Before the 1906 election around 1895-1902 the conservative party were massively successful and the strongest government party around. This was because they had Lord Salisbury as a leader who was seen as a leader for both middle class and working class people in Britain; the liberal party was weak as they were fighting themselves over Ireland home rule which meant that the conservatives had an advantage as it meant that people were not voting for the liberals and so instead voted conservative;
the conservative party had the majority of seats in the House of commons consequently they could get almost any rule passed through whereas the liberal party could not; conservatives had changed the way they operated from reactionary to pragmatic and the conservatives did not want home rule and as a result people supported them.
However, in 1906 the conservative party lost the general election to the liberal party. There were many reasons as to why the conservative party lost the election including the Taff Vale case (1901), the Chinese slavery issue (1902), the education act (1902), Tariff reform (1903) and also due to the character of the leader of the conservative party at the time; Arthur Balfour. Arthur Balfour was a leader of the commons until his uncle Lord Salisbury retired 1902, after this he succeeded his position as prime minister and leader of the conservative party.
This upset a majority of people as Balfour was not voted in to the position but took over from his uncle. Balfour wasn’t good at speaking out loud and struggled with leadership as he was very indecisive unlike his uncle which made it fairly obvious that he wasn’t a good leader for the conservatives and meant that some people no longer supported the conservative party because of him. Another issue against the conservative party was the Taff Vale case in 1901.
The matter was between the Taff vale railway company in Wales and rail worker trade unions who went on strike. After the strikes took place the Taff Vale took the trade unions to court due to the loss in profits over the time period of when the strikes took place.
The House of Commons ruled that it was within rights for the Taff Vale to sue the trade unions which horrified many people as it meant that people could no longer strike rightly. Only an act of parliament could change this so many people relied on the conservatives for this to happen seeing as they had the majority of the seats in the House of commons however they refused to get involved.
This led to a massive loss in support for the conservatives as many people wanted this rule changed. It also meant that other political groups such as the labour party now had an idea to put forward as to why people should vote them and in result it gained them seats in the 1906 election. Chinese slavery was another problem that led to the conservatives losing the 1906 election.
During 1902-1904 the conservative party introduced Chinese slavery to South Africa. This led to a loss of support and thus a loss in votes in the next election from trade unions and non conformists as they believed that this was morally wrong and feared that employers might bring them to England which would result in a drop in the wages at home especially in a time where there was a high rate of unemployment.
In 1902 Balfour introduced the education act which changed the way some schools were funded. Before 1902, Anglican and Catholic Church schools were funded by the church however after the act it meant that these schools were funded by the local councils at their rates. This roused fury with the non conformists as they didn’t want their taxes spent on something that they didn’t believe in and in some cases against. This led to them setting up a campaign which led to them refusing to pay their taxes.
The liberal MP of Wales David Lloyd George set up his own campaign against the act which suggested that the welsh should not pay funds to Anglican schools, he persuaded the welsh to show their disapproval of the conservative policies by voting liberal in at the next welsh elections. This campaign caught on around Britain and led to many non conformists to vote in the liberal party in the 1906 election leading to a loss of votes for the conservatives.
The last problem that affected the conservatives was the Tariff Reform in 1903. Balfour wanted tariff reforms as he argued that it would pay for social reforms and that it would protect British jobs. However this didn’t help the conservatives but instead damaged them as many of their voters (working class and middle class) feared that the tariff reform would result in an increase to the expense of goods meaning that their cost of living would also increase.
The tariff reform’s divided the conservative party and made them weak. This meant their opposition, the liberal party had an advantage as this helped them to reunite their government and put forward the idea of no tariff reform as they believed in free trade. This issue is seen to be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” as it was the problem that seemed to cost the conservatives the most votes.
Overall, each of these problems had an effect into why the conservative party lost in the 1906 election as it meant that they lost voters and consequently seats in the House of Commons for the policies that they put forward. If these policies had been on their own without the rest then the conservatives may have won, however with all of these policies affecting the conservatives around the same time it meant that they lost 246 seats in the 1906 elections and the liberal party massively out won them 399 seats to 156.
Courtney from Study Moose
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