John Greenaway / “The Postwar Settlement” / Drink and British Politics since 1830 / 2003

“This is the last record by sound ranging of artillery activity on the American front near the River Mouselle.” November 11, 1918. Life Magazine.

After WW1, never again would a PM make a speech like Lloyd George in 1915 (“Drink is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together”). New thinking re: ills like drunkenness, attempts to find deeper social causes. Interwar leisure revolution introduced alternatives to the pub. 1920s, 30s, consumption and drunkenness down. Some popular interest in the drink question still; Churchill was defeated by an independent prohibition candidate in 1922. But 1919-1921, the question was “settled,” and drink wasn’t a major issue of controversy for next 50 years. After the war, it was not a return to minimal State interventions pre-1914; it was high taxation, restricted hours. But no proactive alcohol policy like with the CCB (Central Control Board). After war, some worker discontent over continued beer controls. 1921, Board of Trade and Treasury got cabinet to abolish all control over prices and strengths of beer. Treasury: the sole reason the controls lasted after war ended was “the desire to keep alive a form of control which has been regarded in some quarters as effective for the prevention of drunkenness” (note dismissive tone). Brewers/industrialists discussed with CCB people and Lord Justice Parker, on yachts, the future of industry. Sydney Neville recalls: delimma: public resentment vs. continued post WW1 restriction, and resentment toward prohibitionists and social reformers. Elite fear that this would create public and political agitation, return to pre-war conditions, and Neville didn’t want that. Wanted: insobriety down, improved pub up = commercial interest of the Trade, and the public good. Wanted “constructive” policy. Lloyd George wanted to settle question with minimum political risk. 1921, arranged “round table conference” of interested MPs, charged with considering “how best to adapt in times of peace the experience obtained during the period of war,” re: licensing laws. 18 MPs, 4 each from temperance and Trade, 2 representing clubs, 4 neutral, 2 each from government and Labour opposition. Act fixed open hours. Settlement forged connections between industry and public servants that would last through the interwar period. Middlemas has called this “corporate bias.”


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