remained pockets of die-hard popular Radical Unionism, impervious to
L.a., â€˜The Pope, Ireland, and Great Britainâ€™, WT&E, 25 Dec. 1887, 8. Aware of Ulster
Protestant opinion, A. J. Balfour in April 1887 refused to consider this mission, but he
later changed his mind, although the issue remained problematic: see Loughlin,
â€˜Russellâ€™, 50; Macaulay, The Holy See, British policy and the Plan of Campaign, 254,
293, 359. On the Welsh disestablishment issue see J. Chamberlain to T. Gee, 16 Apr.
1890, in NLW, T. Gee MSS, 8305D, 17; and R. W. Dale to T. Gee, 25 May 1890, in
ibid., 8305D, ff. 30â€“30f.
See correspondence between G. Peel, C. A. Vince, secretary of the National Liberal
Union and J. Chamberlain in JC 6/6/1F/1â€“2 and J. Powell Williams to Akers-Douglas,
11 Apr. 1895, JC 6/6/1F/34.
Pelling, Popular politics, 17; Cooke and Vincent, Governing passion, 33.
J. Powell Williams to J. Chamberlain, May 1895, JC 6/2/7/10.
J. H. Cooke of the Cheshire Liberal Unionist Association to J. Borastin, 25 Mar. 1895,
JC 6/6/1F/17. For the bitterness in Liberal Unionists ranks see also J. Borastin to
J. Chamberlain, 26 Mar. 1895, JC 6/6/1F/18 and J. Powell Williams to Akers-Douglas,
11 Apr. 1895, JC 6/6/1F/34.
274 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
the grand strategy of the party and jealously suspicious of the electoral
trustworthiness of their Conservative allies, feeling great pride in their
Liberal identity and traditions.283
Annual Report for 1897 and 1898 (submitted to the council on 9 May 1898), in
Archives of the Birmingham Central Library, Birmingham Liberal Unionist
Association, Minute Book of the All Souls Ward Executive Committee, March
1897â€“1914, MS 814; Meeting of the Executive Committee held at the Club 364
Lodge Rd, 16 July 03, Min. No. 159, ibid.
6 Social radicalism and the revival of the
Gladstonian â€˜popular frontâ€™
Gladstone in his old age seems to partake of the super-natural. I have
seen him intimately during the last week, and I am daily more and more
impressed with the greatness of his mind and character.1
The B U D G E T was a F A I R B U D G E T . It was an H O N E S T Budget â€“ it
paid its way. It laid down the important and far-reaching principle that
extra taxation ought to fall on T H O S E W H O C A N A F F O R D T O P A Y . It
removed the unjust P R I V I L E G E S which landlords have possessed in
the past. S U P P O R T T H E P A R T Y W H I C H C A R R I E D T H I S D E M O C R A T I C
Liberalism must re-unite itself with the Labour interest. Until that is
done we cannot look for much success . . . The programme of the Liberal
party must, therefore, be so altered as to include those items of legis-
lation for which the industrial classes are striving.3
Radicals parting ways
Although Chamberlain was rapidly marginalized within the radical left
after 1892, his â€˜materialistâ€™ approach to politics â€“ the priority of social
reform â€“ and emphasis on parliamentary centralism, in the conviction
â€˜that the day of Local Parliaments and of small nationalities is pastâ€™,4 were
to have enormous impact on twentieth-century radical politics. If â€˜mod-
ernâ€™ radicalism was about â€˜the social questionâ€™, and if poverty was to be
reduced by government action, then the country needed the rational
reconstruction and empowerment of the imperial executive at its centre,
rather than legislative devolution. The example for Britain to follow was
not Austria-Hungary, which Gladstone had studied and Sinn Feinâ€™s
A. J. Mundella to R. Leader, 30 Mar. 1891, in Leader Papers, Sheffield Univ. Library.
â€˜The Budget of 1894: what it was and how it was carriedâ€™, handbill, James Bryce Papers,
Bodleian Library, Oxford.
â€˜The liberalism of the futureâ€™, The Liberal, 27 July 1895, 182.
L.a., â€˜Mr Chamberlain and the work of reformâ€™, LW, 17 Feb. 1889, 1.
