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I assume that Henderson, who was Secretary of the Party, and its de facto strategist, saw that the Lloyd George/Unionist coup was to the advantage of the Labour Party, presenting it with an opportunity for advance as a Party which would not exist if the Liberal Party remained functional to the end of the War, and that this was an element in his decision to support the coup—which he did by agreeing to take Office in a Government that was predominantly Unionist.  And I suppose he also saw that Asquith, though a pioneer of the Liberal Imperialist development that broke free of Gladstoneism, retained too much of Gladstoneism in his attitudes to be an effective leader of the War that he had launched.

In a remarkable achievement he maintained the unity of the Labour Party and enabled its anti-War element to remain in the party, and rise to the leadership later.  The anti-War leaders had put themselves out of court, requiring police protection for their anti-War meetings.  However, they remained in the Party and the mantle of respectability, gained by participation in the Wartime Coalitions, was spread over them, enabling Macdonald to go on to become Prime Minister, with Snowden as his Chancellor of the Exchequer.

If this aspect of things has been written about, I have not come across it. About 25 years ago I looked for information about the formation of the wartime Coalitions and it seemed that no major book had been written about them, although they were the means by which the Unionists slipped from armed rebellion into Government without the awkwardness of an Election.

The Liberal Party was broken by those Coalitions, as was its Redmondite ally.  When the dust settled in the early 1920s they were not there anymore.  In their place were the Labour Party and Sinn Fein.  Labour could have seen no advantage in probing the murky side of its emergence as the second Party of the state.  Sinn Fein was a beneficiary of Redmondite self-destruction through the mode of its involvement in British politics, but had played no part in it as it had cut itself adrift from Britain and its war right at the start.


And there was the further matter that the Unionist Party itself disappeared from the scene so far as its name was concerned.  Some Irish historians have written about it as if it was the Tory Party, which had somehow fallen under the control of the Ulster Unionists.  It was in fact an alliance between a social reform tendency that developed in the Liberal Party in the 1880s and the Tory Party.  The Liberal Party under Gladstone was the party of laissez faire capitalism.  It saw any restriction of the market as an erosion of freedom.  Joseph Chamberlain's Liberal movement in Birmingham was convinced that laissez faire capitalism was not viable in the long run because its victims would rebel against it.  

The Chamberlain Liberals drew up a social reform programme in which the welfare state of a later generation was envisaged and they contested the 1885 Election on this programme—called at the time the Unauthorised Programme.  There were in fact two Liberal Parties.  The first Irish Home Rule Bill in 1886 was the occasion rather than the cause of their parting of the ways.  The 2nd Home rule Bill in 1893 was the occasion of the merger of the social reform Liberals and the Tories as the Unionist Party.  The Tories, as the party of the landed gentry, were the first social reform party in industrial capitalist Britain, having restricted capitalist freedom by means of the Factory Acts.

The Unionist merger was a development within British politics, and its Irish Government of 1895 to 1905 was the best reforming Government Ireland ever had under the Union.

I assume that it was the era of Unionist dominance of British politics that caused the Liberal Party to drop its doctrinaire adherence to laissez-faire capitalism and emerge as a social reform party after the 1906 Election.

When H.M. Hyndman formed a Marxist organisation around 1900 he naturally looked for a development on Tory lines.  But the groups which Henderson joined up into the Labour Party in 1917-18 took their orientation from the Liberal Party—from the party of pure capitalism.

The great issue in the 1906 Election was international Free Trade versus an Imperial Tariff.  The Unionists were considering Chamberlain's proposal to constitute the Empire into a kind of national segment of the world economy, bound together by a common tariff.  The Liberals came out strongly for international Free Trade, and many Tories in the Unionist Party came over to them on that issue.

The practical implication of the difference as far as I could see was that the Unionists were willing to call a halt to the expansion of the Empire by tightening it into an economic region of the world under a political superstructure and accepting that there would be other large regions of the world outside its control, while the Liberals, in the name of world Free Trade, were committed to bringing the world as a whole under British industrial, naval and financial dominance.  The world was to be treated as Britain's hinterland—with the exception of the United States, at least for the time being.

The Liberals had followed the Unionists by acknowledging the need for social reform at home, and hoped by this means to ward off the development of a major party based on the working class interest against the interest of capital, but laissez faire relations were to be maintained between Britain and the rest of the world, based on British naval dominance of the world.


The growth of a strong, independent Labour Party was successfully prevented for a quarter of a century after Keir Hardie's election victory as Independent Labour in 1892.  It happened in 1918 because the Liberal Party had torn itself apart.  Labour asserted itself as an independent political force, but its foreign policies were much the same as Lloyd Georgeite Liberal policies, and so many eminent Liberal politicians had no problem about joining Labour and helping it to govern as the successor-party to the Liberals.

It served an apprenticeship to Imperialist government in the War Coalitions.  In 1924 it was put to the test of governing alone as a minority government, and it was seen to be reliable.  It had arrived.

Did it know that it was an Imperialist party, exploiting Britain's power relationship with much of the rest of the world which had been established by the aristocratic ruling class through a series of wars over two centuries?  Of course not!  It was Imperialist in the Gladstone manner of an anti-Imperialist rhetoric which was never applied to the dismantling of the British Empire.

The anti-German War Propaganda condemned Germany as Imperialist.  The German state established in 1871 was called an Empire because it was established by a number of German kingdoms coming together, not because it had conquered territories overseas.  (Alsace and Lorraine were of mixed German and French populations, and one of Britain's Great Wars had been fought to prevent the French state from acquiring them.)

In the 1890s the German state did acquire overseas possessions, and became an Empire in the British sense, but in 1914 it was a very small Empire by comparison with the British.  Nevertheless, the British War Propaganda could carry on about Germany being an Imperialist State in a way that implied that Britain was not.  And Labour slotted itself into that mode of discourse—and therefore, I suppose, of thought.