Account For The Rise Of The Labour

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Account For The Rise Of The Labour Party 1900 – 31 Essay, Research Paper The setting up of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 caused no great stir at the time, and there were few who regarded it as more than another pressure group aiming to strengthen the labour cause. However, by 1931 the Labour Party had been in office on two occasions and had overtaken the Liberals as the second party in Britain. How did this situation arise? What factors, social, economic, and political played a part? What contribution did individuals make? What effect did circumstances such as the First World War and the decline of the Liberal party have on Labour’s dramatic rise? And how did the party’s own legislative record contribute to its increased popularity? In this essay I have

paid particular attention to a factor inextricably linked to Labour’s rise, the fortunes of Britain’s ’second-party’ in 1900 – the Liberal Party. The interaction of these two parties over the first 30 years of the century go most of the way to explaining why in 1924 and 1929 Labour was able to win general elections. ` ` `Certainly, during the decade before the First World War there seemed no inevitability about Labour’s rise, at least to contemporaries. The basic fact about British politics then was the domination of the great Liberal Party. This meant, therefore, that far from expanding as an independent after 1900 there was a distinct possibility that the Labour Party would be absorbed by the Liberals, as the Liberal Unionists had been by the Conservatives after

1895, or become a small and dwindling left-wing group like the I.L.P. in the 1930s. In the event, partly due to MacDonald’s much-maligned leadership, this did not happen and Labour independence was maintained. But the ideal of Labour independence implied expansion based on capturing a larger section of the working-class vote: and this could only be done at the expense of liberalism. Hence the relationship between the Liberal and Labour parties during the pre-war period is one of the crucial problems in the history of the rise of the Labour Party. Can we already before 1914 discern the beginnings of future Liberal decline and Labour expansion? ` `A number of historians believe that they can. Indeed, the theme of pre-war Liberal decay has until very recently become something of

an established orthodoxy, mainly due perhaps to the impressionistic brilliance of George Dangerfield’s “The Strange Death of Liberal England.” Dangerfield’s thesis has been given a partial and more scholarly justification by the writings of recent historians like Henry Pelling and Paul Thompson, in his study of London politics between 1885 and 1914 has pointed to the financial and organisational weaknesses of the Liberal Party up to 1906; its failures in local elections; its continuing links with middle-class nonconformist ambitions; and its general inability to adapt itself to working-class needs and aspirations. Hence the Conservative domination of London in the later nineteenth century. Even the Liberal victory of 1906 was, he argues, not a genuine revival, but the

result of a number of special, though ephemeral, advantages gained by the Liberals as a result of the unpopularity of Conservative policies. ‘The recovery of the nineteen-hundreds’, he writes, ‘gave a deceptive illusion of strength, for it was not based on the solution of the Liberal Party’s real problems. It still lacked a firm working-class basis, a secure financial backing and a coherent political standpoint’. This view has been reinforced by the attitude of Bealey and Pelling towards the election of 1906, which they see not as a profound demand for a ‘new’ liberalism of social reform and increased state activity, but of a hankering after the old – elected school boards and free trade – a viewpoint which fits in well with Pelling’s own scepticism about the