insisted that the â€˜New Liberalismâ€™ was to be about â€˜a wider diffusion of
Meanwhile, it was not quite clear which particular working-class issues
the party should prioritize. The 1885 electoral success with the farm
workers had proved difficult to repeat â€“ also because the Conservatives
did not raise the tariff reform issue again, the latter being the single most
important factor in causing the labourers to come out and vote Liberal.193
The Liberal government had tried to tackle some of the specific concerns
of the farm workers, but the 1895 election results suggested that parish
councils and allotments were not enough to earn their gratitude: Liberal
results in the English counties were only marginally better than in
1886.194 But what delayed further moves in this direction was neither
lack of ideas nor dogmatic laissez-faire within the party, but tactical and
ideological divisions inside the trade union movement, in particular
between the proponents and opponents of a statutory eight-hour day.
Rosebery, on becoming Prime Minister, made an attempt to seize the
social reform agenda by personally endorsing the eight-hour day (in
March 1894). Significantly, both the War Office and the Admiralty
adopted it for their workers. Moreover, Asquith pushed through his
Factory Bill, which was approved in 1895.195
Ultimately, however, the single most important obstacle to Liberal
reform was the House of Lords. In a further instance of that fin-de-siecle`
radical phenomenon which Barrow and Bullock have described as â€˜the
survival of Chartist assumptionsâ€™,196 the NLF, like the INF in Ireland,
insisted that political democracy was the precondition for social reform.
This growing concern for the social question was accompanied by
renewed interest in the question of democracy. The Lordsâ€™ rejection of
most of the Bills endorsed by the Home Rule majority in the Commons
prompted the NLF to demand the reform of the national representative
system as a whole. Various other proposals emerged from the delibera-
tions of local caucuses and were adopted by the General Committee in
L. Atherley Jones, â€˜The new liberalismâ€™, The Nineteenth Century, 26 (1889), 192; see also
Clarke, Liberals and social-democrats, 22â€“7.
Pelling, Popular politics, 6. The Liberals won a majority of the country seats only in 1885
and 1906, and in both cases free trade was at stake. Cf. Lynch, Liberal party, 38. For free
trade as an electoral issue in 1885 see Biagini, Liberty, 133â€“4, and Howe, Free trade and
Liberal England, 185.
Hamer, Liberal politics, 204; Packer, Lloyd George, 25; Lynch, Liberal party, 147â€“9.
D. Powell, â€˜Liberal ministries and labour, 1892â€“1895â€™, History, 68 (1983), 417, 425â€“6.
â€˜The Liberals and the agricultural labourersâ€™, Liberal leaflet, No. 1553, in J. Johnson
Collection, â€˜Creed, Parties and Politicsâ€™, box 18. This was similar to the strategy
adopted by the Irish Nationalists (see above, pp. 110â€“11, 301). Cf. Barrow and
Bullock, Democratic ideas, 9.
312 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
April 1893. They included the removal of the value qualification for
lodgers, registration of new electors to take place twice a year and the
abolition of disqualification through either change of residence or receipt
of temporary Poor Law relief.197 Once again the NLF was critical of the
parliamentary party and the government, whose Registration Bill they
regarded as timid and inadequate. This concern for democratic reform
continued over the few next years. In 1895 a canvassing of constituency
opinion conducted by the Liberal partyâ€™s Radical Committee indicated
that the rank and file regarded the reform of the House of Lords as
a matter of utmost urgency. Other concerns were the democratization
of the electoral system, including one man one vote, the abolition of
plural votes198 and the reform of the existing system of registration. The
last of these was identified as one of the causes of the systematic disfran-
chisement of working men and potential radical electors. In January 1895
the Registration Committee of the Scottish Liberal Association proposed
the abolition of the qualifying period, demanding that the simple regis-
tration on the Valuation Roll be sufficient to qualify a man to vote, in
order to ensure that â€˜every person who is a householder or owner would
be on the Register of voters somewhereâ€™. As for the lodgers, they also
insisted that â€˜[i]t would simply be suicidal to leave the franchise as it isâ€™
and proposed the abolition of all property qualification so that all lodgers
be given the vote. Furthermore, they recommended the enfranchisement
of â€˜persons occupying a dwelling house jointlyâ€™, the abolition of disqual-
ification for the non-payment of the rates and the abolition of plural
In contrast to the partyâ€™s programmatic activism of 1891, in 1893â€“5
Liberal strategy seemed dominated by their struggle against the House of
Lords, now a Unionist-controlled chamber which vetoed or mutilated
most government Bills. At first the new approach seemed to work: the
anti-Lords campaign filled the NLF with renewed radical zeal. At the
â€˜Registration reformâ€™, meeting of the General Committee of the NLF, Westminster
Town Hall, 19 Apr. 1893, NLF Reports, 16â€“17.
