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Durham University

Research & business

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Ex-servicemen, the legacy of militarization, and Liberal politics in Britain after the Great War

A research project of the Department of History, part of the Modern research group.


The collapse of the British Liberal Party after 1918 has often been seen as the result of an ideological crisis provoked by a failure to reconcile Liberal values with the wartime militarization of society. This explanation, however, fails to recognise the extent to which the legacy of this militarization was accommodated within the Liberal Party itself. During the 1920s more than a hundred ex-servicemen were elected to Parliament as Liberal MPs, and dozens more stood unsuccessfully as Liberal candidates. By examining how these men constructed their public identities, how they operated in Parliament, and the longer-term trajectories of their party-political careers, this project explores an entirely unconsidered dimension to post-war Liberal politics. By recovering how the ‘meaning’ of the war was constructed, and contested, by those Liberals who had fought in it, and the implications this posed for the party’s efforts to appeal to a vastly expanded electorate, the project offers a vital new perspective on the effects of the war on the Liberal mind, on the viability of Liberalism as a political force, and on wider British political culture after 1918.


From the Department of History