Browse introductions to each political era or click directly on government links to discover more about individual Prime Ministers and their governments.
Information about governments, Cabinet posts, and Great Offices of State between 1916 and 1979 are revealed! Find out when certain individuals held particular Cabinet posts, or simply learn more about the history of government and how it was formed.
In December 1916 David Lloyd George formed a coalition of Liberals, Conservatives and Labour members. This government introduced massive state intervention in society and the economy in order to win the First World War. In peacetime, the machinery of control was disassembled. Momentously in 1918, after a long struggle, women were given the right to vote for the first time. The limited post-war prosperity gave way to economic problems and industrial strife.
This was a period of firsts; the first emergence of long-term, structural unemployment and the first ever Labour government. Both the Labour and Conservative governments pursued similar economic policies and tried to recapture the perceived causes of pre-war prosperity through economic orthodoxy. Such economic orthodoxy caused industrial strife, which led to unrest, culminating in the 1926 General Strike. Four years after the strike, just as the country began to recover, the country collapsed into depression following the Wall Street Crash.
The shocks of the Wall Street Crash and the subsequent depression in world trade had a profound effect on Britain. There was a return to coalition governments under both Labour and the Conservatives. The structural problems and long-term unemployment in the stable industries of steel, coal, cotton, heavy engineering and shipbuilding worsened. Despite this, prosperous new light industries grew up in southern England and the East Midlands, producing electrical goods, cars and aircraft. At the same time governments had to cope with the rise of fascism in Europe and Japanese aggression in the Far East. By the time Britain went to war in 1939 rearmament had only just been completed to a reasonable standard.
In 1940 Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the National Government, taking over leadership of the Conservative Party a few months later on the death of Neville Chamberlain. Government ministers consisted of a substantial minority of Labour Party members, making the previously Conservative-dominated National Government far more pluralistic. The inclusion of a significant Labour contingent in the government ensured that social and welfare issues received much attention despite the constraints of war.
The incoming Labour government, following its landslide victory in the 1945 election, faced many post-war challenges in quick succession. The continuation of the war in the Far East and its end (before any graduation adjustment of the war economy could take place) was an immediate problem. The need for de-mobilisation of the armed services was also paramount. British colonies began to seek independence and decolonisation followed. India was the first to gain independence. Following the Beveridge Report Labour created the Welfare State in order to help the poorest and most disadvantaged in society. The National Health Service began operating in July 1948. For the first time in history, medical treatment was available for the entire country - without charge.
Thirteen years of Conservative rule followed the Attlee government. The Conservatives accepted the Welfare State, economic policies and full employment of the previous Labour administration. In foreign affairs, decolonisation continued. In 1956 controversial Cabinet decisions led to the Suez Crisis, negatively affecting Britain's global position.
Growing economic and industrial difficulties resulted in a series of domestic political and financial crises: the 1967 devaluation of the pound, the 'three day week' of 1974, the IMF loan of 1976, and the 'winter of discontent' of 1978-1979. However, domestic affluence did increase overall during this period, and the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community in 1973; decolonisation continued, but Northern Ireland descended into sectarian violence.