The Conservatives' Record in Government and Their Likeliness to Lose the General Election in 1906

The Conservatives' Record in Government and Their Likeliness to Lose the General Election in 1906

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The Conservatives' Record in Government and Their Likeliness to Lose the General Election in 1906

Between 1900 and 1905, the Conservatives' under Lord Salisbury
(1900-1902) and then Balfour (1902-1905), steadily lost support and
respect from the British public. From a period of political dominance
from 1885 to a crushing defeat in 1906, which saw a landslide victory
for the Liberals', there were a series of decisions, indecisions and
acts passed during the 5 years in question that many historians view
as the reason for the Conservative defeat in 1906. In the 1900
election, lord Salisbury with his reforms in the years previous to it,
won a convincing victory and 334 seat along with the 68 seats from the
Liberal Unionists, who supported the Conservatives' during this time.
However another Conservative government would not be in power again
until 1922. However there are five events during this time which see
the Conservatives loose support, The Taff Vale Judgement (1901), The
Education Act (1902), 'Chinese Slavery', Tariff Reform and The 1904
Licensing Act.

During 1900,workers from the Taff Vale Railway Company went on strike
over pay, following this, the company took the union, the Amalgamated
Society of Railway Servants, to court and won; the union had to pay
£23,000 damages. This judgement made it clear to unions that they
could not go on strike without the fear of being sued after it, being
rendered bankrupt. Therefore the working class, who Lord Salisbury had
worked so hard to summon support for the 'Tories' from, now wanted
Balfour to reverse the decision, rather than do this, he set up a
Royal Commission which to the working class was not acceptable. This
decision undid all of the hard work done by Salisbury and his
governments, the working class now went to the Liberals, but mainly
the up and coming party, The Labour Representation Committee (to
become the Labour Party) for support. This was the first incident that
started the long decline of support for the Conservatives; however it
was not clear at the time that this unpopular decision (with the

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working class) would be the beginning of the end for the party.

The second unpopular act by the Conservatives was The Education Act
(1902) which saw the abolishment of the old school boards and the
birth of the newly established secondary schools. Local Authorities
were given power over the schools, although the government funded
them, and helped to fund struggling Church schools. Local Authorities
took responsibility for secondary education. The problem with this act
was that Non Conformists hated what they described as 'Rome on the
rates', and for Catholics, this was not acceptable. The non
conformists saw this act as unfair due to the fact that they felt they
were paying for a school to teach beliefs that they didn't agree with.
This opposition was focused into the support of the Liberals, who
united over this point and could be argued that this unity brought
with it respect back from the public and the liberals started to
become an opposition again, there was starting to be two party
politics being played rather than one. This opposition was having a
severe impact on the level of support for the Conservatives. However
this Act has largely been seen as a considerable achievement among
many commentators, but during the time it was introduced the non
conformist opposition to the Act was a blow to Conservative support.

'Chinese Slavery' is quite misleading in its name, the topic isn't
about Chinese slaves but the shortage of labour in South Africa after
the Boer War and what was done to solve the shortage. To resolve this
the British High Commissioner agreed to allow mine owners to import
around 50,000 Chinese on low wages and housed in poor conditions. When
news of this got to Britain, there was outrage over Humanitarian
concerns, discontent over the fact that a potential emigration rout
was being closed, and more importantly, the trade unions stated in
times of labour shortage in Britain the same thing may happen. Balfour
publicly disapproved of what was going on in South Africa, but more
importantly did in fact nothing about it. To the British public, this
was seen as weak leadership on Balfour's part, this was damaging to
the Conservatives because they were being seen as having a weak leader
and during this time the Prime Minister wasn't just in control of
Britain but of Britain's Empire, which needed a strong, confident
leader. The Liberals were all united over their disgust over this
matter and gained support form the working class and other members of
the voting public who saw the 'Chinese Slavery' as a cruel and
exploiting measure being taken by the High Commissioner and South
African mine owners. This was yet another issue that was loosing
support for the Conservatives and letting the Liberals gain ever more
support.

The Licensing Act (1902) gave Licensing Justices the power to refuse a
Licence renewal if premises were deemed structurally unsound or
unneeded in the area. These powers were extended by Balfour's (1904)
Act which made it even easier for pubs to be closed down. Existing
licences became known as 'old on licences' and the 'Ante 1869 beer
house' was no longer immune from the licence renewal procedure.
Furthermore, when a licence was not granted the breweries could claim
compensation, which was raised by taxing the pubs that got a licence,
money to pay the breweries who had lost pubs to sell their beer to
compensation. This was unpopular on two sided, the anti drink movement
objected to the payment of any compensation, no matter where it came
from, while the brewers were not happy at having, in effect, to
compensate them selves. This all added to the ever growing
unpopularity for the Conservative government. This Act however is
widely seen as an achievement, but at the time, similarly to the
Education Act 1902, the Licensing Act 1904 was unpopular at the time.

The last reason for the hugely embarrassing 1906 General Election
defeat for the Conservatives was Joseph Chamberlain. He had been a
Liberal pre split, and had caused the split over the 'Home Rule' for
Ireland, he then joined the Liberal Unionists and became a member of
the Conservative cabinet in 1895. However he believed in a new
proposal called Tariff Reform, which was a policy to abandon the
traditional 19th centaury free trade and the adoption to tariffs on
non British goods being soles in Britain. The tariffs were to be lower
to goods from other countries in the British Empire; this was to be
known as 'the system of imperial preference'. This proposal was an
effort to combat the ever growing threat to British industrial
dominance form Germany, USA, and Japan. However this topic split the
Conservative right down the middle as his 'Home Rule' proposal had
done to the Liberals. The working class and The Free Food League
believed that the price of such things as bread and clothes would rise
to a level at which they would not be able to afford. More importantly
the Liberals re-united over this issue and believed in free trade
which had helped to see the prosperity of 19th centaury Britain. To
combat The Free Food League, A Tariff Reform League was set up; they
held debates and posters were produced. But the long and the short of
it was that this issue had split the Conservatives and the Nation but
worse for the Tories it had united the Liberals. Just as the
Conservatives had gained support over the unity shown in the home rule
issue which had split the Liberals in two, the opposite was happening
to the Tories. Finally the fact that Balfour failed to take sides on
this important issue, it helped to separate the government and give
support from the Tories to the Liberals due to the fact the public did
not want an indecisive leader, but a strong and decisive one,
something Balfour was obviously not as he had more than once
demonstrated.

In conclusion it is possible to say that the Liberals were handed the
1906 General Election in the same way that the Conservatives had been
in 1885. There was a number of issues which Balfour and his government
lost popularity over, although all were instrumental in the
Conservatives huge defeat in the 1906 General Election, there were
signs that the defeat was coming, as the Tories lost by-elections all
the way through Balfour' government, but one is more instrumental than
the others, the Tariff Reform issue. This split the government into
two and although it is possible to blame this on Chamberlain as many
historians have done, it is fare to say that the fact that Balfours'
indication over the matter was just as important. Also the fact that
it re-united the Liberals made it dangerous for the government as it
now had serious opposition and also, the anti Tariff Reformers had a
party that they could now vote for that wasn't a wasted vote. It was
these decisions, acts and indications that led the way to the 1906
crippling defeat at the General Election.
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