Balfour’s leadership was responsible for the decline in the popularity of the conservative party between the years 1902 – 1906. Explain why you agree or disagree with this view. ( 24 marks ) Balfour’s leadership along with other key factors, including chamberlain’s influence, the Boer war and the liberal party’s actions, overall led to the decline in popularity for the conservative party giving the liberals their first taste of power in the 1906 general election.
Balfour’s character consisted of a very cautious, indecisive man which came across when faced with Chamberlain and his debate on ‘tariff reform’, which stated that all non-British colonies should have to pay tariffs on imports into Britain, making foreign goods more expensive. At this time free trade was thoroughly indented into British society and nearly all voters were against the idea.
Despite Balfour expressing his opinion that he had no settled convictions for tariff reform, when he was faced with the endorsement of tariff reform by a ‘retaliationist’ who embraced tariffs as the most effective means of forcing protectionist nations to the negotiating table, Balfour consistently rejected the protectionist argument which Chamberlain endorsed. When its ambiguity provoked conflict within the Conservative Party, Balfour’s failure to clarify his policy or assert his authority only exacerbated the confusion and bitterness. Balfour’s reputation paid a high price for this indecisive leadership.
If this wasn’t enough Balfour resigned in 1905 without asking for a general election, leaving the party extremely angry and had to appoint Campbell-Bannerman to take his place. Not only did Balfour anger the Conservative party, he also annoyed the working class. He failed to recognise that taking no action of the ‘Taff Vale’ incident was an unpopular move. The railway workers on the Taff Vale railway went on strike in 1901. The management replaced them with National free labour association workers and then took the union to court for damages.
The judge ruled in favour of the company which angered thousands of trade union members who wanted change but by 1905 the Conservatives had not taken any action whereas the Liberals and newly formed Labour party were supporting change, leading the working class away from the conservative vote all because of Balfour’s aloofness and lack of interest in the matter. Other unpopular acts that Balfour passed was the 1904 Licensing Act which angered non- conformists who felt that it was just a concession to the liquor trade, which was a prime supplier of income for the Unionists.
The 1902 Education act was also unpopular as it created local schools out of the funding from church schools, which angered Anglicans. However, Balfour cannot be solely to blame for the decline in popularity from the Conservative party. A key issue in the defeat of the Conservative party was Tariff reform discussed previously, although Balfour cannot be blamed for this issue as it was Chamberlain in favour of the reform and was the one that put it into place, therefore it was his responsibility for the split of the Conservative party, not Balfour’s.
The Conservative government looked weak at the placement of Tariff reform, which of no fault of Balfour or the Conservatives, reunited the Liberal party after formally being split. We could explain the result of the 1906 general election purely as a Liberal victory rather than a Conservative defeat which Balfour had no input in, therefore cannot be blamed for the declining popularity of the Conservatives.
After all, the Liberals had proved that they could form a strong government as they stood together on the issue of Tariff reform and proved they stood for the people of Britain, such as promising pensions and child welfare which benefited the people, increasing the attraction to the Liberal Party. Another tactic of the Liberals was to introduce the Lib-Lab pact which was an agreement between both the Liberals and the new Labour party, promising to stand together against the Conservatives; previous Labour voters voted Liberal to increase the votes, out of no fault of the Conservatives or Balfour, the Liberal party grew stronger.
Another big issue into the declining popularity to the Conservative party was Chinese Slavery which caused a moral outrage from the Boer War. After the conclusion of the Boer War the British government sought to rebuild South Africa’s economy which had been devastated by the war. An important part of the rebuilding effort was to get the gold mines of the Witwatersrand, the richest in history and a major cause of the war, back online as soon as possible. Because the government decreed that white labour was too expensive and black labourers were reluctant to return to the mines, they decided to import 63,000 contracted workers from China.
This was deeply unpopular at the time as popular opinion was hostile towards Chinese Immigration and rose issues such as racism. It also happened at a time when poverty and unemployment amongst lower class British workers was very high. Because the Conservatives were in control of the media and failed to inform the British people about the happenings in South Africa, this led to the party looking increasingly bad and the decreasing popularity towards them. Again, Balfour himself cannot take full responsibility for this problem as it was not his poor leadership that caused the camps in South Africa.
To conclude I do agree to an extent that Balfour had an impact in the declining popularity towards the Conservative party as his weak leadership broke the Conservatives which was their vital flaw in losing voters. The British people wanted a strong government and the Conservative party wasn’t showing them that. However he cannot solely take the blame as there were more pressing incidents that led to the defeat of his party, for example the growing attraction to the Liberal party and Chamberlain’s attitude did not help the situation, along with the dreadful events in the stressful Boer War. (Achieved 17/24 marks)