By-Elections of the First Labour Government

  • Chris Cook


In the two years from the Newport by-election of October 1922 to the formation of Baldwin’s second ministry following the general election of October 1924, British politics underwent a period of rapid transition. These two years saw three general elections and four Prime Ministers. They also saw a transformation of the political scene: Lloyd George fell from power, never to hold office again; the Labour Party formed its first-ever administration, even though still a minority party. But of all the changes, the most lasting was perhaps the fate of the Liberal Party. Reunited and resuscitated, the party had fought the election of 1923 on its favourite fiscal battleground, with a vigour and a sense of purpose it had not known since pre-war days. Ten months later it emerged from the election of 1924 like the army of Napoleon which recrossed the Berezina in 1812, an exhausted, demoralised rabble that could never challenge successfully for supremacy again.


General Election Labour Government Labour Party Liberal Party Minority Government 
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  1. 1.
    For Rothermere’s part in this campaign, see entry dated 2 March 1923 in Lord Bayford’s diary, quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920–1924 (1971) p. 257.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For the reluctance of the local Labour Party to contest the seat at all, see R. McKibbin, ‘Labour: The Evolution of a National Party’, unpublished D.Phil. thesis (Oxford, 1971) p. 410.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    For two recent discussions on the significance of the 1923 general election, see Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920–24, and Chris Cook, ‘A Stranger Death of Liberal England’, in A. J. P. Taylor (ed.), Lloyd George: Twelve Essays (1971).Google Scholar
  4. 18.
    Quoted in K. Middlemas and J. Barnes, Baldwin: A Biography (1969).Google Scholar
  5. 23.
    For a useful account of this by-election, and of Liverpool politics during this period, see D. A. Roberts, ‘Religion and Politics in Liverpool since 1900’, unpublished M.Sc thesis. (London, 1965) pp. 96–8.Google Scholar
  6. 29.
    Much the most useful account of Oxford politics in this period is C. Fenby, The Other Oxford (1970). Google Scholar
  7. See also F. Gray, Confessions of a Cansdidate (1925).Google Scholar
  8. 33.
    Sec H. Dalton, Call Back Yesterday (1953) pp. 149–50.Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    D. E. Butler, The Electoral System in Britain since 1918, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1963) p. 181.Google Scholar
  10. 5.
    F. W. S. Craig, British Parliamentary Election Statistics, 191–1970, 2nd ed. (1971) p– 108.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Things were so bad by the summer of 1931 that it was recognised that an alliance with the Liberals was necessary if the government was to survive; see R. Skidelsky, Politicians and the Slump (1967) p. 333. Skidelsky believes that the alliance with Lloyd George gave Labour cause for ‘cautious optimism’. For an alternative view, see E. Shinwell, Conflict without Malice (1955) p. 109.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    The Liberal split is described in Roy Douglas, The History of the Liberal Party, 1895–1970 (1971) pp. 208–32.Google Scholar

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© Chris Cook 1973

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  • Chris Cook

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