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How Did The War Change Attitudes About How Big A Part A Government Should Play In People's Lives?

3943 words - 16 pages

"War" declared Trotsky, "is the locomotive of history" (Bourne, 1989,p. 191)When considering the attitude of the people towards the change governmental intervention had in their lives, one must consider a number of different aspects.The scene must firstly be set by ascertaining the mood of the people upon the outbreak of war, and this Bourne eloquently describes:"The British urban working class was the oldest industrial workforce in the world. Its class-consciousness was very strong. It was well organised. It had a sharp awareness of its industrial strength. It was quite remarkably strike-prone. It was also riven with divisions, petty snobberies and subtle distinctions. It was disciplined and deferential, conformist and hedonistic, patriotic and loyal. It showed little interest in radical ideologies. It had a vast fund of goodwill towards Britain` s national institutions, especially the monarchy and parliament. From the point of view of a hard- pressed government in time of war, the working class was far from intractable. There was, however, a sticking point. This was `fairness`, a concept deeply rooted in Anglo-Saxon culture. Government could ignore `fairness` only at its peril. (Bourne, 1989, p. 204)These were the people the government were given the task of cajoling into acquiescence, people that had become accustomed to Free Trade, private enterprise and minimal governmental interference. Despite this scenario however, political Liberalism was seen to be evolving in response to social problems and the rise of labour, and the war became "the locomotive" which accelerated the change in British politics and society.It was only when the pressures of war were brought to bear, that the government gradually abandoned its laissez faire principles in favour of direct control. The goal was to fight a war, but simultaneously preserve the living standards of the civilians, so as to uphold morale on the home front and in the factories needed to supply the military front.Bourne suggests that: "The nature of this interference was characteristic. It involved a series of ad hoc responses to specific problems. These were made of necessity and not through choice. There was no overall plan and no philosophy of action." (Bourne, 1989,p. 192)The desperate need for munitions was an early realisation of the need for state control, which later extended to shipping in 1916, food in 1917,coal in 1917, and food rationing in 1918. Both Lloyd George and Asquith` s ministries were reluctant to affront public opinion, especially the trade unions, consequently a careful pace was adopted along with the contingency of `returning to normal` at the conclusion of the war. The government were unwilling and unable to compel men to join up, and the ability to control labour was even more problematic, due to the increasing power and self-confidence of the trade unions. The union ideology was based on free collective bargaining, sensitivity to the prerogative of its workers and...

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