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Council of the NLF, Cardiff, 17â€“18 Jan.
1895, 5, 9. Emy, Liberals, 66. J. Moon (Liverpool) to T. E. Ellis, 24 July 1895, in Ellis
Papers, 3605. In the Glasgow constituencies from 1894 to 1897 the lodger voters for the
Unionists had increased from 3,830 to 4,238; during the same period, the Liberal lodger
vote had only increased from 1,165 to 1,209: figures in the Minutes of the Meeting of the
Western Committee of the Scottish Liberal Association, Glasgow, 13 Oct. 1897, 338,
NLS, Acc. 11765/6.
Meeting of Registration Committee of the SLA, Glasgow, 14 Jan. 1895, 343â€“5, NLS,
Acc. 11765/5; for the subsequent debate see Meeting of the Executive Committee,
24 Jan. 1895, 304â€“7, ibid., and Meeting of the Eastern Committee of the SLA, 1 July
1895, 375, ibid.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 313
1894 conference in Portsmouth, â€˜Mr Aclandâ€™s speech against the Lords
[was] received with mad enthusiasm. At the evening meeting, where
Sir W. Harcourt spoke, â€˜â€˜God save the Queenâ€™â€™ was hissed â€“ a thing
I never heard before or since.â€™200 Perhaps for the first time since 1886, a
Liberal agitation was favourably echoed in the Radical Unionist weekly
press,201 and this suggested that the Liberal rank and file desired party
reunion as much as the Nationalists and agrarian radicals did in Ireland.
Such an aspiration was confirmed in 1894 by the favourable responses
elicited by Roseberyâ€™s succession to the party leadership.202 However, in
the end the anti-Lords campaign failed to ignite the imagination of the
wider public: as in 1886, rank-and-file zeal did not spread the radical
contagion to the mass of the electors.203 When this became apparent,
there followed loss of morale and self-confidence among Liberal associ-
ations even in traditionally Gladstonian areas, especially in England and
Scotland. In such a context, the ILP denounced what they regarded as the
Liberal infatuation with â€˜merely politicalâ€™ reform. Yet, the Upper Houseâ€™s
rejection of the 1893â€“4 Employersâ€™ Liability Bill indicated the extent to
which an undemocratic constitution hindered social and economic
reform and directly affected the interests of labour.204 Although
Chamberlain pushed through workmenâ€™s compensation in 1897, his
Bill neglected the crucial issue of workplace safety and the prevention of
accidents, for which both the Liberals and the labour movement had long
Despite the anxiety expressed by Tucker and other social Liberals, the
chief significance of the early ILP was not its socialism, but its democratic
politics, which revived a tradition of independent popular radicalism
stretching back to the Chartists and beyond, and for which the Liberal
split had again created a political space. By the same token, as Alastair
Tuckwell, Reminiscences, 208; cf. W. Reid, â€˜The Leeds Conferenceâ€™ and rep., â€˜Leeds:
June 20th, 1894â€™, in The Liberal Magazine, 2, 10, July 1894, 200â€“3.
L.a., â€˜Hopeless obstructionâ€™, LW, 20 Aug. 1893, 8; l.a., â€˜Welsh disestablishmentâ€™,
WT&E, 3 Mar. 1895, 8.
L.a., â€˜Lord Roseberyâ€™s opportunityâ€™, LW, 4 Mar. 1894, 8; l.a., â€˜Federal Home Ruleâ€™,
WT&E, 23 Apr. 1893, 8, suggesting federalism as the solution to the â€˜British constitu-
tional problemâ€™ as well as a policy which would reunite the Liberal party.
McKinstry, Rosebery, 328â€“31.
