Was the 1918 Representation of the People Act the main reason for the decline of the Liberals and the rise of Labour? [ESSAY]

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.


Do you agree that the victory of the Labour Party in 1945 was only possible because of Britain’s experience in WW2? [ESSAY]

After the tragedy of the Second World War (WW2), the British public wanted a strong, united party who would help Britain recover; they wanted a party who was progressive and brought hope for the future. It was the Labour Party who appeared to fulfill these requirements and won 393 seats in 1945 – 239 more seats than the previous election!I believe that the experiences of WW2 were crucial in this landslide victory because it brought to light the benefits of increased state intervention and decreased class divisions. However, I think that the past experiences of the Conservative administration, and Labour’s manifesto, were also an important part in this victory.

A well-known experience of WW2 was evacuation; because of air raids, children from the city had to part with their family homes to live in the countryside, often with a middle-class family. This exposed much of the middle class to the poor lifestyles and conditions faced by the working class in the cities – what the middle class took for granted, for example their own beds, running water and toilets, appeared to be an unknown luxury to many of the children. The middle class typically became sympathetic of these children and wanted change; this led to the middle class ‘shifting left’ on the political spectrum as they became more in favour of liberal policies – such as the Welfare State and the Beveridge Report, which I will go into more detail later – which will benefit the lower classes. Labour were the keen advocates of these liberal policies, hence these members of the middle class thought that voting for the Labour Party would be the ethical thing do do.

Another experience of the war was collectivism; due to the Conservative coalition during the war, a strategy of “Total War” was enforced; this meant that everyone was forced to give up something for the greater good of the country and the war effort. This often meant taking up some kind of wartime employment: many women got their first taste of full-time employment during this period, and I think that this was important in Labour’s victory. This is because Labour presented themselves as the party who would be most likely to continue this trend of female employment post-war, and women wanted to continue this work. Moreover, the treatment of these workers was quite good compared to the 1920s and 30s, given the circumstances. Many believed that this was due to increased nationalisation during wartime, such as London Transport. This led to state intervention being seen in a positive light, and helped with higher employment, a stronger economy, and a sense of stability and unity. Labour supported nationalisation, so this gave them the competitive advantage over the Conservatives and helped them win by a landslide victory.

Labour’s “Let Us Face The Future” manifesto helped Labour win the election because it was progressive and optimistic; it offered hope to the British, unlike the Conservative’s dull “Winston Churchill’s Declaration of Policy to the Electors” manifesto which had a now unappealing “Laissez Faire” outlook on economical and political matters. A specific policy which the two parties had differing opinions on was the 1942 Beveridge report which aimed to abolish issues in society like idleness and want, through establishing a Welfare State. Labour actively supported the report – this was in line with the British public’s opinion as the report had sold over half a million copies by the 1945 election. On the other hand, the Conservatives didn’t really promote the idea and the public got the impression that the Tories didn’t care about it. The 1944 Butler Education Act was another policy which of which the two parties had different opinions on. Again, Labour proudly supported the idea whilst the Tories remained neutral. This Act was important as it appealed to parents who wanted their children to have the opportunity to learn and have a bright future, after having such a hard time in the war. Therefore, I believe that Labour’s manifesto was very important to their landslide victory as it showed that their ideas were what the people wanted.

Another factor was the reputation of the past Conservative Administrations; although Churchill was the man who won the war, his comment on Labour’s policies needing the equivalent of the German Gestapo (Nazi secret police) horrified the British public, and Churchill’s claims were uncalled for and exaggerated, so the public didn’t think that he was suitable to lead the country into peace time. The public also had memories of the post-World War One conservative government and its failures to build the ‘Homes fit for Heroes’. They also remembered scandals surrounding Lloyd George, such as Cash for Honours; Churchill suggesting that Britain should be put onto the Gold Standard in 1925; the failure to cope with the 1931 financial crisis; and Chamberlain’s failed ‘Policy of Appeasement.’ All of this culminated into the idea that the Conservative party were not suitable for peace-time Britain. In contrast, Labour didn’t really have any negative connotations to post-war Britain as they only had a small amount of time in office during the interwar years (1924, 1929-31). therefore, the public based their opinions on the experiences of Labour during the war – and these were generally good. Ernest Bevin helped the TUC achieve the 1938 Holidays with Pay Act and used his position to improve wages and working conditions; Aneurin Bevan was known for being the champion of the working class and supporting a ‘cradle to grave’ system of welfare; and Clement Attlee cleverly manipulated the committee system to mobilise Britain’s resources as well as keeping the Home Front prospering. I believe that the mistakes of previous conservative post-war governments and the successes of Labour cabinet members during ww2 was more important than Labour’s manifesto in the landslide victory.

In conclusion, I believe that Britain’s experience during WW2 was crucial in Labour’s victory. Evacuation opened the middle-class’ eyes to the poor conditions faced by the working class, which in-turn shifted Britain left on the political spectrum. Collectivism united the country, and the successes of Nationalisation – which Labour championed – was seen as a good way to boost the economy and meet workers’ wants and needs. All of this would’ve have been brought to light if it weren’t for WW2. However, I think that Labour’s manifesto should be given some credit for their victory as it showed that they knew what Britain needed. Labour promoting progressive policies such as the Butler Act and the Beveridge Report was in agreement with what Britons wanted, whereas the Tories missed this opportunity to connect with the public. The successes of Labour members in the war cabinet, such as Bevin, Bevan and Attlee, gave the Labour Party a positive reputation; whereas the Tories were still remembered for their failure to build a ‘Home fit for Heroes’ and Chamberlain’s failed ‘Policy of Appeasement.’ Britain wanted a fresh start after the war – of course, they were to never forget the fallen – but they wanted to be able to move on from the past into a brighter future, and it was Labour who promised to give them this helping hand; and that is why Labour won by a landslide victory.