Growth of the Labour Party
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How did Labour become a strong party during World War I

Outbreak of war

  • Divisions formed within party
  • Conservatives and Irish Nationals fully supported war effort behind Liberals
  • Patriotic members – wanted to join in war effort
  • Moderate group – some support only when not effecting working class
  • Radical group – totally opposed as believed imperialist conspiracy
  • Many within Labour held pacifists views
  • War morally wrong and could not be supported
  • Ramsay MacDonald resigns as could not support war, form Union of Democratic Control
  • Arthur Henderson becomes leader

Failure of Liberals during war

  • Failed to provide adequate arms for war effort
  • Unionists refused to continue supporting Liberals under Asquith’s rule
  • Asquith original plan to fight war with ‘business as usual’ at home
  • Asquith agrees to coalition of major parties
  • Henderson invited onto coalition to help control trade unions
  • Trade unions important part of war effort, control workers and output
  • Labour had now arrived in national politics for first time having say
  • Henderson became involved in disputes with cabinet  members
  • Debate on adopting Russian aims of ‘no annexations and no indemnities’ and ‘no takeovers and no reparations’
  • Henderson resigns and replaced by George Barnes

After World War I

  • Began to heal divisions
  • Drafted ‘Labour and new social order’ manifesto, giving clear socialist views
  • New constitution for party including ‘clause four’
  • Promising state control of economy for benefit of workers
  • MacDonald and Henderson become joint leaders of party
  • Conference November 11th 1918 demanded resignation of Labour from coalition
  • Many did, those who did not, resigned from Labour party
  • Labour only party to fight general election as independent party
  • Failed to win breakthrough with only 59 seats
  • All but one sponsored by unions


  • Independence gave Labour united front and removed them from failings of Liberals
  • New programme gave working class a chance of better future under Labour party
  • A future of socialism and reforms for benefit of working class

What effect did World War I have on Labour party?

  • Gained experience and credibility from being on war cabinet at difficult time
  • Shown to voting public could be part of government
  • Divisions formed on outbreak of war failed to have detrimental effect
  • Unlike liberals divisions which destroyed party
  • MacDonald’s time away from party gave chance to strengthen manifesto with UDC
  • Labour constitution gave chance to unite factions under one party
  • Created aims which would win working class support

Other factors in Labour becoming opposition

Formation of Labour Representation Committee

  • Formed by delegation of different socialist groups
  • Agreed to cooperate to promote labour interests
  • Created recognition for one united labour group to fight for workers in parliament
  • Gained support and funding of trade unions after Taff Vale
  • Gave stronger looking left wing and led to Liberals seeing opportunity for pact to help win election against Conservatives, but got Labour first elected positions
  • Conservatives party split at time through Tariff reform

Taff Vale 1901

  • Caused many working class voters to turn away from Conservative party
  • Conservatives showed were unwilling to support working men
  • Working class began to recognise need for working class party in parliament
  • Dispute between rail workers and owners led to strike
  • Company took union to court for loss of earnings during strike
  • Ended at House of Lords (highest court of appeal in land)
  • Lords voted in favour of company
  • Trade unions and workers could now not afford to strike as could be punished
  • Gave workers little power in demanding better quality conditions and pay
  • Conservatives showed were in favour of wealthy
  • Led to trade unions realising need to support a Labour party financially and electorally

Demise of Liberals

  • Split of Liberals during World War I
  • Liberals split before
  • Asquith and Lloyd George fell out over war economy
  • Asquith had failed to supply adequate munitions to front line
  • Public recognised failure of Liberals under Asquith
  • Coalition formed but still weak under Asquith leadership
  • Conservatives moved against Asquith
  • Asquith resigns as Prime Minister but stays on as leader of Liberals
  • Lloyd George becomes Prime Minister of coalition
  • Two factions formed in Liberals party
  • Traditional Liberals Asquith and new Liberals Lloyd George
  • Lloyd George although Prime Minister could never become leader of party whilst Asquith remained
  • Meant Lloyd George continued with coalition after war to remain in power

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