chapter  17
Pages 14

For five years from 1909 there were not a few perceptive Edwardians who believed that Britain faced a social and political crisis of exceptional severity: a crisis which might finally be settled through civil violence rather than through parliamentary politics. It was created by the convergence of a series of inflamed disputes, each challenging the legal framework of Edwardian society: feminism, the budget veto by the House of Lords, the revolt of labour and the threat of civil war in Ireland. Lloyd George, speaking in the City of London in July 1914, said that the coincidence of renewed labour unrest with an outbreak of fighting in Ireland would create a critical situation, ‘the gravest with which any government has had to deal for centuries’. The first Russian Revolution had already occurred. There were other European countries in which similar upheavals seemed likely-and indeed did follow the First World War. But for the outbreak of war in August 1914, might Britain have followed a similar path? How serious was the Edwardian crisis?