Britain between the Wars
Politics during the inter-war years
How was Britain governed in the inter-war period?
In 1918, at the end of the First World War, Britain was still a constitutional monarchy, in so far that this form of government consisted in a balance between the monarch and the parliament. This “mixed” government had the advantage to respect the idea ofdemocracy (rule of the people, for the people, by the people”) through the elections but meanwhile to prevent tyranny while enabling effectiveness.
“It is by this mixture of monarchical, aristocratical and democratical power, blended together in one system, and by these three estates balancing one another, that our free constitution has been preserved so long inviolate” declared 18th-century theoristHenry St John Bolingbroke. A few centuries later, in May 1945, Prime Minister Winston Churchill would tell the House of Commons:
“If it be true, as has been said, that every country gets the form of
government it deserves, we may certainly flatter ourselves. The
wisdom of our ancestors has led us to an envied and enviable
situation. We have the strongest Parliament in the world. We have
theoldest, the most famous, the most secure, the most serviceable
monarchy in the world. King and Parliament both rest safely and
solidly upon the will of the people expressed by free and fair election
on the basis of universal suffrage. Thus the system has long worked
harmoniously, both in peace and in war.”
Contrary to absolute monarchy where the king detains all the powers, the politicalinfluence of the monarch was here limited by a written document called the Constitution. Besides, the monarch acted as the ceremonial head of the state and had to elect a Prime Minister, leader of the largest party and so of the government, who would exercise effective political power. As for the king, he would only undertake key ceremonial duties such as receiving foreign visitors, staging banquetsand signing treaties, besides embodying the national will.
George V (1865 – 1936) from the House of Windsor was then King of the United Kingdom, of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions but also Emperor of India between 1910 and 1936, having succeeded to Edward VII, his father.
In WWI he played only a minor role: he tried to appease British nationalist feelings bychanging his name from the more German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor, and he offered asylum to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, his first cousin, when he was overthrown in 1917.
During the post-war years, he gained the crowd’s adulation with modesty though, thanks to his campaign against government’s sanctions and killings, preferring moderation. George was concerned abouthis people and reproached Prime Minister Lloyd George, who was known for his inflammatory actions: “Try living on their wages before you judge them”. Moreover, he managed to maintain a certain political stability while monarchies in other countries such as Austria, Germany and Spain were failing. His influence across Europe even increased considerably as many countries were ruled by his relatives.His reign was followed by those of his eldest son Edward VIII who abdicated the year of his father’s death, leaving his brother Albert to ascend to the throne as George VI (1936-1952).
The Parliament was divided into a lower house which was also the first chamber: the House of Commons, and an upper house or second chamber called the House of Lords (the honorific status of Lord at theParliament is hereditary contrary to the Commons). The two assemblies engaged in a whole range of activities such as representing the authority of the country, making laws (legislative power), scrutinising the actions of the executive power (government including the Prime Minister), controlling finances (raising taxes)…
There were and still are three main political parties in Britain: the Labour...
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