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War and the State - The Transformation of British Government, 1914-1919

Essential study of the First World War and how it transformed the machinery of government.

John Campbell | Published in
  • War and the State: The Transformation of British Government, 1914-1919. edited by Kathleen Burk. 181 pp. (Allen & Unwin, 1982)
Kathleen Burk has achieved something few editors even try to do: she has produced, from the contributions of several different hands, a real book. It is a book, she tells us in her Introduction, of which she first felt the need as a postgraduate student: having identified the gap, she has now filled it. The idea of War and the State is to look beneath the familiar generalisations that the experience of war in various ways transformed the machinery of British government to examine in close detail precisely how it was transformed (and in some cases whether it was). Some of these generalisations survive the scrutiny of Dr Burk's seven specialists (most of whom – though she does not tell us so – have already published books on related subjects); others do not, or are subtly reformulated.

In the first category, Chris Wrigley thoroughly confirms the high reputation of Lloyd George's Ministry of Munitions as a radically innovative department; its innovations were specific to wartime, however, and were lost with the return of peace. Rodney Lowe, conversely, demonstrates why the Ministry of Labour, though it did survive to become a permanent department of government, was and remained ineffective. Dr Burk's own essay valuably explores – after an elegant introduction to the mandarins concerned – some of the ways in which the Treasury extended its empire during the war into previously undreamed of areas which it subsequently never let go, taking control on the one hand of such critical levers of economic policy as interest rates and the exchange rate, and on the other of the totality of government spending.

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