Higher History Handout 4 The Conservative Party 1886 - 1905 The result of the General Election held in July 1886 was:-
Conservative 316 seats
Liberal Unionist 78
Irish Nationalist 85 Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister. While the Irish Nationalists could be relied on to support the Liberals, it was clear that the Liberal Unionist MPs would support the Conservatives. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was Lord Randolph Churchill who was widely regarded as the most exciting and innovative politician in Government. In his famous speech at Dartford, in October 1886, he outlined his programme of Tory democracy:-
1 Compulsory national insurance
2 Reform of parliament procedure
3 Improvements in housing and in public health
4 Provision of public parks, libraries, museums, public baths and wash houses
5 Provision of small holdings for agricultural labourers
Churchill saw himself as the heir to the traditions and policies of Disraelian Conservatism; like Disraeli, he believed that extension of social provision would ensure working class support for the Conservative party. As well as his programme for social reform, he introduced an economic reform programme
1 Increases in death and house duties
2 Reductions in duties on tobacco and tea
3 Reductions in income tax
These reductions were to be financed by cuts in the defence budget.
The Minister for War, W. H. Smith, opposed these cuts. Salisbury supported him and Churchill resigned in December 1886. Churchill expected his resignation to create a major crisis but it did not. Sir Edward Goschen was appointed Chancellor in Churchill's place and Churchill never held high office again. He died in 1895 at the age of 45.
Social and domestic reform Although Salisbury's government was in power for six years, little of importance was achieved in the field of social and domestic reform. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet believed in as little intervention as possible. Salisbury was a strong advocate of the doctrine of 'self-help'. However, a relatively minor range of Bills were implemented.
1887 Labourers Allotment Act This gave local authorities the power to buy land for allotments for the working class people in their area so that they could grow their own fruit and vegetables. This permissive legislation was largely unsuccessful; authorities were not forced to comply and mostly ignored the Act.
1887 Mines Regulation Act This Act extended legal protection to miners in their workplace.
1891 Fee Grant Act Following on from recommendations of the Cross Commission on Education (set up 1888), the Act abolished fees for elementary education.
1891 Factory Act This Act raised the minimum age for children working in factories from
10 to 11 years old and specified that the maximum length of a working day was to be 12 hours.
1888 Local Government Act Although councils in boroughs were elected, the counties were still run by appointed boards. There were around 27,000 such boards, dealing separately with things like sanitation, street lighting, etc., and, as a result, the system was chaotic. The terms of the new Act, were that:
1 Sixty two new elected councils be created with wide compulsory powers
2 The councils take over the administrative powers of Justices of the Peace
3 More than 60 towns with populations of over 50,000 become county boroughs
4 London be treated as a county in its own right and be subdivided into 28 metropolitan boroughs
5 Unmarried women be allowed to vote for the new councils although disallowed to stand for election
This was a very important piece of legislation.
Necessary though these changes were, they did not deal with the major
social problem in Britain at that time; large numbers of working class people were still living in conditions of grinding poverty. There were riots amongst the poor in London in 1886 and in 1889, a 4 month-long successful strike by London dock workers. Salisbury saw no solution to the problems of the poor except for the philosophy of 'self-help'.
Balfour's conservative government - 1902 to 1905 Lord Salisbury's health was not good, and as it grew worse as the nineteenth century ended, Balfour took on more responsibility of government. While generally accepted as being able and intelligent, he was perceived as having no strong political beliefs or commitments. After the Conservative defeat in January 1906, he remained as leader of the Party until 1911 but politically he never recovered from the massive defeat of 1906. However, during the period 1902 to 1905 the Conservatives made some positive achievements in British domestic policies.
Conservative domestic policy 1902 - 1905
The main achievements were as follows:
1 1902:The Education Act: the Act abolished School Boards, county
councils and county boroughs were to be responsible for organising
primary, secondary and technical education. Voluntary schools were
to get money from the local rates to help them raise their standards to
the level of Board School The councils could also fund existing
secondary schools and set up their own fee-paying schools.
2 1903: The Land Purchase Act: had a considerable effect on Ireland.
The decline of the conservatives 1902-1905 The Government was becoming more and wore unpopular, in part because of shortcomings in social policy legislation in Salisbury's era, and also because of the unpopularity of the Boer War.
Neither Salisbury nor Balfour had any idea of the difficulties faced by the British working class in their day-to-day lives. Firm believers, in self-help, they opposed old age pensions, sickness schemes and unemployment schemes. Trade-unionists detested the Government - particularly over the Taff Vale case, where the Lords made the railway union pay damages after a strike in 1900. Effectively this meant unions facing a strike also faced bankruptcy as well it contributed to a rise in support for the Labour Party. Finally the argument on tariff reform split the Tory Party. All the evidence of economists and statisticians showed that Britain's dominance of the industrial economies was ending. Many other countries used tariffs (taxes paid on imports on point of entry) to protect local industries, but Britain remained committed to free trade. Because of this, German and American imports into Britain were damaging British countries. The radical conservative Joseph Chamberlain now believed Britain should abandon free trade, impose tariffs and, at the same time, set up a system of Imperial preferences: this would bind the Empire ever closer to Britain.
Chamberlain began his public campaign in 1903. He had considerable support in the Tory Party, but little in the Cabinet. He resigned and set up the Tariff Reform League. Balfour, unsuccessfully, tried compromise and the row in the Conservative Party continued to deepen. The Liberals came to the defence of Free Trade, arguing that it guaranteed cheap food, whereas tariffs would increase the cost of food.
The conservative collapse In December 1905, Balfour, resigned, but did not ask for a dissolution. He did not want to face a General Election, and was counting on the Liberals, under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, forming a new government. Campbell Bannerman did so. The Liberals patched up their public differences and called a General Election for the middle of January 1906.
The election result was as follows: Liberals 399, Conservatives and Unionists 157, Irish Nationalists 83 and Labour 29. The Tariff Reform row was probably the main factor in this massive Tory defeat: Balfour himself lost his seat, but Chamberlain was returned in Birmingham with an increased majority.