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Cobdenite doctrine of the state™s economic and social ˜neutrality™ in
favour of a new interventionist philosophy which saw the government as
ultimately responsible for progress.
Besides being intrinsically novel, this approach had important, albeit
indirect, implications for both the impending debate on Irish Home Rule
and the relationship between the state and society. One implication was
that if poverty was to be reduced by state intervention, then what Britain
required was not devolution and the weakening of Parliament, but the
rational reconstruction and empowerment of the imperial executive at its
centre. As Chamberlain told Balfour, ˜a democratic government should
be the strongest government . . . in the world, for it has the people behind
it . . . My radicalism, at all events, desires to see established a strong
government and an Imperial government.™19 Although he was then in
the process of parting company from Gladstone, conceptually the greater
break was really rather with Bright. For, while the strong government
which Chamberlain proposed could be seen as a mere development of
Gladstone™s pragmatic and dirigiste style in both domestic and imperial
affairs, it was fundamentally incompatible with Bright™s understanding of
the role of the state. Unlike Gladstone, Bright was not prepared to
compromise on the traditional free-trade principle of state neutrality in
economic affairs, namely that the state should not ˜succour™ any partic-
ular interest, whether landed or industrial.20


18
J. Chamberlain et al., The Radical programme (1885; ed. by D. A. Hamer, 1971), 12, 59; see
also G. L. Goodman, ˜The Liberal Unionist party, 1886“1895™, unpublished D.Phil.
thesis, University of Chicago, 1956, 5. See also E. A. Cameron, ˜ ˜˜A far cry from
London™™: Joseph Chamberlain in Inverness, September 1885™, The Innes Review, 57, 1
(2006), 36“53.
19
During the famous dinner with A. J. Balfour on 22 Mar. 1886, cited in Garvin,
Chamberlain, vol. II, 191.
20
While in 1886 both Gladstone and Chamberlain contemplated further land reform
in Ireland, Bright thought that the 1881 Land Act had ˜settled™ the question: he
now objected to land purchase, despite the fact that he had proposed it in 1880
222 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

That Chamberlain was closer to Gladstone than to Bright had already
emerged in 1881“2 in the course of the two African crises, the first of
which concerned the Transvaal. During the Midlothian campaigns the
Boers understood Gladstone to promise that a future Liberal government
would restore their independence. Chamberlain had no doubt that this
was indeed the right policy, both morally and politically.21 Like
Gladstone, he assessed foreign policy in terms of ˜right and wrong™.
In his speeches and in correspondence with John Bright, he seemed
prepared to accept that British imperial ambition ought to be subordinate
to both liberal principles and the ˜true interests™ of subject races. The
virtual convergence between Chamberlain and Gladstone on this matter
became evident after the formation of the government in March 1880. At
this time Chamberlain urged a prompt British withdrawal from the
Transvaal, while Gladstone supported annexation. Yet, he appointed
Chamberlain as the cabinet™s parliamentary spokesman on South
African matters. When Kruger™s insurrection resulted in British defeats,
Chamberlain insisted on appeasement rather than repression and
appealed ˜to the impartial public opinion of Europe and America™ in
support of a policy which preferred ˜justice to revenge and the best
interests of South Africa to the vain pursuit of military glory™.22
Gladstone agreed, and Britain withdrew. Bright was delighted.
Chamberlain™s only reservation about withdrawal was the fate of the
natives, whom the Boers had a reputation for maltreating, and towards
whom Britain was supposed to have a moral obligation.23 While this crisis
was settled to the satisfaction of the three leaders, it is important to
observe that, like Gladstone but in contrast to Bright, Chamberlain
dealt with the problem from the standpoint of an executive politician,
prepared to accept the compromises which power demanded. Moreover,
his concern for the Africans™ welfare was a reminder that “ again unlike
Bright “ he was not committed to non-intervention but was prepared to
assess each case on its own merits.

(R. A. J. Walling (ed.), The diaries of John Bright (1930), entry for 12 Mar. 1886, 535). On
this aspect of the relationship between state and society in Victorian Britain see
Daunton, Trusting Leviathan, 63ff.
21
D. M. Schreuder, Gladstone and Kruger: Liberal government and colonial ˜Home Rule™,
1880“85 (1969), 91, 94.
22
From a speech in Birmingham, 7 June 1882, cited in Garvin, Chamberlain, vol. I, 441.
23
˜I have always hoped that as the natives enormously outnumber the Boers . . . the latter
when left alone would be compelled to come to terms with their neighbours & treat them
with ordinary fairness. If this should not be the case our position is a serious one, and
although I do not say that we are necessarily to stand aloof, still the greatest caution ought
to be observed, and I should be reluctant to press the matters to the utmost unless it
became imperatively necessary; and even then I would feel the greatest anxiety as to the
result.™ (J. Chamberlain to R. W. Dale, 14 Sep. 1882, in JC 5/20/41.)
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 223

