Soon after the Treaty of Versailles America settled back into her preferred state of an isolationist policy towards Europe at the political level and her finances had not been severely damaged. As a future US president was to put it succinctly “The business of America is business”. This decision was taken by congressional and popular will, despite the fact that the USA, through Woodrow Wilson in his ’14 points’ had proposed, and later reasserted, that a League of Nations be established to police and maintain the peace in the world. This done, the US withdrew from the consortium leaving Britain as the only ‘power in being’ to exert any influence in this task. Its onerous prospects began with the mandate to pacify Jews and Arabs settling within the boundaries of Palestine against a background and growth of mutual anathema. This poisoned chalice has been mistakenly, perhaps deliberately, represented as more British colonialism.
In Britain the victory seemed hollow. Just as after the Napoleonic wars, the country’s coffers were depleted – this time all but emptied. Far from returning to a home fit for heroes many found no home at all. The stagnated economy led to widespread unemployment which was exacerbated by the reality of women having demonstrated their capabilities in industry and they cost the employers considerably less. Politically, there was a dramatic shift to the left and the Liberal Party, even though headed by Lloyd George, ‘the man who won the war’, lost the 1922 General Election to the Tories and the Party was never to hold office again.
The shift was to socialism, many having been converted to the creed of communism, partly through the recent war alliance with Russia but strengthened by support for the Red Revolution with power apparently transferred to ‘the people’ – the illusion of a workers’ paradise. The democratic tradition in Britain was too strong for any revolutionary zeal to prosper but the doors to socialist representation opened and resulted in the first Labour government being elected in 1924 under Ramsay MacDonald. From that point on Labour became the only serious opposition to the Tory, or Conservative, Party in Britain for the rest of the century and beyond.
MacDonald was well respected by all political factions but with no experience of governance and in a declining economy the remainder of the twenties saw government changes leading up to the world economic disaster which was to lead to The Great Depression, at the heart of which was the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
The decade has been known as the Roaring Twenties but the reality was that its meaning differed vastly according to social status and wealth. It was a time of hedonistic pleasure for those in the upper bracket but much grinding poverty for those whose only real hope or aspiration was for a job to pay for even a frugal existence.
There was a Time provides considerable detail of this fractured, class-based Britain which bore little indication of being a victorious nation. It could be seen to have been a Pyrrhic victory, though not as bad as the conditions prevailing in Germany during that decade. The verdict at Versailles had left the country with a pariah status from which any economic restart through international trade and commerce could only be a distant prospect. This and the crippling burden of war reparations led to an exponential rise in inflation making the mark virtually valueless in the early twenties. There was some recovery until the Great Depression hit Germany harder than any other country. Dramatic change was needed and it it was soon to come about.