At last month’s meeting of the Western Front Association, Dr Martin Farr (Newcastle University) tackled an enormous subject in the time available to him, British Politics and the First World War.
Notwithstanding a natural reluctance to be drawn into a major confrontation on Continental Europe, Britain was able to set aside many of its own internal problems – for example, in Ireland; industrial disputes stemming from the growth of Trade Unions and Labour movements; and pressure for greater enfranchisement of the populace, notably for women, eventually to be drawn into a war destined to shape the rest of the 20th century and some consequences of which are still being felt today.
To illustrate the political changes which happened during the war, Martin drew comparisons between the General Election results of 1910 with those of 1918, by which time the Liberal Party was split between factions supporting Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, and that supporting Herbert Asquith, the party’s official leader.
Taking advantage of the feel-good factor following the signing of the Armistice, Lloyd George called a snap election.
It was the first General Election to be held after the vote was given to women over the age of 30 and to all men over the age of 21.
While most of the pro-coalition Liberals, Lloyd George’s supporters, were re-elected, Asquith’s faction was reduced dramatically, with Asquith himself losing his seat.
The coalition won a landslide victory and Lloyd George remained Prime Minister despite the fact that the Conservatives outnumbered his pro-coalition Liberals.
The Labour Party also greatly increased its share of the votes cast and, in Ireland, Sinn Fein gained control over most of the country, which soon led to the majority of Irish counties seceding from Great Britain.
The First World War resulted in great changes for Britain and British politics and society. Mainland Britain had been attacked for the first time in war. Eventually, the economy was placed on a total war footing; the role of women in war changed; the power of the press increased enormously, as did the influence of Trade Unions and the Labour Party; but the exhaustion of Britain’s pre-war wealth was to have far-reaching consequences.
The WFA’s next formal meeting will be on Monday, March 24, when Professor Emeritus John Derry will be returning to deliver his talk Haig: A Re-appraisal.
Other dates are April 28, The Martial Traditions of the North East of England: Understanding the Rush to the Colours in 1914, by Dr Dan Jackson, and May 26, Connect a River, Town and Castle – Answer, Northumbrian Warship by Phil Huntley.
Meetings take place at 7.15pm for 7.30pm at Alnmouth and District Ex-Servicemen’s Club, Northumberland Street, Alnmouth. Visitors and WFA members new to the branch welcome. The suggested minimum donation is £2, including supper.