276 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
Arthur Griffiths was to celebrate, but the German Empire. The then
fastest-growing industrial power in Europe was also a model in terms of
social reform and national efficiency. There the social democratic party
(SPD) goaded Bismarck towards a â€˜reasonable and orderly Collectivismâ€™,
while he repressed and contained both Catholic clericalism and regional
separatism in the Polish provinces and Alsace-Lorraine.5 The Anglophile
German radical Karl Blind recommended a similar strategy for the
United Kingdom: â€˜the strict upholding of the Legislative Unionâ€™ was
â€˜the only guarantee for the security of England, for the intellectual pro-
gress of the masses in Ireland, and for the general furtherance of popular
freedom and welfareâ€™.6
However persuasive to some Radical Unionists at the time, there were
three main problems with this analysis. The first was that the Kaiserreich
involved a relationship between state and society which both British and
Irish liberals and democrats found alarming and objectionable. The
second was that both Bismarck and Chamberlain were mistaken in their
belief that the social question was more urgent or â€˜realâ€™ than the national
question; in any case, the latter was far more politically explosive and
intractable both in Germany and in the United Kingdom, and would
bring about a drastic downsizing of both countries by 1921. And, finally,
the third was that Radical Unionism was no equivalent of the SPD, not
only ideologically, but also in terms of its electoral muscle: while the SPD
was a cohesive mass party with a distinctive political philosophy and a
growing popular constituency, Radical Unionism was small and shrink-
ing, its grass-root support was unstable and its ideas, far from being a
unifying force, reproduced all the tensions and divergences which had
bedevilled the pre-1886 Gladstonian Liberal party.
If Radical Unionismâ€™s long-term strategy was flawed, its short-term
analysis would soon prove mistaken. In 1886 part of its appeal depended
on three assumptions: that democracy demanded social reform, which
Gladstone was accused of wilfully neglecting; that the Liberal schism
would soon be healed; and that for as long as the latter lasted the Liberal
Unionists would retain the will and ability to pursue a radical agenda. Each
of these three assumptions proved wrong: the Gladstonians â€“ especially the
younger generation â€“ soon adopted social radicalism, including old age
See the leading articles â€˜Prince Bismarck and socialismâ€™, 1 Dec. 1887, 8; â€˜German social-
ismâ€™, 26 May 1889, 6; and â€˜German socialismâ€™, 2 Feb. 1890, 8; cf. Hammond, Gladstone
and the Irish nation, 465â€“7.
Karl Blind, â€˜Irish disruption and German unionâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, 13 Apr. 1887, 34.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 277
pensions.7 The Liberal schism proved permanent. And finally,
Chamberlain began to feel uneasy about â€˜socialismâ€™ once the latter was
actually adopted by sections of the trade union movement, and he was
unable to press on with reforms which Hartington and Salisbury found
unacceptable, and was unwilling to contemplate other progressive
demands which might have given a distinctive cutting edge to Radical
Unionism, such as the extension of political rights to women.
Peter Fraser has produced the best analysis of Chamberlainâ€™s attitude
to socialism and the reasons why, when faced with the challenge of class
struggle, he opted for radical imperialism.8 In the post-Darwinian climate
of the 1880s collectivist rhetoric reflected more new academic and cul-
tural trends â€“ in sociology, anthropology and philosophy â€“ than any
precise awareness of the meaning of socialism as it was then articulated
by Marx and Engels and the Second International. Later, as socialism
became less exotic and esoteric, it elicited stronger opposition: thus from
1890 The Liberal Unionist hosted articles which took a strong anti-socialist
line, even attacking the Eight-Hour Bill as a form of â€˜protectionismâ€™, and
providing party canvassers and activists with a sort of catechism of free
trade and economic individualism.9
In any case, Chamberlainâ€™s collectivism â€˜was by no means a progres-
sion towards socialism. It had much closer affinities with imperialism.
The nation was its natural unit and community.â€™ More importantly,
Chamberlainâ€™s vision â€˜had no place for the idea of class war, the materi-
alism or the suppression of individuality which, rightly or wrongly, were
associated with socialismâ€™.10 His Radical Unionism involved promoting
social unity at home and British power abroad. By the same token, in two
famous speeches (at Birmingham on 23 January and in the Commons on
29 July 1889) he denounced the â€˜new Radicalsâ€™ who represented â€˜the class
jealousies, the petty spite, the enmities which they do their utmost to
stimulateâ€™. They were â€˜the Nihilists of English politicsâ€™ preaching a gospel
of â€˜universal disintegrationâ€™.11 He was persuaded that â€˜the electors [were]
much more interested . . . in social questions and the problems connected
A. Roberts, secretary of the Merionethshire Liberal Association to T. E. Ellis, 29 June
1895, in Ellis Papers, 1781. The proposal was more popular in rural than in urban
constituencies: Minute of the meeting of Literature Committee, 20 Oct. 1898, 435, in
SLA Papers, NLS, Acc. 11765/6.
M. Crackanthorpe, â€˜Unionism and state socialismâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, Jan. 1890, 1â€“2.
â€˜A defence of individualismâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, Feb. 1890, 134; â€˜Plain words on
socialistic problems: IIâ€™, ibid., July 1891, 222 and Aug. 1891, 2; â€˜Plain words on social-
istic problems: IV: protection does not protectâ€™, ibid., Oct. 1891, 42; â€˜Socialism tested by
factsâ€™, ibid., Sep. 1892, 38.
Fraser, Chamberlain, 140. 11 Cited in Loughlin, â€˜Chamberlainâ€™, 213.
