Why Were The Liberals Out Of Power For So Long Between 1889 1905?

1332 words - 6 pages

There were many reasons why the liberals lost power during these years, most notable the split in the party over Irish home rule, and the fact that chamberlain left the party. Also, with the conservatives growing in numbers and a reform of the electoral system the liberals had little hope of winning again, despite their best efforts to fix votes.The liberal's main problem was their prime minister, Gladstone. He was perpetually pushing for home rule in Ireland, something that people in mainland Britain either didn't care about or opposed - hardly a vote winner. He tried to pass the first home rule bill in 1886 at an age of 75. In this first home rule bill he proposed that Ireland establish a separate Irish parliament, though with strictly limited powers. Westminster would have still had control of the Irish armed forces, foreign policy and trade.This first bill got support from Parnell's nationalists, who of course voted for it, being Irish nationalists. However, Gladstone didn't get a lot of support from the rest of Britain. Gladstone's main areas of support were on the Celtic fringe, areas like Wales, Cornwall and Ireland. The conservatives opposed the bill, and somewhat more importantly so did a section of the Liberal party itself. Chamberlain and some of the more right wing liberals were among the 93 people from the party who voted against the bill. The bill was only defeated by a margin of 30, so if even half of those in the liberal party hadn't gone against their leader Ireland would have been on its way to independence, and the liberals would have potentially gained a lot more seats and kept their power.The liberals were also lacking in other departments. The party's creed was outdated and the only main policy Gladstone was trying to sell to the British was home rule for Ireland. This meant that the little support Gladstone once had was now waning badly. Gladstone himself wasn't very loved by the mainland. It was his successor to be who won them most popularity in Britain. Chamberlain was a young, charismatic man who was in touch with the people. He was the liberal party's only chance at success, and so when he left the party to form the Liberal Unionists the party was doomed, with only about 25 radical Gladstone supporters left in 1886.As well as a split party there were other factors leading to the decline of the liberal party, The Whigs, along with Chamberlain and some others who were opposed to the liberal views branched off towards the conservatives, strengthening them greatly. They called themselves the liberal unionists, those who were opposed to the home rule bill, and eventually they joined the conservative party greatly strengthening the party as an opposition to the liberals.Also an important factor was the 1884 3rd Reform Act and the 1885 Redistribution of Seats Act. The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 was a piece of electoral reform legislation that redistributed the seats in the House of Commons again in an attempt to equalize representation across the UK. It was associated with, but not part of, the Reform Act 1884.The Act made the following changes:* 79 towns with populations smaller than 15,000 lost their right to elect an MP;* 36 towns with populations between 15,000 and 50,000 lost one of their MPs and became single member constituencies;* towns with populations between 50,000 and 165,000 were given two seats;* larger towns and the country constituencies were divided into single member constituenciesAs support of the Irish members was needed by both major parties, the representation of Ireland in Parliament was not reduced, even though it had suffered a relative loss of population compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, due to emigration and famine.This new system meant that instead of the Liberals managing to get all three MP's in their most popular areas they now had to fight for one MP. This greatly favoured the Conservatives who had support from most areas of Britain. Votes in an area would be split up into three segments, the aristocrats, working class and the rural areas. The liberals now had to try and secure votes for three of their members from all three sections of society just to make sure that one person would go forward into the House of Commons.As the liberals were outdated and drab it was hard, no matter how much vote fixing they tried to do, to get a majority in certain areas. This strengthened the Conservatives and weakened the Liberal force because different parties were more popular in different areas of a town.The conservatives were also gaining strength among the nationalists, they were extremely jingoistic.Also the conservatives, with the support of some aristocratic Whigs such as the Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Bedfordshire moved the party forwards. These rich aristocrats appealed to the other rich aristocrats in the country which helped gain votes. Also, the rich landowners and aristocrats often employed a large chunk of town and cities, and so influenced the vote. The working class people didn't want to risk upsetting their employers and so voted the same way as they did - more often that not conservative. The conservatives already had about a third of the working class votes before the reform act.Also, the Boer War won the conservatives a lot of votes in the khaki election of 1900. There was much enthusiasm for the war at this point; people were excited to see the conservatives focusing once again on the empire, pumping troops into the Orange Free State. This jingoism resulted in a victory for the Conservative party.However, public support quickly waned as it became apparent that the war would not be easy and it dragged on, partially contributing to the Conservatives' spectacular defeat in 1906. There was public outrage at the use of scorched earth tactics -- the burning of Boer homesteads, for example -- and the conditions in the concentration camps. It also became apparent that there were serious problems with public health: up to 40% of recruits were unfit for military service, suffering from medical problems such as rickets and other poverty-related illnesses. This came at a time of increasing concern for the state of the poor in Britain.The use of Chinese labour, known as Coolies, after the war by the governor of the new crown colonies, Lord Milner, also caused much revulsion in the UK. Workers were often kept in appalling conditions, received only a small wage and were forbidden to socialise with the local population -- this led to further public shock at the resulting homosexual acts between those forbidden the services of prostitutes. Some believe the Chinese slavery issue can be seen as the climax of public hostility to the war.With this and Salisbury's retirement in 1902, as well as the Conservatives split over the issue of free trade they began a short-lived decline. Then in 1906 Liberal leader Campbell-Bannerman, rallying the party on a platform of free trade and land reform, led the Liberals to the greatest election victory in their history. This would, however, prove to be the last time the Liberals won a majority in their own right.


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