The Liberals did not win the 1906 election the Unionists lost it
There were many factors behind the massive Liberal victory of 1906, but many of these were in fact Unionist weaknesses. There are four main theories for how the Liberals came to a win: the Boer War, the 1902 Education Act, the tariff reform campaign and also because of Balfour himself as leader of the Unionists. Each of these theories bought wide appeal to the Liberals and made the Unionists look bad. Up until 1906 the Unionists were in power, they were lead by Lord Salisbury and were seen as a ‘new look’ party.
Although the Unionist leadership remained predominantly aristocratic, it gained support from middle classes as well as appealing to the working class. At this time the Liberals were weak, they had electoral weaknesses, leadership weaknesses as Gladstone resigned in March 1894 and Rosebury took over lead. Also because of the Home Rule crisis of 1886, some Liberals went as far as to join the Unionists. In the 1900 election, the Unionists remained as the power, simply because the Boer War kept them in that place, it kept all of the supporters in a patriotic mood and took their minds of all of the other issues and problems.
This made the Unionists popular by the masses, and it was known as the ‘khaki election’. Soon after the 1900 election, it was found that the Boer War victory had come at a great cost and had been dragged on for some time sponging tax from all of the people, also concentration camps were used to defeat the Boers in war. This made the Unionists unpopular, especially when the war indeed in 1902. This is a reason that gave the Liberals victory when the 1906 election came, because the Unionists lost their popularity and support of the working class due to rising unemployment and other repercussions of the Boer War.
This is also a reason why the Liberals did not win the election in 1906, because the Unionists practically put themselves out of the competition. The Unionists had been in control since 1886, which was a long while, and Lord Salisbury was getting old and becoming unable because of his health, he resigned in 1902 and Balfour was his replacement. Balfour was not as good of a leader, he lacked political skill to keep the Unionist coalition; he was always philosophising and was very indecisive.
He was also an aristocrat and therefore did not relate well with the masses, which bought the Unionists little support and helped the Liberals to gain popularity. This is another reason why the Unionists contributed to the Liberal victory of 1906. Campbell-Bannerman took over Lord Rosebury as Liberal leader in 1905 and re-united the Liberals; this shows that the Liberals themselves can take some responsibility for their own win. After the Boer War, with the Unionists losing support, it left the Liberals open and in a great position to pose new ideas. In 1902, the Unionists passed Morant’s Education Act.
The Liberals traditionally gained support from protestants who do not belong to Church of England – the Education Act disgusted Liberal Unionists who supported the Liberal beliefs of school, because it allowed the schools to be funded by the rates. If the Liberal Unionists lived in an area where there was a Church of England or a Catholic school, the rates that they paid would go towards it because of the Education Act. The Liberal Unionists, who left the Liberals over Home Rule crisis (approximately 100), ended up returning back to the newly formed Liberals because of the Unionists stupid actions.
This left the Unionists seriously damaged and strengthened the Liberals significantly. This shows that although the Unionists pleased the society with the Education act of 1902, almost doubling the amount of pupils in grant -aided schools, they did not account for the beliefs of the Liberal Unionists and ended up being weaker than they already were. This suggests that the Unionists almost won the election for the Liberals, by taking stupid steps that weakened themselves. The Tariff reform crisis also helped the Liberals into victory.
In 1905, Joseph Chamberlain launched the tariff reform campaign. He abandoned free trade and replaced it with ‘preferential tariffs. ‘ Free Trade was seen as British success in the 19th Century, it was almost a culture and everyone supported it. Chamberlain put tax on all of the imports excluding those of British colonies in an attempt to raise revenue, which he wanted to spend on social reforms; he wanted to get the votes of the working class to stop the Labour party from rising.
Fortunately for the Liberals, the working class hated the tariff reform, they were not well off already and things they needed to purchase were being taxed, even their bare essentials became more expensive, including food, they called it the ‘stomach tax’. This split the Unionists into Chamberlain’s Tariff Reform League and Beach’s free food league, this ended up as a no win situation and the unionists no longer had the majority. This was the single most important reason why the Unionists were dramatically defeated in the 1906 election.
The Lib-Lab pact was made from 1904-06, because the Liberals were worried that their vote would be split with Labour and the Unionists vote would not be split because they had firm and loyal support from 35-40% of the voters. The pact agreed that in closely contested constituencies on Liberals or Labour would stand for election. This was almost a way of fixing the votes, but it helped towards the Liberal win in the 1906 election by a vast majority: Liberals: 401mp’s
Unionists: 157mp’s Irish nationalists: 83mp’s Labour: 29mp’s The Liberal victory in 1906 was seen as a major turnaround. The reasons for this are that the Boer War transformed the political climate in Britain and encouraged the launch of the Tariff Reform campaign in attempt to raise money to cover the repercussions, but all it did was revive the Liberals. The tariff reform split the Unionist alliance, damaging the image of the government and lost some support of the voters.
The Education act was also a stupid move by the Unionists, because it united the Liberals and made them politically weaker. Also Balfour was responsible for the Liberal victory because he alienated voters from the unionists and made the Liberals stronger because of his miscalculations. In answer to the question, I agree that the Unionists lost the election and won the election for the Liberals in 1906, because the Unionists made terrible mistakes; but it must be said that the Liberals did add towards their own victory.