A History of Conservative Politics, 1900–1996 by John Charmley (auth.)

By John Charmley (auth.)

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Faced, as they were in 1906, with a Liberal revival, an anti-Conservative swing and the intervention of the Labour Representation Committee in strongholds of working-class Toryism like Lancashire (where the heir to the Derby earldom, Lord Stanley, went down to defeat in a traditional family seat to a working carpenter), 19 it was little wonder that the party was decimated. There were only 157 Conservative MPs left, chief amongst the casualties at this political Agincourt being 'Prince Arthur' himself.

By the end of 1912 they had, thanks to five successive by-election victories, overtaken the Liberals as the largest single party in the Commons; but would they have won the election due in 1915? If Tariff Reform was linked, at least on its Imperial Preference side, with a commitment to imperial unity which found expression both in Unionism itself and in a belief in a strong defence policy, then it also possessed a link to demands for more social reform. In this sense the policy represented a break with the Salisburian policy of throwing sops to the electorate when necessary and posited the sort of approach to domestic legislation which Gladstone had condemned as 'constructionist'; Chamberlain had not ceased to be a radical when he became a Unionistsomething many Conservatives noted.

By 1910 there were those in the Labour Party who wondered whether this was not hindering their development, but since this is something upon which historians cannot agree even seventy years later, it is hardly surprising that the pact held. 36 As Austen Chamberlain told Balfour in October 1907: 'if the struggle were now, as in former times, merely a contest between Government and Opposition, I should have no misgiving ... But the advent of the Labour and Socialist Party has changed all this. m From this point of view the Liberals could not have had a better cry upon which to campaign in 1910: 'peers versus people' hardly provided the Unionists with an opportunity to split the progressive alliance.

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