278 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
with the agitation of the Labour Party than they [were] with either the
House of Lords or any constitutional subjectâ€™. But from 1893â€“4 he
reached the conclusion that the TUC was preaching â€˜universal confisca-
tion in order to create a Collectivist Stateâ€™ â€“ an unacceptable prospect. He
feared that the Gladstonians â€˜[would] yield to the demands of the New
[Trade] Unionism just as they [had] previously yielded to the claims of
the Irish Nationalists, the Local Veto fanatics, and the Radical opponents
of the House of Lordsâ€™. He felt that â€˜[t]he Independent Labour Party
[was] proceeding on this assumptionâ€™.12
By the same token, he was aware that Unionist coercion in Ireland
could be seen as a form of class struggle in which his party was aligned on
the â€˜wrongâ€™ side. Even for the rabidly Unionist Weekly Times, the eviction
of â€˜many poor tenants . . . including old men and women and children . . .
without providing any other shelter, but rather burn[ing] the houses to
the ground rather than they should be re-enteredâ€™ appeared â€˜so unneces-
sary, so heartless, so cruel, so inhumanâ€™, nothing but â€˜acts of
Vandalismâ€™.13 Chamberlain himself was shocked and thought that it
was â€˜suicidalâ€™ for the Liberal Unionists to support such policies.14 He
voted against the proclamation of the INL and urged Hartington and
Randolph Churchill to consider a more â€˜constructiveâ€™ approach.
Hartington replied that this would undermine the alliance with the
Tories and bring the Liberal Unionists to a schism, and Chamberlain
Liberal Unionist cohesion was also ruffled by the new politics of
gender. As Martin Pugh has pointed out, while the partyâ€™s male leaders
â€˜proved highly unsympatheticâ€™ to womenâ€™s demands, Liberal Unionism
attracted a number of prominent female suffragists, including Lydia
Becker, Millicent Fawcett, Kate Courtney and Isabella M. S. Tod.16
As we have already seen in the previous chapter, their Liberal
Unionism had a variety of different motivations and different outcomes â€“
with, for example, Fawcett supporting and Courtney opposing the
Boer War at the turn of the century.17 Paradoxically, as Liberal Unionism
lost popular support, it became more amenable to the demands of its
Memo., 13 Nov. 1894, cited in Fraser, Chamberlain, 152. For the increasingly collectivist
attitudes within the TUC see J. Keir Hardie, â€˜The Trades Congress, special reportâ€™,
WT&E, 10 Sep. 1893, 9; Ben Tillett, â€˜The Trades Union Congressâ€™, WT&E, 16 Sep.
1894, 6; and F. G. Jones, â€˜Socialism and capitalâ€™, ibid., which preached class struggle
from an aggressively Marxist standpoint. See also Morgan, Keir Hardie, 69.
L.a., â€˜The government losing groundâ€™, WT&E, 23 Jan. 1887, 8.
Gardiner, Harcourt, vol. II, 45.
Garvin, Chamberlain, vol. II, 313â€“14; Gardiner, Harcourt, vol. II, 46.
Pugh, March of the women, 132. 17 Laity, British peace movement, 154.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 279
radical fringes, among which the women were prominent and increas-
ingly vocal. They were able to achieve a higher profile within a shrinking
movement.18 In particular, the Womenâ€™s Liberal Unionist Association
was as assertive as the Gladstonian Womenâ€™s Liberal Federation.19
Moreover, their importance within the party as a whole was recognized
at the 1891 Conference of Liberal Unionist Associations, when the
fifty delegates from the womenâ€™s associations were â€˜admitted for the
first time . . . to share the counsels of their masculine colleaguesâ€™ â€“
something which the women of the WLF had also tried, unsuccessfully,
to achieve. This success was further highlighted by the fact that Kate
Courtney was asked to write the conference report for The Liberal
Unionist, and thus acted as the official spokesperson on behalf of the
male as well as female members.20 A few months later it was Isabella
M. S. Tod who reported about the Ulster Unionist convention.21 In this
context, in 1891â€“2 the Scottish Liberal Unionists demanded womenâ€™s
suffrage as part of a broader and truly radical programme, which
included, among other issues, graduated taxation and the reform of
the House of Lords.22
Among the causeâ€™s advocates were the two most widely circulated
Liberal Unionist penny weeklies. In particular, the Weekly Times com-
bined â€˜classâ€™ and gender analysis in its advocacy of â€˜womanhood suffrage,
as well as manhood suffrage, [as] the ultimate best condition of a really
free peopleâ€™.23 Women were workers and tax-payers and as such had
â€˜earnedâ€™ the vote. â€˜To-day every man, to-morrow, let us hope, every
woman â€“ for the workerâ€™s battle cannot be won while women but look
on â€“ who earns his or her living, or is willing to do so, is bound to fight
to get it â€“ a living, mind, not mere existence. Theirs is the party of the
future â€“ the true Commonwealth.â€™24 The vote for all adult women became
Electoral prospects were so bad that Kate Courtney considered quite bluntly the possi-
bility that â€˜every Liberal Unionist member [would lose] his seat at the next electionâ€™: â€˜The