Explanations of political and social forces in the metropole

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  • Created on: 05-04-13 17:30

Approaches that emphasise metropolitan politics and imperialism

Historians that approach imperialism from a political angle focus on the values and beliefs held by particular politicians and parties and how this affected the actions taken by different governments. The approach is significant as it explores the way in which individuals could alter imperialism and the way in which Britain was not merely reacting to external, global events.

Interpretations of the role played by political parties

·         The Liberal Party

The Liberal Party was dominated by Gladstone in which he believed it was his duty to govern efficiently over the Empire, but to consolidate rather than expand it. Expansionism and direct control of colonies was viewed as costly, and led to conflict. It also went against the basic principle of liberalism, which focused on providing freedom and rights to peoples who were governed. Gladstone’s aim was to allow colonies responsible self-government and encourage them to become self-reliant.

During Gladstone’s first ministry he was criticised for lacking patriotism. In the early 1870, troops were withdrawn from Canada and New Zealand at a time of internal upheaval. The Canadian PM, Galt, was given a knighthood despite being a proponent of independence and in June 1870 the Gambia was handed over to France. These events caused some historians to label 1869-70 as the ‘climax of anti-imperialism’. There were genuine concerns over budgets, implementing Edward Cardwell’s proposed military reforms of 1869, coping with changing European relations (as a result of the Franco-Prussian War) and the need to strengthen bonds with the USA. Gladstone and his Colonial Secretary, Granville, believed that the withdrawal of military assistance was the best way to allow self-government while maintaining ‘prosperous and cordial friendships’.

Gladstone’s second and subsequent ministries revealed divisions in the Liberal camp over Empire. The majority of Liberals adopted the view of informal control whilst a significant Whig group pushed increasingly for expansionism which matched the views of the Conservatives. Gladstone had to deal with the demands of Radicals and Irish Nationalists. Given the pressure from the Whig elements and the sudden switch by Bismarck to imperialism, it’s not surprising Gladstone moved towards a more expansionist approach. This was not apparent in the lead up to the 1880 election; Gladstone’s famous Midlothian campaign attacked Disraelian imperialism as being inhumane, unjust and expensive (Source C).

Gladstone’s intention on taking office in March 1880 was to reverse the path taken by Disraeli, and to consider a more federalist approach to governance of Empire. With the Transvaal, Gladstone initially attempted to keep it ‘federated’ but the Boers revolted, resulting in the death of the Governor of Natal at Majuba Hill in 1881. In response, a convention was held at Pretoria in August 1881 which restored Boer self-government, but with British suzerainty over external


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