Indeed, Tariff Reform was to blame for the Conservative loss in the 1906 election. This is due to the fact that the election was dominated by Tariff Reform, allowing the Liberals to exploit its unpopularity with the British public. Combined with all the previous Conservative failures, there was an opportunity for the Liberals to gain the British favour from the uncaring Conservative attitudes.Tariff reform made the Conservative party largely unpopular with the public, creating an opportunity to be exploited by the Liberals. Tariff Reform dominated the 1906 general elections, creating a fear that the usual prices of food would raise drastically, or worse, countries that imported goods into Britain would decide to trade elsewhere as a result of the taxes they would now have to pay. Although the Conservatives attempted to raise incentive to support tariff reform through intentions of using tariff money for social reforms such as old age pensions it wasn’t enough to convince those who felt they would suffer the most, the working class.
Ultimately, 80% of the population were working class, they would be most affected by the general raise in prices and the Liberals exploited this with ease, presenting not only Free trade to those who feared otherwise, but social reforms that would increase the general standard of living. Resultantly, the argument on Tariff reform was significant as it put the working class, who were the majority, in a position of fear for change, and ultimately lead to a general consensus that tariff reform was the enemy. Tariff reform was also key in the loss of the Conservatives as it strengthened the Liberals, whilst simultaneously splitting the Conservative party. Not only was Tariff reform unpopular within Britain, but Chamberlains arrival to the Conservative party and ideas on Tariff Reform split the party, making them appear weak to the British public. The Liberals were clearly unified in their beliefs on an opposition for Tariff Reform, and when pit against a divided party, who seemed to be in support of what majority of the British public was against, there was an increase in Liberal popularity. The New Liberalist reformation to ‘freedom from’ hardships and poverty, promise of social reforms, support of Free Trade and the emphasis on the Tory’s failure whilst in government made it clear to the public that the Liberals should be in their favour. The Liberals also led an effective campaign, in which they took advantage of the unpopularity of Tariffs and led their entire campaign on the basis that they would give the people what they wanted, Free trade.
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The Conservative loss was fuelled by a rejection of their support of the policy, supported by the fact that the entire Liberal campaign drew attention to the disillusionment felt by the public with the previous Conservative government and a promise to help where the Conservatives had failed them (most notably through their support of Tariff Reform). A promise of ‘Big loaf’ under Liberals, and ‘Little loaf’ under Conservatives featured heavily, and effectively in their campaign. The Liberals, and their clever campaigning techniques were driven by the ‘Free Trade Vs Tariff Reform’ argument and ultimately led to the Conservative loss in the 1906 elections. Therefore, Tariff reform was most significant in the 1906 Conservative loss as not only did it make them widely unpopular as well as strengthen the Liberals, it was the largest of many failures which had made the Tory government unpopular. The failures of the Conservative party greatly contributed to the 1906 defeat of the Conservative party, leading to a decrease in their popularity. Balfour’s cold and detached manner made him appear uncaring and made him unpopular with the British public. The Taff Vale Case 1901, highlighted his ‘uncaring nature’ towards the lower class with his refusal to reverse the ruling and showed the workers that the Conservatives were unsympathetic to their case. Balfour’s decision to leave it with the courts made it appear as if he was siding with upper class and this provided an opportunity for the Liberals to make use of the grievance towards the Conservatives and gather support for the next election.
Balfour and his Conservatives callous approach was seen again in the Chinese slavery issue and their techniques that were referred to as ‘barbarism’ by Bannerman during the Boer war. A scandal erupted over the treatment of Chinese slaves in the South African mines and the poor conditions that they were forced to work in. This reinforced the image of the Conservative party as cold and uncaring of workers. The Conservatives would continue to fail the British public through the 1902 Education act and 1904 licencing act in which they would lose the non-conformist. Despite the fact that the Education Act would improve the standard of secondary education, it angered the non-conformist that they would have to fund (through taxation) schools that were teaching the Anglican faith. Again, the non-conformist were angered by Conservative actions despite positive intentions with the 1904 Licensing act. It angered them that Licensing Act clauses provided compensation to brewers and landlords who were going to lose their licence.
Ultimately, the Conservatives, in attempts to possibly eradicate the perceptions of them as cold and unsympathetic would make blunders that would result in the loss of a huge demographic in Britain. Although the 1906 election was not fought on the ideas of social reform, there was a growing acknowledgement to the extent of poverty in Britain, and The Conservatives clear neglect for social reform just increased unpopularity for the Tory government. The Boer war exposed the majority of this poverty through the poor health of British men and the fact that one third were established unfit to fight creating a fear of the decline of Britain as a great power. Simultaneously, however the Liberals would increase their popularity with the public, through a promise of a new type of liberalism, where the government would play a greater part in the welfare of its citizens. In conclusion, the failures of the Conservative contributed to their loss through their compassionless approach, leading to their decline in popularity and providing an opportunity for the Liberals to rise in power and popularity. The strengths of the Liberal party also played a part in the Conservatives loss in the 1906 general election. On Feb. 6, 1899, Bannerman was elected to lead the badly divided Liberal party. The Boer war, 1899 split the Liberal into ‘Imperialist’ and ‘Pro-Boer’ camps. Despite a split in the party, which had a potential to allow the Liberal party to appear weak, divided and therefore undeserving of the British public’s support, Bannerman’s strong leadership, and ‘step-by-step’ approach to the conflicting issue united them in a way that boost British support for their party.
Therefore, Bannerman’s leadership did not only strengthen the unity within the Liberal party which enabled them to have a strong campaign but it also exacerbated the disunity within the Conservative party causing a decrease in popularity and ultimately their loss. Additionally, the Lib-Lab pact of 1903 showed the strength of the Liberal party as it allowed them to secure any potentially split anti-conservative votes, resulting in the Conservatives loss. The Lib-Lab pact was an effective agreement designed to not split the left wing votes in areas that previously both the Liberal and Labour parties would have stood. Both parties also agreed on many issues and therefore the pact allowed them to involve themselves into joint campaigning and win the electorate as much as possible.
Ultimately, the pact showed the Liberals political intelligence, putting them in a position where they could ensure they received as much of the anti-conservative electorate as they could. Therefore, the strengths of The liberal party helped in the ultimate 906 loss of the Conservative party as they were able to put themselves into a position where they were strong politically and highlight the weaknesses of the conservative party whilst doing so.In conclusion, the loss of the Conservatives of the in the 1906 elections was driven by the common repulsion to the idea of Tariff reform. The persistent failures of the Conservatives as well as the highlighted strengths of the Liberals at this time contributed in causing the initial loss of support in the Conservative party. Both factors undeniably played a part, but essentially these could only play the parts that they did once viewed secondary to the uproar caused by Tariff reform.
Tariff Reform dominated the entire 1906 election, the Conservatives choice to be in support of it was their largest policy misjudgement and damaged them badly. If it had not been for this large misjudgement, there was a potential for the Conservatives to redeem themselves in the British publics eyes, but too many of both the working and middle class did not see the appeal of this policy leading the unfortunate defeat which was the 1906 Conservative loss.