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To what extent was the Liberal election victory of 1906 caused by dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party?

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Introduction

Polly Jackman, 12SAM To what extent was the Liberal election victory of 1906 caused by dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party? The 1906 election was a landslide victory for the Liberal Party. It was a dramatic turn-around for the main contender to British Government that had been out of power for twenty years. The Liberals won 377 seats outright, and including the 27 Lib-Lab seats and around 80 Irish Home Rule seats they had made a dramatic defeat. The Conservative Party lost 245 seats since the 1900 election, in 1906 they had only 157. However, this majority does not seem so great when looked at in percentage of votes. The Liberals won just over 50% of the vote, while the Conservatives were only slightly behind with 43%. This apparent anomaly is explained by the British Electoral system; the 'first past the post' policy where the M.P with the highest number of votes wins, regardless of whether other Parties have nearly the same number of votes. This sensational change in the British public's votes must have been a sign of the obvious change in mood over the Conservative's term. ...read more.

Middle

The Liberals were united against Tariff Reform and so was Ritchie, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who wanted to reassert Free Trade. The Liberals put across the 'Small loaf argument', which meant, in the most basic terms to the working classes that tax on non-Colony products like wheat would make them more expensive. The price of the basic staple of their diet, bread, would rise. As the Liberals explained it this meant that with Tariff Reform, for the money they paid for a large loaf of bread then, they would only be able to buy a small loaf later. For the working classes it appeared as though the Conservatives had provided no social reforms. In all Balfour and Salisbury's time before him, only the two Education Acts, the Workmen's Compensation Act, the Unemployed Workmen's Act which gave no state funding and the Licensing Act had been passed to directly affected the working man's life. The middle classes were also dissatisfied with Conservative rule. They were distressed at the attitudes used in the Boer War. ...read more.

Conclusion

To insure that their Party no longer seemed divided to the British public the Liberals did not fight about Home Rule in their speeches, and since it had not been something that had popularised them, it was not mentioned in the Liberal Party manifesto. The Liberals promised the public that they would make changes to the Law, essentially by repealing all the unpopular Laws passed under Conservative rule. They stated they would repeal the Education and Licensing Acts and the Taff Vale case, thus attracting the Temperance movement, Nonconformists and working class. The Liberals guaranteed few reforms; they said they would try to do something about pensions but kept it vague so that the middle and upper classes would not be unduly worried enough to vote Conservative. The Lib-Lab pact served both Parties well, it allowed Liberals and Labour to get candidates into Parliament and did not separate anti-Conservative votes. In the 1906 election it was much clearer what the Liberals stood for, and perhaps England felt that at that particular time she was ready for a change, but without the constant blunders of Balfour's Government thought of change may have never entered any Englishman's consciousness. ...read more.

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