Section 8 - History

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Liberals in Power

  • Real causes of poverty were not understood at the beginning of the 20th century
  • Period of political change and unprecedented social reform
  • 1902 = Balfour took over as Conservative Prime Minister 
  • Support for a long era of Conservatism was being challenged by the ideas of new Liberalism and Socialism, brought increasing pressure for social reform
  • Conservative reluctance to act over issues affecting the legal position of trade unions led many voters to switch their allegiance to the Liberals
  • Balfour resigned in 1905
  • Liberal party swept to power with a resounding victory
  • Responsible for introducing a series of reforms which tackled the wide range of current social and constitutional problems, such as old-age pensions, national insurance and the reform of the House of Lords 
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The Liberal Party 1902-6

  • 1902 = Liberals presented an ineffective position to Conservative government
  • Liberals had been in a weakened state since the split of Home Rule in 1886
  • Liberal fortunes began to change as opposition in parliament and the country mounted against Balfour's government
  • Bannerman = compromise leader 
  • 'Safe pair of hands' with plenty of experience
  • Asquith would have been a more appropriate leader, but he did not put himself forward
  • 1905 = Liberals had overcome most of its differences and made a sufficient appeals to the electorate in January 1906 to achieve a landslide victory
  • Problems of Balfour's governent had much to do with this victory
  • Reforms turned the electorate away from voting Conservative 
  • 1905 = clear that Balfour's government was doomed
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The Failures of Balfour's Government

  • Balfour's time in office was regarded as a failure
  • He had little in common with the ordinary people
  • He believed in parliamentary democracy as long as the masses voted for upper classes
  • Conservatives lost a series of by-elections
  • Resignations from Cabinet on policy issues 
  • Lack of decisive leadership from Balfour
  • Failures = united the Liberals in a common cause
  • Balfour's government can be credited with several notable successes - positive repercussions in the long term for Britain
  • Entente Cordiale with France in 1904 
  • Setting up of the Imperial Defence Committee - led to important army and navy reforms
  • Conservatives seemed unable to trumpet their successes
  • Failures were played out in full glare of public attention 
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Assessment of Balfour's Options

  • Balfour was in a tight corner
  • Harsh to blame him entirely for the divisions in his party
  • If he  had chosen to ignore the issues of education and tariff reform, he may have held on
  • However, he may have been accused of inaction
  • Liberals seized the opportunity to whip up Nonconformists opposition
  • On balance, the Education Act was a sensible reform
  • Liberals took political advantage of it
  • Balfour would have been wise to drop the issue of trade protection but he did not
  • Formation of the LRC should have been a warning sign to the Conservatives
  • If they ignored working classes, they could not rely on their vote
  • Balfour had shown little inclination to introduce working class reform
  • Working class now had political status 
  • Many voters simply wanted change 
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The General Election of 1906

  • 1905 = Balfour was in little doubt of his unpopularity
  • Authority was greatly damaged in his own party 
  • Inability to resolve the issue of tariff reform
  • Bannerman succeeded in pulling together what is regarded as a government  of exceptional quality and outstanding ability
  • Included = Asquith, George, Haldane, Churchill and Grey
  • Represented key opinions and beliefs within the party 
  • The landed classes did not dominate the Cabinet for the first time
  • Bannerman called an election for January and the campaign began after Christmas
  • Focused on free trade and cheap bread
  • Was a vote winner
  • Liberals had won 377 seats - clear majority
  • Conservative had been reduced to 157 seats
  • Even Balfour had lost his seat
  • Good showing of Labour Canidates and the Labour Party won 29 seats 
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The General Election of 1906

  • Before the election - LRC entered into a secret electoral ppact with the Liberals
  • Lib-Lab Pact
  • LRC agreed not to put up candidates against Liberals in constituencies where the anti-Conservative vote might be split, in exchange for freee run in 35 consitituencies where the LRC had a strong chance of winning a seat
  • Labour agreed to give support to the Liberals
  • Liberals were going to address key concerns over unemployment and Taff Vale 
  • LRC changed its name to the Labour Party
  • New era to politics 
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The Conservative Party, 1906-15

