Magazine article History Today

A Liberal Party Landslide: January 12th, 1906

Magazine article History Today

A Liberal Party Landslide: January 12th, 1906

Article excerpt

THE ELECTION RESULT ASTOUNDED winners and losers alike. In 1900, the Conservatives and Unionists had won 402 seats on the strength of success in the Boer War. The Liberals had 184 seats, with 82 Irish Nationalists and two Labour Party members. The Conservatives under Arthur Balfour fell out over tariff reform and resigned in December 1905. Balfour resigned rather than dissolve Parliament and force an election, in the hope that the Liberals, who also had their disagreements, might split when they tried to put together a cabinet.

Political wiseacres, including many Liberals, thought it a smart move. Leading Liberals had been at odds over the war, imperialism, Ireland and women's suffrage. Prominent figures in the party, including Sir Edward Grey, H.H. Asquith and R.B. Haldane, had been plotting to get rid of their leader, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, an amiable, indolent, well-to-do Scot from Glasgow who sat for the same Scottish seat for forty years. With assistance on the quiet from Edward VII's court, they hoped to force him into the House of Lords. Campbell-Bannerman declined and persuaded the party bigwigs that forming a government was far more important than arguing about what it should or should not do. He assembled a cabinet with Grey as foreign secretary, Asquith at the Exchequer and Haldane at the war office. David Lloyd George was at the Board of Trade.

Scoring off the Conservatives for having done a moonlight flit after a period which he called 'a well-nigh unbroken expanse of mismanagement', Campbell-Bannerman called an election for early in the New Year. …

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