The spectacular collapse of the Liberal Party in Britain has often been regarded as the result of a crisis in Liberal values, supposedly provoked by the unprecedented militarization of British society during the Great War. However, this interpretation typically fails to recognize the extent to which the most important and visible legacies of that process of militarization were accommodated within the Liberal Party itself. Between 1918 and 1929, more than a hundred ex-servicemen were elected to Parliament as Liberal MPs, and scores more stood as Liberal candidates. This article examines how these men negotiated, presented, and performed their military identities within the framework of postwar electoral politics; analyzes how they operated in Parliament; and traces the longer-term trajectories of their political careers. It challenges the assumption that Liberals were temperamentally or ideologically incapable of engaging with the war’s legacies, demonstrating the ability of Liberal candidates to exploit the iconography and rhetorical tropes of military service when appealing to an electorate that had been profoundly shaped by the experience of war and military mobilization. Liberals sought to contest Conservative Party attempts to monopolize the politics of patriotism after 1918 by constructing gendered electoral appeals that acknowledged the unstable meanings of the Great War and the ambiguous status of the men who had fought in it. However, the inability of Liberal politicians to unite around a shared understanding of what the war had meant ultimately prevented them from exploiting the memory of the conflict as effectively as their Conservative and Labour rivals.
Johnson, M. (in press). "Send a Soldier to Parliament": Ex-servicemen, Masculinity, and the Legacies of the Great War in Liberal Electoral and Parliamentary Politics. Journal of British Studies, https://doi.org/10.1017/jbr.2022.233