  • Election of 1906 = reduced to 157 MPs
  • 109 = full support for tariff reform and only 16 were in favour of free trade
  • The rest supported trade protection
  • Protectionist defined the Conservative Party in opposition during these years
  • Balfour soon returned to parliament in a by-election and resumed leadership
  • Lord Lansdowne became leader in the House of Lords
  • Vast majority in the Lords were traditional and most supported Conservatives
  • Balfour took advantage of this
  • Encouraged the Lords to vote against Liberal legislation at every opportunity 
  • Preliminary round in the greatest constitutional crsis in Britain since 1832
  • Lords rejected the Liberals 1909 Budget with Balfour's encouragement
  • Liberals called an election and won
  • Balfour resigned shortly afterwards
  • Successor = Bonar Law
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Liberal Reform, 1906-14

  • Liberals introduced a set of social reforms
  • More far-reaching than any measures passed by previous governments
  • Attempted to deal with problems of children, the old, the sick and the unemployed
  • Laid the foundations of the modern welfare state
  • However, many Liberals were still committed to laissez-faire
  • No clear programme of social reform laid out 
  • Social welfare was not a key election issue
  • 'New Liberals' wanted to move away from laissez-faire and proved to be extremely influential in directing Liberal policy 
  • Other influences included the rise of the Labour Party 
  • Budget brought the issue of the Lords' inappropriate use of power to boiling point
  • Faced with one of the great constitutional crisis in British parliament history 
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The Motives behind the Reforms

New Liberalism:

  • Belief in the necessity of tackling poverty through State social welfare and a more humanitarian approach to social problems
  • Liberals were moving away from laissez-faire 
  • Cabinet included a number of New Liberals
  • Influenced began to be felt as they cavassed their leaders to employ the power of the State in response to social problems - Lloyd George and Churchill were two most prominent
  • Argued against individualism and for greater collectivism 
  • Convinced moderate members of the party to accept the change in direction 
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The Motives behind the Reforms

Poltical Self-Interest:

  • Liberals were aware of the growing concern over the problems of poverty
  • Equally conscious of the threat of Labour
  • Tackling poverty would be politically expedient for the Liberals 
  • Anxiety among the Liberals that if they did not attempt to meet the needs of the working class, these voters would increasingly turn to the Labour Party
  • Social reform programme can be viewed almost as an antidote to the spread of socialism 
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The Motives behind the Reforms

Pressure from the Labour Party and the Trade Unions:

  • Labour Party and the trade unions were sufficiently confident to pressurise the Liberals into taking action to improve conditions for the working classes
  • Labour's first demand was met with great success
  • Liberals accepted the Labour proposals for the Trade Disputes Act
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The Motives behind the Reforms

Impact of Social Research:

  • Charities were no longer able to deal with the problems of poverty
  • Industrial cities had grown and the problems of the poor had increased
  • Number of key reports put forward clear evidence of the extent of poverty 
  • Liberals could not ignore these findings
  • The Report of the Royal Commission on Labour (1895) suggested that ordinary working people could not earn enough to buy basic necessities
  • The Royal Commission on the Aged Poor (1895) called for some form of pension 
  • Rowntree's Poverty: A study of town life (1901)
  • Charles Booth's: Life and Labour of the People of Lonon (1891)
  • Concluded thatabout 1/3 of Britain's urban population lived in grinding poverty
  • Greater public awareness of such information as a result of better education
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Assessment of Social Reforms

  • Success is a matter of debate among historians
  • Main objective = alleviate poverty 
  • Some argue that the measures had limited success
  • Value of real wages rose very little
  • Workhouse system still remained, although importance was diminishing
  • Pension = inadequate
  • National Insurance was not comprehensive enough
  • No inclusion of benefits for very low paid agricultural workers
  • Major issues of education and housing were ignored
  • Medical scheme excluded the majority of working men
  • No policy on full employment 
  • However, reforms were significant departure from minimal State interference
  • First time any government had provided welfare benefits 
  • Important model for future governments to follow
  • Signalled a departure of individualism and laissez-faire
  • Collectivism began to gain acceptance 
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The role and conduct of the House of Lords

  • The power of the House of  Lords was diminished 
  • House of Commons power was increasing
  • Parliamentary bill could be introduced into either the Lords or the Commons 
  • As long as it passed each of three readings in both, it would become a law 
  • Last word = Lords
  • Had the power to veto a bill after it had passed the Commons
  • Become the custom for money bills to be vetoed by the Lords
  • Commons became more democratic
  • Veto of any government bills became questionable
  • 591 members in the Lords
  • Conservatives had the majority in the Lords
  • Constitutional Crisis of 1910 led to the reform of the House of Lords
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