So the politics of class and labour do a great deal to explain why ordinary people chose the sides in the political struggles of the interwar United Kingdom between Labour and Conservatives. However Politics associated with the workplace did not explain all the voting patterns of this era. IN many ways the cleavages that existed in this period were a continuation of those that had existed before World War II-. Before World War II a large amount of voting could be explained by the clash of those for and against the traditional constitutional order of the United Kingdom.
Socially the former and Conservative party voters tended to be Anglican in England and Wales ,Church of Scotland in Scotland and Protestant in Ireland and to a latter degree the rest of the UK (particularly areas with large Catholic populations such as Lancashire and Glasgow). The latter voted for the liberals (in Ireland their Irish nationalist allies) and tended to gain the support of Nonconformists of all sorts in Great Britain and Catholics throughout the Kingdom . These divisions also were linked to important divisions on socio-cultural issues such as drink and religious education which follows similar though not identical lines ( Tories, Anglicans and Catholics liked alcohol and government funding of denominational schools Liberals and nonconformists generally did not).
In the interwar era these divisions faded in importance. This was a for a number of reasons. However it’d be fair to say the Labour party was more prohibitionist and got more support from Nonconformists even allowing for class- they were the party of bigger government and nonconformists after all were less likely to have been from a Tory tradition- they could effectively choose Labour rather than abandoning the party of their forefathers. .Such effects were quite weak though. Areas like Pudsey ( a rural/ suburban areas needs Leeds) moved from liberal to Tory as class conflict replaced religious. Some historians argue there was a new development- the pious were more likely to vote conservative allowing for denomination- perhaps not surprisingly if it was a preference for the politics of defence of institutions over the politics of transformation of society-though this effect if true was weak.
The Catholic, Protestant split was more powerful than any other religious cleavage tdespite the low profile of the old constitutional issues. Catholic areas were heavily Labour, Protestant areas near large concentrations of Catholic became heavily Conservative This was at it most intense among Protestants in Ulster (the Labour party was not organised in Ulster) . Even in mainland Great Britain it remained a strong cleavage. As late as the 1950’s in greater Glasgow middle class Catholics voted Labour and working class Protestants Conservative. Such appeals could survive a landslide. In the Tories terrible result in 1945 the two large cities that were most Conservative were Liverpool and Glasgow the two large cities where the “orange” ) vote was strongest. It’s worth noting Sectarian cleavages were not generally driven by of church hierarchies –Catholic clergy in this era had strong Conservative sympathies possibly more than Anglican clergy who had already started moving leftwards politically. Ironically it was in the post war era even as the politics of the instuitional catholic church moved leftwards that catholic identifiers were to vote increasingly Conservative.
The religious cleavages could have strange influences on the ideology of party members which went uneasily with the overall ideology of the parties . So in the Spanish civil war one reason for the relatively low level of outright Conservative support for the Nationalists ( compared to Continental and Latin American Conservatives) was anti-Catholicism. Similarly in the most Catholic party of Liverpool the local Labour party sympathised with Franco’s side . Indeed the religious cleavages could s interact peculiarly with each other- In the 1950’s one survey of attendees of a nonconformist church in Liverpool found that middle class members voted liberal and Lab our working class Conservatives.
In a sense areas with a large Catholic minority had a different electoral basis for politics than the rest of the country-adding a geographic element to politics. This could also be seen in other areas where it is difficult to see that as the reason. In particular Birmingham was remarkable Conservative with them being dominant and competitive even in very working class areas in the city central. Birmingham had a lot of small employers and industries hurt by free trade. It’s hard to believe this did not represent the powerful local political machine, the legacy of Joseph Chamberlain and the presence of the Conservative titan Neville Chamberlain. It’s worth noting that the Labour swing was unusually strong in Birmingham in 1945 the election that ended this political era- suggesting both that the Chamberlain brand might have been tarnished and that “localism” politics based on a particular popular or effective local political figures or party was being pushed aside by class politics.
It should also be noted that there were other issues that’ so hard to put together with the new era of class politics. These included the empire (though the historic links of say Liverpool to the empire may have contributed to it’s Conservatism). However what’s noticeable is how many issues can be seen as fitting in well with a class cleavage. . Though anti-communism and anti-Sovietism was a broad sentiment it would naturally scare more those outside the “self conscious working class system” who opposed nationalization and saw the capitalist system in more positive terms. It’s worth noting the election most fought on communism was the 1924 election where under that banner Conservatives made massive gains from the liberals- nearly all voters outside organised labour ( the Labour vote actually rose).
But there were also divisions within the two parties. And it is to the divisions in one of these parties-the Conservative we now turn.
This is a picture of a figure whose contribution to politics in this era dealt a great deal with the “old” issues divisions James Craig 1st viscount Creigan first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland one of the leading Conservative and Unionists of this era.