Why did the Liberals lose the 1874 election?

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Why did the Liberals lose the 1874 election?

The reason for the Liberal’s 1874 election defeat is a common area of debate amongst historians.  Historians often argue that it was the rise of the Conservative Party and Disraeli that caused the Liberals to lose support.  Others argue that it was the unpopularity of the vast amount of the Liberal Party’s policies that lost them the votes of the masses.  In addition to the lack of popular policies, it is often put forward that the growing divisions within the Liberal Party caused its defeat.  Finally, historians such as Vincent regularly argue that the election defeat was due to the external circumstances of the time.

Watts argues that it was Disraeli’s leadership of a more appealing Conservative Party that caused the Liberal election defeat.  He emphasises the importance of Disraeli’s tactics in opposition, especially his refusal to accept office after the collapse of the Liberal government in 1873.  This further weakened the Liberal Party as it was forced to limp on for another eighteen months and further secured the Conservative election victory.  Disraeli’s numerous speeches also contributed to the loss of Liberal support such as his speech at Manchester in 1872 in which he attacked Gladstone’s policies as ‘endangering national institutions’.  These speeches appealed to all aspects of society and played on the middle class fear of radicalism.  In addition to this, Disraeli improved the organisation of the Conservative Party through the Conservative Central Office and John Gorst co-ordinating working men’s clubs.  However, Evans argues that the Conservatives actually won due to votes from the traditionally Conservative counties, and did not effectively broaden their appeal basis.  Though, generally speaking the Conservatives did manage to swing votes from stereotypically Liberal areas such as Lancashire.  Naturally, the Conservatives having a broader appeal winning more votes will have been an important reason for the Liberals losing the 1874 election.

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It is regularly argued by historians that Disraeli would not have been able to attack the Liberals if their policies were not so unpopular in the first place, and this was the reason that they lost the 1874 election.  Disraeli famously said that the Liberals were a ‘row of exhausted volcanoes’ due to their lack of innovative policies later on in the ministry.  Historians note the unpopularity of the Licensing Act, which alienated brewers and drinkers, as a massive contribution to a loss of support from the masses. There were numerous scandals in government during Gladstone’s ministry, including irregularities ...

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This is a concise and highly accurate answer that focuses on the question throughout and offers evaluative points that are very well supported by evidence. Use of historiography and consideration of counter-arguments strengthens it further. 5 out of 5 stars.