The British Empire - Craig
Britain seemed to be enjoying a period of stability, prosperity
and optimism before 1914.The Empire was stable and looked like it
would not break down. Britain itself had formed a United Kingdom of
England, Scotland, Wales and the whole of Ireland with the majority of
people living in England. Britain was the capital of the largest
empire on earth containing 400 million people and the British people
had a sense of pride that they were the sovereign nation of the
Britain was a kingdom in 1914 with George V as
monarch but he held no real political power. Britain and the empire
were governed mainly by the house commons comprised of 670 members of
parliament elected by about 8 million adult males. The government in
1914 was a liberal administration with Herbert Asquith as the leader.
In the decades before 1914 a strong party system had been built up.
This consisted of several strong parties including the liberals, the
conservatives and some national parties.
The economy and decline
Britain still had one of the strongest economies
in the world and the production rate was rising with Britain producing
¼ of the worlds manufactured goods. The British economy was very
prosperous before the war. But by the turn of the century, America and
Germanys economies had overtaken that of Britain and a relative state
of decline had been established.
Pre-war Liberal Governments
The liberals had been in power from 1905 onwards.
They reduced the powers belonging to the House of Lords and also
introduced old age pensions in 1908.The government had increased
public spending greatly to the extent that some economists were
worried it might inhibit economic growth. Trade union membership
increased greatly under their reign. There were 4 million trade union
members by 1914. Strikes became more often with even a general strike,
consisting of miners, railway men and transport workers, threatening.
The Ireland Situation
The most menacing issue of all to the British
government was the increasingly worrying situation in Ireland. The
Protestants of Ulster opposed the dominant Catholic population. The
Catholics wanted to run their local affairs free from the U.K whereas
the Protestants wished to stay an integral part of the United Kingdom.
The British press didn’t make much comment on
the fact that Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian
Empire, had been assassinated. It was partly due to this in fact that
the First World War started. Britain usually kept free from the toils
of Europe, but when Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany started to construct a
great fleet, Britain reacted. A naval race resulted with Britain
eventually emerging victorious but the main point is that Anglo German
relations weakened. The assassination triggered a confrontation
between Germany and Russia, Britain’s reaction was uncertain.
Eventually Britain declared war on Germany on the 6th of