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The Liberal Party in the 1920s

Mark Rathbone identifies the missing ingredients that prevented Liberal revival.

The reasons for the decline of the Liberal Party in the early years of the 20th century have provided plenty of material for historical controversy. The reasons why, having declined so far by 1918, the Liberal Party failed to reestablish itself during the 1920s represent comparatively less well-trodden ground.

'The Liberal Party which came back to Westminster [in 1906] with an overwhelming majority was already doomed,' according to George Dangerfield, in his book The Strange Death of Liberal England. Whether you believe, like Paul Adelman, that 'it was the Great War which began the real decline of the Liberal party', or whether you agree with Dangerfield's argument that it dates from well before 1914, the fact that the Liberal Party did decline is indisputable. From its landslide victory with 400 MPs in 1906 it had slumped by 1918 to two bitterly hostile factions, one tied to the Conservative majority in the Lloyd George coalition, the other reduced to a rump of only 28 MPs.

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