Conservative Rule (1895-1905)


Tariff Reform/ Imperial Preference

  • protective tariffs would be placed on foreign imports but not on those from the Empire
  • aimed to protect British and imperial trade and business against foreign competition (especially USA and Germany)

joespeh chamberlain put forward a number of cases for the introduction of tariff reform policy

  • Economic: protect British jobs against unfair competition from abroad and save nearly one million jobs.
  • Imperial/ Political: strengthen British Empire and bind it together – keep Britain as Great Power
  • Social: tariffs would raise money for social reform 
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Free Trade

  • The economic trading/commerce policy whereby countries trade freely with each other without restriction.

Liberals united around the policy of Free Trade which had been a central feature of British economic policy since the 1850s

  • british exports had trebled since 1850 under this policy (retaliatory tariffs)
  • working class living standard had doubled since 1850 
  • ensured cheaper food from Europe (big loaf little loaf)
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The Boer War

  • Colonial Conflict with Transvaal and Orange Free State (South Africa) 1899-1902 – highlighted inefficiency of British army and the danger of isolation. 
  • The war cost £200 million and over 20,000 British lives. 
  • General Election of 1900 (Khaki Election): Conservatives won by a large margin, 402 to 183 Liberal seats, on the back of support for the Boer war.... war was popular but continuation of it caused problems 
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Chinese Slavery

  • British use of concentration camps and Chinese ‘coolies’ earned worldwide criticism
  • Chinese labourers imported to rebuild post-war South Africa (1902-1904)
  • Campbell-Bannerman denounced them as ‘methods of barbarism’ and many of the public turned against the Conservatives and imperialism
  • Unions Empire and working-classes particularly upset
  • Not completely hated due to moral obligations but due to jobs being taken by foreigners 
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Taff Vale Case

  • 1901
  • this House of Lords ruling made it effectively illegal for unions to go on strike, as they would be financially liable for strike activity.
  • showed that the conservatives were unsympathetic and instead supported Liberals in order to get represented in parliament
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Wyndham’s Land Purchase Act

  • 1903
  • This Act sought to "kill home rule by kindness" by allowing Irish tenants to buy out landlors with cheap loans borrowed from the state 
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Balfour's Education Act

  • 1902
  • increased state money to church schools, enabling to provude elementary education for free. 
  • upset many non-conformists who felt it gave preferential treatment to Church schools and led to the cry of "Rome on the Rates"
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Licensing Act

  • 1904
  • aimed to reduce the number of public houses in certain areas
  • government compensated breweries if their pubs were closed
  • upset non-conformists 
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Unemployed Workmen Act

  • 1905
  • set up labour exchanges where employers advertised hobs 
  • no relief or state assistance for those who did not get a job
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Events leading to 1906

  • December 1905
    • Balfour resigns and the Conservatives leave government. 
    • The Liberals form a minority government without there being a General Election or dissolution of Parliament
    • Balfour hopes that the Liberals will be divided under the leadership of Campbell-Bannerman and will make a mess of their time in government
    • BUT the Liberals however rally behind Campbell-Bannerman and the issue of Free Trade
  • January 1906 –
    • the Liberals call a quick General Election which they win by a landslide

-->Conservatives 2,442,071 votes with 156 seats

-->Liberal Party 2,751,057 votes with 399 seats 

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1906 Election

Conservative weakness:

  • The Conservatives had been in power for too long (almost 20 years).
  • Balfour was perceived as a weak leader after following the dominant figure of Lord Salisbury.
  • Conservatives were divided over Tariff Reform and 
  • Failure to reverse Taff vale ruling (1901) and Chinese Slavery affair upset many working-class voters and trade unionists.
  • Balfour made a tactical error in resigning in 1905.
  • Limited social reforms under Conservative rule.
  • The prolonged Boer war and the ‘barbarism’ of its concentration camps.

Liberal Strengths:

  • The Lib-Lab Pact (1903) worked against the Conservatives and maximised opposition vote.
  • Liberals had dynamic young leaders and appeared to be have better party organisation.
  • Liberals and non-conformist opinion was united against unpopular policies such as the 1902 Education Act and 1904 Licensing Act.
  • the Liberals were united on Free Trade.
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