How the Great War wiped out the Liberal Party as a political force – The Telegraph

Posted: October 17, 2022 at 10:18 am

But the book also contains precise and insightful pen portraits of the leading politicians, and deals in depth with British foreign policy though the author perhaps understates the role King Edward VII played in the formation of foreign policy during his reign, and the anxiety the entente cordiale caused Balfour, his then prime minister, and Lansdowne, his foreign secretary. He also seeks to explode various myths that he says have become common currency, but it is up to the reader to decide how far they are received wisdom, and how convincing the author is in dismantling them. Bogdanor is adamant that the Labour Party was in no position to overtake the Liberals in 1914, but only a mad person would disagree with that.

He also calls it a myth that male misogyny delayed womens suffrage, but Asquith, prime minister until December 1916, was the incarnation of that misogyny, and it was not until weeks before he was forced out of office that, in the light of the contribution women had made to the war effort, he relented. And it was not Britain that was close to civil war in 1914, but Ireland. On the other hand, Bogdanor successfully quashes some genuine myths, for instance that the 1905 Aliens Act was inherently anti-Semitic, or that the concentration camps for civilians that Britain established during the Boer War were akin to the extermination camps of the Nazis.

What is most impressive about this book is the authors forensic attention to the legislation that shaped early-20th-century Britain and left a long legacy: such as the National Insurance Act of 1911 that laid the foundations of the welfare state, the legislation that brought in old-age pensions from 1909, and the attempt at land reform. Some of his interpretations are questionable, but the facts are all here and clearly ordered and set out, and a crucial and fascinating period in British history made intelligible.

The Strange Survival of Liberal Britain by Vernon Bogdanor is published by Biteback at 35. To order your copy for 30, call 0844 871 1514 or visit Telegraph Books

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How the Great War wiped out the Liberal Party as a political force - The Telegraph

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