How important was the Boer War in the Liberal election victory of 1906?

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How important was the Boer War in the Liberal election victory of 1906?

It is often said in politics that governments lose elections rather than oppositions win them. In 1906 this was the case. There were many factors which came together and contributed to the liberal win in that year. These included the conduct of the Boer War, the introduction of Tariff Reforms by Joseph Chamberlain, Balfour's poor leadership style and the 1902 Education and 1904 Licensing Acts. The Liberals were also more in tune with the public mood with their beliefs in free trade and social reform. Issues such as: concerns over Chinese Labour; the Taff Vale Case had also enflamed public opposition towards the current government. The Boer War both in its conduct and in the underlying weaknesses it exposed of the British Empire contributed to this Liberal victory, however, what was more important was that the country wanted to replace a complacent government plus there was a general mood that it was “time for a change”.

The Boer War had a considerable impact on politics at this time. The idea of imperialism had suffered badly because of events during the war, these included the failures of the British military and the use of concentration camps which offended Liberal opinion. The war served to reunite the Liberals whilst at the same time it divided the Conservatives. The division of the Conservatives was over the fact the war was taking longer and costing much more as original thought. Britain’s social problems were also exposed because up to 40% of recruits were unfit for military service, suffering from medical problems such as rickets and other poverty-related illnesses. Liberals believed that social reform was not just a good thing to do in its self but also it would make Britain a much more efficient nation.

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Joseph Chamberlain tried to use the unity of the Empire fostered by the Boer War to promote the idea of Tariff Reform. Its purpose was to create an imperial internal market this would promote trade within the Empire and through the erection of Tariff walls discourage trade from outside it. It sounded good in theory but in practice it lead to higher food prices which alienated both working and middle classes. Now that many of the working class could vote after 1884 Third Reform Act this would have serious consequences at the general election. Chamberlain’s policy also split the Conservative ...

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