The Conservative Party, 1900-1906 - AS British Domestic History

Just a guide to some of the key events and problems faced by the Conservative party in the period 1900-1906.

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The two groups of recent importance in this time were:

  • The MIDDLE CLASS, who were expanding due to business expansion
  • The WORKING CLASS, who had recently gained the vote, and therefore had more political influence.

Key changes in the Party:

  • They became the CONSERVATIVE AND UNIONIST PARTY. This highlighted their opposition towards HOME RULE.
  • Benjamin Disraeli, PM preceding Lord Salisbury, knew they had to try and appeal to the working class, so he introduced SOCIAL REFORMS. Lord Salisbury, leader of the conservatives and PM after Disraeli accepted this wisdom.
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The Boer War


  • 1884 - Britain officially gave control of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State to the Boers - however they continued to claim authority over it. 
  • Joseph Chamberlain felt an Empire was necessary to remain a powerful Nation.He made unreasonable demands of the Boers, basically forcing them to fight.
  • War broke out in 1899.

The general public grew unhappy about the war, although at the start there was a surge of patriotic support for the war, which Salisbury exploited by calling an election in 1900 becoming known as the KHAKI ELECTION. The Conservatives won. 

The war was won in 1902, yet it was still a huge embarrassment for the conservatives;

  • They failed to win it QUICKLY - despite the Boers being ill-equipped.
  • They had used BRUTAL METHODS, e.g. cramped and unhygienic concentration camps.

These facts were able to be used against them by their political opponents. When Arthur Balfour became P.M. in 1902, he inherited this bad reputation, despite his good work on progressive reforms.

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Chinese Slavery

Key Info:

  • Balfour's government was accused of allowing large numbers of Chinese slaves or 'coolies' to be brought from Asia to work in bad conditions in the gold and diamond mines that were part of the British Empire.
  • Balfour's government said it was the British officials in Africa that had to deal with it, however this was merely seen as passing the blame, and was an INADEQUATE RESPONSE.
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The Taff Vale Decision, 1901

  • In June 1901 Taff Vale Railway Company employees went on strike, fully backed by their Union, The Associated Society for Railway Servants (ASRS). 
  • The Company tried bringing in non-union labour to end the strike. Then they took the ASRS to court for illegal picketing. They won; the strikers went back to work, nothing achieved. 
  • The company went to court again, this time claiming damages for the financial losses of the strike. At first, favour was with the company, however on appeal in November 1901 this was reversed
  • The company went to the House of Lords, which ruled in favour of the company - effectively denying workers the right to strike. 
  • These decisions can only be reversed in Parliament, but in 1902, Balfour declared he hand no intention of reversing the decision
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Balfour's Education Act, 1902

Key Terms:

  • School leaving age raised to 12
  • Subsidies granted to CofE schools
  • Locally elected school boards abolished - authority over schools passed to county or borough councils.

Despite hoping to achieve praise and credit, alot of anger was caused among religious groups:

  • ANGLICANS had traditionally been the ones setting up schools. When education was extended to all, it made sense they would recieve special funding. But they were still unhappy that they had lost their traditional hold over education.
  • ROMAN CATHOLICS, among other 'non-conformists' were unhappy that they didn't recieve any funding for schools.
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The Irish Land Act (The Wyndham Act), 1902

In this Act, £100 million was made available to Irish Tenants to buy out their English landlords. This meant they could own the land they farmed

Irish Nationalists, recently embittered by the Home Rule rejection, viewed this as a belated measure.

Unionists dismissed it as the government giving in to Nationalist pressure.

Despite his efforts here, he eventually gained the nickname 'Bloody Balfour' for his harsh measures employed to control Nationalist disorder.

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The Licensing Act, 1904

Aim: to regulate the sale of alcohol, thereby protecting children. However:

  • Some religious groups were angered by the clause allowing brewers to receive compensation if and when they lost their liscence as a result of the Act. They felt it seemed like a reward for 'vice'
  • Movements such as the Salvation Army felt that drink was a major factor in deepening poverty, and should not be rewarded. 
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The Tariff Reform, 1903-1906

In 1903, the Conservatives adopted a policy of imperial preference, meaning tariffs would be applied to imports, unless they came from British dominions and colonies. The British Empire would be a worldwide PROTECTIONIST TRADING BLOC. Joseph Chamberlain feared social violence due to poverty and destitution, so he felt tariffs would stop this by protecting British businesses. He didn't want revolutionary socialism (where people are heavily taxed and the money is redistributed to the poor); he viewed it as unjust.

The policy of imperialism was never adopted, but it was made a National issue. Officially the conservatives adopted the policy. Few were happy about it; it was only accepted because it meant the wouldn't have to use taxation. During the 1906 election, few conservatives could put forward a convincing argument for protectionism; they didn't believe in their cause, so the Liberals won. Balfour resigned as Conservative party leader. He tried convincing the king to dissolve parliament, meaning an election would have to occur early. He hoped to divide liberals over Home Rule, giving them a better chance of winning the next election. This failed; the Liberals remained united

They were close in terms of votes, but were unable to distribute those votes in a way which would turn them into seats

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