The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Sunday, March 12, 2006
1906 and all that - Part 1
by Steve Travis

Prompted by the anniversary of the Liberal Landslide, adn a recent foray into genealogical research, I have just finished Paul Thompson's excellent The Edwardians. Written originally 30 years ago, and the product of nearly 500 interviews with (then) living Edwardians, it gives some insight into the lives lived 100 years ago. In an occasional series I will dip into this work to look at the differences and, in many cases, surprising similarities with today.

First up is the Conservative Party which, like the poor, seems destined to always be with us.

The Conservatives, who were in power from 1895 until 1905, based their electoral strength on the middle class vote. Although there was still an important Liberal minority in the middle classes, the stage had been reached when a Yorkshire small businessman who was a Liberal town councillor could be regarded as indiscreet for so acting aganist his own natural interests:'people used to tell him that as a businessman he had no business to be so outright a Liberal.' But the middle-class vote was insufficient to win victory alone. In addition the Conservatives secured between on-third and one-half of the working-class vote. It was a working-class vote that asserted the essential unity rather than antagonism of class interests. Hence the Conservatives were significantly least succesful in those regions where the middle-class presence was weakest: the north, Scotland and Wales.

There were, however, areas of active working-class Conservatism to be found in Lancashire. It was fed by the hostility felt for the large enclaves of Irish Catholics who supported the Liberals. Here, in contrast to their methods anywhere else, local Conservative parties were organised on a dual basis, with democratic federations based on the Conservative Working Men's Clubs alongside the usual exclusive party Constitutionalist Associations. Similarly, although with less active working-class participation, the Conservatives were able to profit from the fears brought by the waves of Jewish immigration into east London in the late C19th and early C20th. In the last years before 1914 a new populist radical minority in the party sought to woo 'the man in the street' with a combined campaign against the Irish, intellectuals, Jews, 'money-bags' and corruption.

It strikes me as remarkable how many strains of Conservative thought are actively recognisable in this characterisation of the party from 100 years ago. Perhaps it should not - human nature being what it is. But food for thought, and some pointers about the direction the party may take once again.
posted by Apollo Project @ 8:57 pm  
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


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