Britain, 1929-1939

Economically, the Great Depression hit Britain harder than, for instance, France, because the British government stuck to the GOLD STANDARD and was unwilling to devaluate the pound. Unemployment rose and British goods had problems competing with cheaper imports. This policy was given up in 1931. PM James Ramsay MacDonald introduced a severe cut in state expenses, among the measures a strong cut in unemployment benefits - which caused the far majority of his LABOUR PARTY to desert his government and expel him from the party. With the support of the Conservatives, and a few devoted supporters (NATIONAL LABOUR), MacDonald continued to preside a NATIONAL GOVERNMENT (until 1935).
Despite the difficult economic situation, British government was remarkably stable. Here the British constitution, favouring the stronger parties and refusing proportional representation to the smaller parties, paid; extremists both on the right and on the left fringe of the political spectrum (Communists respectivelt the National Front) were unable to present themselves as political alternatives.

The rise of Adolf Hitler and his NSDAP to power in Germany had a lasting impact on Europe's balance of power. British public opinion, however, accepted that Germany in the Treaty of Versailles had been treated unfairly and many therefore were willing to make concessions. Thus there was little reaction when German forces occupied the German, but demilitarized Rhineland in 1935. The annexation (ANSCHLUSS) of Austria in 1938 alarmed the politically informed, but was insufficient to rally the mass of the people to support an active policy preparing for war - as Hitler himself was Austrian and the entire nation German-speaking, some legitimacy was seen in the act.
When, in September 1938, Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia over the SUDETENLAND issue, PM ARTHUR NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN was forced to face the situation. With the INTIFADA going on in Palestine and Britain having neglected to modernize it's forces, Chamberlain gave in to Hitler's demands; he had bought time. When Chamberlain returned to Britain, he proclaimed PEACE IN OUR TIME; yet he knew better. War was inevitable, and Britain now took all steps necessary to prepare for it.

James Ramsay MacDonald, from The Essential Guide to Aberdeen; from Spartacus Schoolnet
Stanley Baldwin, Biography from Spartacus Schoolnet
Neville Chamberlain, Biography from Spartacus Schoolnet
DOCUMENTS Peace for Our Time, Speech by Neville Chamberlain, Sept. 30th 1938, from
REFERENCE Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm, NY : Bantam (1948) 1961 [G]
Chapters XVIII : England : The Ruling Classes, pp.282-295; XIX : The Abdication Crisis, pp.296-308; XX : Chamberlain, Baldwin, Churchill, pp.309-333; XXI : Men of Whitehall, pp.334-354; XXII : Left and Right in England, pp.355-365 in : John Gunther, Inside Europe, 1940 war edition, NY : Harper & Bros. 1940 [G]
Article : United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in : Statesman's Year Book 1932 pp.3-66, 1937 pp.3-71 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on August 23rd 2007

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