1906 General Election - Liberal Landslide:
The General election of Jan 1906 produced one of the most decisive electoral results in the 20th Century. It was a landslide victory for the Liberals.
They won a majority in the House of Commons + a huge overall majority with 400 seats. Meanwhile, the Conservatives lost most of theirs, including the Prime Minister.
(The 1906 election also saw the emergence of the Labour party as a distinct force in the House of Commons).
But why did the British public swing towards the Liberals in 1906?
- Conservatives losing support
- The Boer war
- 1902 Education Act
- 1904 Licensing Act
- Chinese Labour
- Taff Vale case
- Neglect of social reform
- Tariff reforms
- Lib-Lab pact
The Boer War + Neglect of Social Reform
A few hundred Boer farmers vs. English army fighting for land.
ST - Benefitted Conservatives through patriotism
LT - Contributed to their 1906 defeat
- Was more costly in money + lives than had been expected
- Methods used to defeat Boers (such as concentration camps) caused moral outrage
- Also revealed effect of poverty + malnutrition in cities + need for social reform...
There was a growing awareness of the extent of poverty in Britain + a worry about the physical decline of the British race. Eg. Through work of Booth + Rowntree.
Liberals gained support by claiming Conservatives had neglected social reforms + offered a new form of Liberalism in which the state would play a greater role in ensuring minimum living standards for the most vulnerable people of Britain. They also campaigned for sweeping reforms whereas the Conservatives produced nothing.
1902 Education Act + 1904 Licensing Act:
1902 Education Act:
Provided for all schools to be funded from local rates - Whereas beforehand Anglican + Catholic schools had been funded through local churches.
This outraged nonconformists - The idea that their taxes might be spent on school they strongly objected to.
Alienated nonconformists - Switched to Liberals.
1904 Licensing Act:
Aimed at reducing number of public houses - 'Brewers' bill'. Proposing to compensate brewers for cancellation of licenses.
Infuriated nonconformists again - Switched to Liberals.
Were also strong numbers of nonconformists in areas such as Wales - helped to swing the vote. These acts encouraged a revival of the Liberal party after their split over the issue of the Boer war.
Taff Vale Case + Chinese Labour:
The Conservatives lost support over their failure to take the Trade Unions' sides in the Taff Vale case;
Dispute between railway company + Railway workers' union = Strike = Company took union to court over lost profits caused in the strike + Judge ruled in company's favour.
Trade unions were horrified, this liability to compensate any lost profits would make it financially impossible to strike + Conservatives refused to overrule this legislation.
This made trade unions switch their vote to vote Conservatives out of office.
Angered Trade Unionists + Nonconformists.
Chinese labourers were being imported to work in S. Africa for very low wages. The treatment of the Chinese caused moral outcry from nonconformists + trade unions also feared that they may be brought to Britain - lowering wages of British workers.
The biggest mistake of the Conservative gvnt:
Joseph Chamberlain introduced the idea of reintroducing tariffs - Imperial Protectionism.
The only thing was that this would make food dearer + more expensive = The British people were never going to accept that.
Split the Conservative gvnt + party - PM Balfour sat on the fence. Churchill actually switched party to the Liberals over the issue of Free Trade.
This helped the Liberals to reunite - Free Trade was something they all believed in.
Balfour called a General election because of this issue, confident of winning. Instead, he + his party was destroyed.
The Growth of New Liberalism:
The Liberal party promised a welfare of liberlism. Promised to change politics - PM Campbell-Bannerman but died in 1908 ith no major changed in social reform. Replaced by Herbert Asquith - Now the reforms could really begin - Mostly enforced by Churchill + Lloyd-George.
- National Insurance - Unemployment + Sickness
- Education Acts - Meals + Medical inspections
- Labour Exchanges
The Liberals never created a full welfare state but they did begin the idea of a 'permissive society'. They took the first steps in a society moving away from old laissez-faire beliefs.
One major event + piece of leglislation was the 'People's budget' = Parliament Act.
Another major issue of the time was Irish Home Rule + Ulster's own resistance to it, now that the House of Lords could not veto it.