After World War One (WW1), Britain wanted a strong, reliable leader who could help reform Britain into a much more stable – both politically and economically – country. The Liberals were very popular during the war, as many people viewed Lloyd George as the man who won the war. However, legislation, scandals and even the personalities of the politicians themselves caused controversy; this shifted Britain to the left and led to the decline of the Liberals, thus enabling the rise of Labour.
A significant new piece of legislation, the 1918 Representation of the People Act, gave men over the age of 21 and women over 30 the right to vote. This was important as it gave a much larger proportion of society the ability to take part in democracy – in fact, the size of the electorate in 1918 (21.4MM) was almost triple that of 1912(7.7MM)! This contributed to the rise in Labour as many of these new workers were working class(80% of voters after 1918 were working class) who were previously not regarded as ‘important enough’ to vote. This led to the rise of Labour as they advertised themselves as the most likely party to continue this upward trend of the importance of the working class, partly due to their party being supported by trade union funds – of which most members were also working class. Furthermore, this led to the decline of the Liberals as their post-war policies were seen as too-right wing for peacetime; this led to an increase in rebound Labour supporters, who supported the Liberals during wartime but were then Labour supporters after the war. However, the 1918 Representation of the People act was not entirely significant; the act increased the electorate of ALL classes, so there was also the increase in potential Conservative and Liberal voters. This means that “Labourism” did not experience a massive spike in support post-war, as not all of the new voters were working class and/or Labour supporters. Moreover, the women who were given suffrage had to meet a minimum property qualification; these women who met the qualification would have to be a part of a family with considerable money to afford property, thus unlikely to be working class nor a Labour supporter. In addition, many people – including women – still held traditional views, such as stability and family values: something Labour did not promote. Hence, these new voters who supported tradition would not likely vote Labour as they were more likely to be in a higher class, due to the property qualification, and still held traditional views, which Labour did not promote; therefore this legislation was not the main reason for the decline of the Liberals or the rise of the Labour party.
The relationships within the Liberal party was a major of their decline. The British public wanted stability after the war, so this meant a stable party in power. The Liberals did not offer this: the party was split between Lloyd George and Asquith supporters and was not seen as a united. This led to the decline of the Liberal party because how can Britain trust a party who claims to unite Britain, yet fail to unite their own party? In contrast, the Labour party were not only seen as the Party of the Working Class – they were united. There were no major internal disputes within Labour, leading to the rise of Labour; the British public viewed Labour as a responsible party who could help Britain recover from the war. The leadership of Ramsay MacDonald (until he ‘betrayed’ the party in 1929) also contributed to the rise of Labour – despite not having a majority in the House of Commons, legislation was still passed on housing, education, unemployment and social insurance, due to MacDonald’s involvement. MacDonald also had a stronger bond with the public because he was from a working class background and admitted some other members who were also from such a background. Therefore, Labour being united and the Liberals being disunited was an important reason for the decline of the Liberals as they did not fulfill the public’s want for a stable party; and the rise of Labour due to being seen as more capable to keep their party together. MacDonald was also important the rise of Labour as the public believed he was a good representative of the working class; the public believed that he understood their wants and needs more than the other politicians which were mostly middle or upper class, thus supported Labour.
Not only were the Liberal party disunited, their leader’s reputation was worsening. After the brutality of the war, Britain wanted an honest Prime Minister. Lloyd George appeared to fit the bill, until the 1920s. The 1918 Maurice Debate accused the War Cabinet of lying to Parliament about the number of troops on the Western Front; this led to Asquith attacking and blaming Lloyd George, making the split in the Liberal party more prominent. Although Lloyd George successfully cleared his name, it is still a small reason for the decline of the Liberals as it presented him as deceitful; if he lied to Parliament during the war, it’s plausible that he would even try to deceive the British public in the future… (though what’s new, for a politician?) Furthermore, the Cash for Honours Scandal presented Lloyd George as untrustworthy. It was revealed that Lloyd George accepted money to give out titles, and then did not share this money with the Liberal party. As a result, the Liberals could not afford to field enough candidates for the 1922, 1923 and 1924 elections – a leader who kept money from his own party would surely withheld money from the public? That being the case, Lloyd George’s reputation was an important factor in the decline of the Liberals because any negative connotations to his name directly translate to the reputation Liberal party, since he is the leader, thus the public lost faith and support in the Liberals. This links in with the rise of Labour as they had not held office before 1924, so had no bad reputation to be criticised on, hence the rise in the Labour party.
Though the actions of the Conservatives and Labour are just as important as the actions of the Liberals. Labour’s finances during the campaign were handled extremely well; they received funds from trade unions which they used to advertise themselves effectively and grab the attention of voters. The electorate are impressionable to propaganda during campaigns, so Labour having a better organised campaign links to them having a higher public opinion, hence their victory in 1929. The actions of the Conservatives after the 1926 General Strike were also significant: they introduced the 1927 Trade Union Act, which outlawed strikes. The working class viewed this as a restriction of their ability to express their concerns, and they believed that the Tories didn’t care for their wants or needs. Labour appeared to care about tackling unemployment and working conditions, and they supported the workers during the strike- this built up the trust and support of the working class towards Labour. This was an important factor in the rise of Labour as those who supported the strike began to support Labour as they thought that the Conservative party did not care about their needs or interests but Labour did.
In conclusion, I believe that the Representation of the People Act was not the main reason for the decline of the Liberals nor the rise of Labour. However, the Act did increase the electorate and gave suffrage to many more members of the working class. Post-war, Britain did shift left on the political spectrum and, using this Act, Labour promoted themselves as the party who would continue to support the working class during peacetime. Though the Act was not very significant as it increased the electorate of ALL classes and workers, not just Labour supporters; and many of these new voters still held traditional values, which Labour did not promote. I believe the reputation of Lloyd George and the split in the Liberal Party was the main reason for the fall of the Liberals – a party claiming to unite a country, yet can’t unite themselves, is not very electable. Additionally, the Maurice Debate and the Cash for Honours Scandal presented Lloyd George as untrustworthy, which is not an appealing feature of a Prime Minister. On the other hand, Labour had no negative past nor connotations, so appeared to be a fresh party which could rejuvenate Britian after the War. Moreover, Labour supported the workers during the General Strike – this meant that the public believed that Labour were the party who cared about The People the most, hence support for Labour increased. Hence, the main reason for the decline of the Liberals and the rise of Labour was due to the negative reputation of the Liberal party, which was due to the split in the party and the scandals involving Lloyd George.