Conservatism vs. Liberalism between 1886 and 1906.

Essay by Craven_MistB-, January 2004

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In the following essay I will consider the two questions; why were the liberals out of power for so much of the period 1886-1906 and how do historians explain Conservative success in the period 1886-1906.

At first glance it seems a simple answer why the liberals were out of power for all but 3 years (as a minority government) out of 20, the simple answer is that the liberal party was weakened, seemingly beyond repair when in 1886 ninety-three liberal MP's left the liberal party and formed their own party the Liberal Unionists over the issue of home rule. This group was made up of two very different sections of the liberal party, seventy of the group where Whigs- the old aristocracy of the Liberal party and the most 'right' of the liberal party under Lord Harrington, and the other twenty-three where radicals under the leadership of Joseph Chamberlain. The split as I stated before was over Gladstone's Home Rule Bill, which basically was giving Ireland the right to what we now know today as devolution. The Whigs voted against this, as they didn't want Ireland to have its own government where as Chamberlain and his supporters who where in favour of Home Rule voted against it because in the Bill it was written that no Irish MP's would be part of Westminster and Chamberlain feared that this would lead to Ireland breaking from the Empire. Thus the two groups where united on this most important issue within the Liberal party.

With the split in the Liberal Party Gladstone's government fell and was replaced by a Conservative one. This process was helped by the fact that the conservatives didn't put candidates against any Liberal Unionists so that they would be re-elected and be able to vote with the...