This was fully illustrated by the outcome of the second African crisis, in
Egypt. Chamberlain, like Gladstone, ˜misliked™ the Egyptian imbroglio
˜quite as much as the Transvaal entanglement or the Irish misery™.24 And
once again he sided with him and thus against John Bright “ though, of
course, both professed the greatest respect and veneration for the old
Quaker.25 At first, again like Gladstone, Chamberlain regarded Arabi and
˜the so-called revolutionary movement™ as possibly ˜the legitimate expres-
sion of discontent and of resistance to oppression. If so, it ought to be
guided and not repressed.™26 However, he soon became more cautious in
his assessment of the Egyptian colonel. Interestingly, popular liberal
reaction was similarly perplexed and divided. In Parliament, Henry
Broadhurst “ the former secretary of the TUC and one of the leading
Lib-labs “ inquired anxiously about the government™s intention, indicat-
ing his disapproval for both the use of force and the related expenditure
˜in order to secure the British bondholders from anticipated losses™.27
While some of these fears and anxieties could be assuaged by
Gladstone™s magic influence, it is remarkable that so few radicals pro-
tested against the bombardment.28 In any case, popular liberalism had an
imperialist side as well. For example, always eager to reflect the line which
was more likely to ˜sell to the million™, Lloyd™s Weekly took a ˜muscular™
approach to the Egyptian difficulty, arguing that the British should ˜hold
themselves in readiness to act as a police™, and that ˜[their] admirals are
messengers of love and peace to the Egyptians, if the sons of the Desert
will only remain quiet, and allow their Khedive to follow the advice of the
English and French Consuls-General™.29
Eventually, in June news of riots in Alexandria convinced Chamberlain
not only that ˜the sons of the Desert™ would not remain quiet, but also that
˜Arabi was only a buccaneer and that there was no ˜˜national™™ party
behind him.™30 The time for Britain to act “ and to do so swiftly “ had
come. Again the similarity with Gladstone is striking. Like the latter,
Chamberlain thought that ˜intervention should be directed not to impose
on Egypt institutions of our choice but to secure for the Egyptian people a
free choice for themselves so far as this may not be inconsistent with the


24
Garvin, Chamberlain, vol. I, 444.
25
For Gladstone™s handling of the Quaker leader see his three letters to Bright, dated 12, 13
and 14 July 1882, in The Gladstone diaries, vol. x (1990), 296“8.
26
On 7 Jan. 1882: Garvin, Chamberlain, vol. I, 445.
27
HPD, 3rd Series, vol. CCLXXI, 29 June 1882, 773“4.
28
Laity, The British peace movement, 97, 99“100; P. Horn, Joseph Arch (1826“1919)
(1971), 165.
29
L.a., ˜Our Egyptian patchwork™, LW, 21 May 1882, 6.
30
Garvin, Chamberlain, vol. I, 447; Chamberlain, Political memoir, 71.
224 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

permanent interests of other Powers™.31 Obviously this qualification was to
prove of overriding importance, but, for the time being, Chamberlain
insisted on the programmatic statement in the quotation™s main clause.
Indeed, in a memo of June 1882 he highlighted the contrast between the
allegedly sinister interest of international finance and ˜the rights of the
Egyptian people to manage their own affairs™. On the other hand, at no
stage did such rights mean British non-intervention, because, once law
and order had collapsed and anarchy reigned under Arabi, further
˜change™ was inevitable. Moreover,
if a change has to be made in a system which has the sanction of International
agreement it should be on the demand of some body entitled to speak for the
Egyptian people, and not at the dictation of a military adventurer supported by an
army which he is forced to keep in good temper by bribes of pay and promotion &
whose action compromises the welfare and liberties as well as the interest of
foreigners.32

Between pursuing the latter and fostering ˜the further development of
Representative institutions which have been swallowed up in the military
movement of Arabi Bey™, there was thus a happy coincidence.
Chamberlain claimed that Britain had a mission in the East: ˜The duty
cast upon us, as the Liberal Government of a free nation, is to secure to
the Egyptian people the greatest possible development of representative
institutions.™33 Or, in Gladstone™s words, it was that of ˜exporting western
and beneficient [sic] institutions™ to Muslim countries.34
In radical, as much as in Whig, political thought civilization, progress
and individual liberty were the essential prerequisites of self-government.35
Hence Britain was justified in enforcing law and order, retrenchment and
financial accountability among reluctant or corrupt subjects. Ireland and

