpopular
  • Labour and Left wing Liberals criticised government and declared Lloyd George prisoner of Conservatives


  • Trouble flared up in Ireland soon after 1918 election
  • Sinn Fein went from just 7 seats to holding majority in Ireland with 73
  • The Irish Nationalists fell to just 6 seats and were forgotten
  • The Sinn Fein members refused to take up seats in Westminster and set up their own parliament in Dublin, Dail Eireann, and proclaimed the Republic of Ireland
  • IRA began campaign of terror against police
  • Government retaliated by sending in ‘Black and Tans’
  • Many Liberals resented Lloyd George’s use of black and tans
  • Conservatives were furious union of Britain and Ireland had been destroyed
  • Serious for Lloyd George as future in power was dependent of Conservative support

Foreign affairs


  • Under pressure from Conservatives Lloyd George sent British troops to aid anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia
  • British troops were withdrawn having achieved nothing in 1919 as Bolsheviks were victorious
  • Russian communists and British admirers resented Lloyd George’s intervention
  • He quickly moved for Anglo-Russian trade treaty to help reconciliation

Genoa Conference 1922

  • Growing tension between France and Germany over reparations
  • Germany complaining could not afford instalments
  • Lloyd George sought French reductions and resuming of Russian relations with Europe
  • Conference failure
  • French refused all compromise, America refused to attend, Russia offended by demands to honour all debts by the Tsarist government
  • Germans and Russians withdrew and signed Rapallo agreement
  • Both countries wiped of debts
  • Other nations concerned of agreement between 2 suspect states and blamed Lloyd George

Chanak Incident 1922

  • Event which triggered Lloyd George’s downfall
  • Turks threatened to break Versailles treaty by moving troops to neutral zone
  • Clashing with British occupied zone
  • Lloyd George threatened war with the entire British Empire if the Turks overstepped boundary
  • Crisis passed as compromise reached
  • Lloyd George had failed to consult Commonwealth Prime Ministers before declaring them into war
  • Conservatives outraged and seen as unforgivable rashness

Fall of Lloyd George

  • Had been losing working class support due to actions
  • Labour had won 13 by elections between 1918-22
  • Conservatives members met at Carlton Club to discuss Lloyd George and the continuation of the coalition
  • Vote went 185 to 85 in favour of ending coalition
  • Lloyd George resigned and Bonar Law became Prime Minister
  • Conservatives abandoned Lloyd George for:
    • Solution of Ireland with division
    • Chanak incident
    • Sale of Knighthoods for cash, so Lloyd George could fund own party without coalition

Political and social reforms undertaken by coalition

  • Sex Disqualification Removal Act 1919
  • Allowed women to stand for parliament
  • Addison Housing Act 1919
  • Extension of unemployment benefits
  • Increase in Old Age Pensions
  • The Rent Act 1920
  • Protected working class tenants against excessive rent increase

Conservatives 1922-24

Election November 1922

  • Conservatives won decisive victory
  • Won 345 seats and held majority
  • Liberals still divided won 62 Asquith and 54 Lloyd George
  • Combined 116
  • Labour had emerged as main opposition with 142 seats
  • Bonar Law resigned in May 1923 through ill health
  • Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister
  • He supported Joseph Chamberlain’s Tariff reform and decided to give the nation the chance to cote on the matter

Tariff Reform again!

  • Bonar Law had previously promised that the Conservatives would not introduce Tariff reforms
  • Baldwin decided only fair to give voters chance to decide
  • Baldwin argued that tariff reform would make foreign food and goods more expensive in Britain and give a boost to British goods
  • He believed that the growing unemployment would therefore be ended quickly
  • The Liberals reunited under Asquith and campaigned under free trade
  • Together with Labour they argued free trade would keep down the cost of food and living for British workers
  • Conservatives won 258 seats, Labour 191 and Liberals 159
  • This was a clear defeat for protectionism
  • Labour would form a minority government for the first time with the support of the Liberals

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