31
Chamberlain™s minute of 21 June 1882, cited in Garvin, Chamberlain, vol. I, 448. My
italics.
32
Memo, June 1882, in JC, 7/1/3/1. This was indeed Gladstone™s official policy: see printed
memo, signed W. E. Gladstone, dated 15 Sep. 1882, in Cabinet Papers: Confidential, ˜The
Settlement of Egypt™, point 3 (in JC 7/1/3/2): ˜Subject to all due provisions for the
fulfilment of international engagements, it is presumed that England will make a firm
stand for the reasonable development of self-governing institutions in Egypt . . . Little
sympathy could be expected from the Powers in promoting the development of securities
for liberty; while in England they will be demanded, and will be hailed with satisfaction.™
For Gladstone™s attitudes see E. F. Biagini, ˜Exporting ˜˜Western and beneficent institu-
tions™™: Gladstone and empire, 1880“1885™, in D. Bebbington and R. Swift (eds.),
Gladstone centenary essays (2000), 211.
33
Chamberlain™s minute of 18 Oct. 1882, in JC 7/1/3/3.
34
Gladstone to Lord Rosebery, 15 Nov. 1883, in Gladstone diaries, vol. XI, 59.
35
F. Rosen, Bentham, Byron and Greece: constitutionalism, nationalism and early liberal
political thought (1992), 292“4; see also I. Bradley, The optimists: themes and personalities
in Victorian liberalism (1980), 20.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 225

Egypt from 1882 were cases in point “ negative illustrations of what
Romani has described as ˜the relationship between a free constitution and
the moral adequacy of its citizens™.36 In such instances, irrespective of
ethnic or religious differences, people ought to be coerced into being ˜free™ “
an old ˜republican™ or neo-roman notion which acquired new significance in
Britain™s imperial heyday. Political rights could be granted later and
would be consequent on the people™s ability to care for the ˜public interest™.
Time and again Chamberlain appealed to the latter in his defence of
government intervention in areas such as municipal socialism, education
and land reform. During the Egyptian crisis he was eager to be perceived as
standing up for the public interest, rather than for the sectional concerns of
the bondholders. He argued that there could be ˜no doubt™ that European
control was to Egypt™s public advantage.
The question was whether this ˜rational™ consideration should be
allowed to override the ˜emotional™, ˜sentimental™ inclination of the mis-
guided Egyptian people, who ˜prefer[red] native administration with all
its consequences to the inflexible severity & honesty of European con-
trol™.37 It was no easy choice and he wavered. In June, despite having
recently espoused interventionism, he was still ready to admit that if the
Egyptians preferred self-government to good government, ˜it is not
Englands [sic] business nor right to force on them an unpopular system
which could only be permanently maintained against their wishes by
practically assuming the Government of the country™.38 In July, how-
ever, he changed his mind, but on condition that temporary, ˜good™
British imperial rule became a stepping stone to better Egyptian self-
government. Once again, he echoed Gladstone, who was anxious to
show that British intervention was devoid ˜of any selfish purpose and
design™ and that its only aims were ˜to put down tyranny and to favour law
and freedom™.39 The dichotomy between public and sectional interest
was paramount in his mind, especially ˜in reference to the development of



36
Romani, ˜British views on the Irish national character™, 193.
37
Chamberlain, Minute of 21 June, in Political memoir, 72; Gladstone struggled with the
same dilemma: see Biagini, ˜Exporting™, 214“15. Somewhat inconsistently for the man
who invaded Egypt, in February 1884 he concluded that ˜[f]ew . . . are the peoples so
degraded and so lost to every noble sentiment that it shall be a matter of indifference to
them whether they are governed by persons who belong to the same political constitution
with themselves, or whether they are governed by those who come from a remote quarter,
with foreign instincts, foreign sympathies, and foreign objects™. (Egypt and the Soudan, a
parliamentary speech republished as a penny pamphlet by the Liberal Central
Association, 1884, 15.)
38
Chamberlain, Minute of 21 June 1882, cited in Garvin, Chamberlain, vol. I, 448.
39
Gladstone on 27 July 1882, HPD, 3rd Series, CCLXII, 1590.
226 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

Egyptian liberties and popular institutions™, in order to ˜avoid the general
conclusion that the interests of the bondholders have been the first if
not the only care of Her Majesty™s Government™.40 The same day, in a
separate minute he admitted that there was ˜an uneasy feeling among
Liberals with respect to Egyptian questions™. The main reason was ˜the
civil reorganization of the country™: ˜There is a great anxiety lest after all
the bondholders should too evidently be the only persons who have
profited from the war, and lest phrases which have been used concerning
the extension of Egyptian liberties, and Egypt for the Egyptians should
prove to have no practical meaning.™41 A few days later, in a letter to
another leading radical, Sir Charles Dilke, he admitted that
The interference, the confusion of interests remain . . . Nothing is done to ˜develop
the institutions™ to ˜promote the liberties™ to give ˜Egypt to the Egyptians™ “ in fact
to carry out a single word of the fine phrases with which we went to war . . . English
Liberal opinion will say you have made Finance and the interests of the creditors
the key note of your policy “ you have sacrificed the liberties and the independence
of Egypt to the security of the bondholders and you have done nothing to relieve
this country from the embarrassment in which the unrighteous interference with
the internal affairs of Egypt has involved us.42

However, he was ready to reassure himself that ˜[t]he difficulty of the
situation consists in the apparent impossibility of conciliating the natural
intentions and wishes of English Liberalism with the privileges claimed by
other European Powers and especially France™.43 It was a remarkable feat

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