W. Abraham (â€˜Mabonâ€™ in NLFAR 1895 (Cardiff)), 7, 103â€“6. The Lordsâ€™ opposition
focused on contracting out, a procedure which the Bill proposed to abolish: see Powell,
â€˜Liberal ministries and labourâ€™, 422 and n. 65, Clegg et al., A history of British trade
unions, 253 n. 1 and E. P. Hennock, British social reform and German precedents: the case of
social insurance, 1880â€“1914 (1987), 56â€“7.
V. Markham Lester, â€˜The employersâ€™ liability/workmenâ€™s compensation debate of the
1890s revisitedâ€™, Historical Journal, 44, 2 (2001), 471â€“95.
314 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
Reid has stressed, the foundation of the Labour Representation
Committee (LRC) did not signal a new start, but rather â€˜a revival of the
spirit of the 1860s and 1870sâ€™ and the demand both for a return to the
Gladstonian settlement and for working towards stronger trade union
representation in Parliament as a means to an end.206 Apart from the
mid-Victorian Labour Representation League there were other prece-
dents for this strategy. In 1887 a National Labour Party had demanded
â€˜Home Rule, County Government and Religious Equalityâ€™ together with
payment of members and their electoral expenses. One of its most radical
demands was â€˜ â€˜â€˜Adult Suffrageâ€™â€™ and the right for women to sit as
MPsâ€™.207 For Reynoldsâ€™s Newspaper the proposed party was to be modelled
on Parnellâ€™s National party, rather than on the socialist ones already
existing in other Western European countries. Ideologically, it wanted
the new party to be democratic and liberal, as indicated by its proposed
leaders, who included Lib-labs like Fenwick and Burt and radicals such as
Bradlaugh.208 In a similar spirit, a new Labour Representation League
was set up in 1891 by the London Trades Council in an attempt to bring
together labour candidates â€˜irrespective of creed or sectâ€™.209
Within the Liberal party these developments created a renewed aware-
ness of the need for a â€˜progressive allianceâ€™.210 In one shape or another,
such a â€˜progressive allianceâ€™ had been Liberal policy since 1868 at least,
when Gladstoneâ€™s party had managed to secure the support of the Reform
League and other organizations of artisan radicalism. From 1877 the
NLF had tried to â€˜institutionalizeâ€™ such an alliance, but with limited
success. On the other hand, although the government had been unable
to implement most of the proposals included in the 1891 Newcastle
Programme (see chapter 4, pp. 187â€“8), the policy aims which it had articu-
lated continued to dominate the outlook of the radicals. In fact, in this way
those debates contributed to the making of the â€˜New Liberalismâ€™ â€“ if not
as a philosophy, certainly as a set of practical demands and humanitarian
standards. In particular, land reform and the principle of taxing its value
A. J. Reid, United we stand: a history of Britainâ€™s trade unions (2004), 260.
â€˜The remuneration of female labour, and the conditions under which women too
frequently work are simply barbarous, and will never be adequately rectified, until we
have a score or two of competent ladies like Miss Helen Taylor, and Miss Amy Mander,
the Newnham College Undergraduate [sic], who gave such clear and convincing evi-
dence the other day respecting the brutalities of the police at Mitchelstown, have seats
in the House of Commons.â€™ (L.a., â€˜The National Labour Associationâ€™, RN, 25 Sep.
L.a., â€˜The representation of labourâ€™, RN, 25 Sep. 1887, 4; Gracchus, â€˜The advance of
socialismâ€™, RN, 2 Oct. 1887, 2.
Thompson, Socialists, 103.
Matthew, The Liberal imperialists, 22; Clarke, Lancashire, 166.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 315
retained considerable appeal not only in the â€˜Celtic Fringeâ€™211 and in rural
England (where the Liberals more than doubled their seats),212 but also
in urban constituencies. Land reform, â€˜Progressivismâ€™ and the emergence
of an interventionist agenda of social reform, helped the party to make
considerable, though ephemeral, advances in various boroughs, espe-
cially in London, in 1892.213 Even Home Rule continued to be close to
the heart of a minority within working-class radicalism â€“ but one holding
strong views.214 Some hoped that land reform would result in an Irish
equivalent of the â€˜Homestead Actâ€™, under which settlers in the USA were
granted land, and demanded the nationalization of minerals.215
This indicates that the Liberal partyâ€™s problem lay not in ideas, and not
merely in inadequate organization, but ultimately in lack of effective leader-
ship. â€˜Liberalism, if it is, as we trust, to rise once more . . . must seek leaders
of a very different stamp,â€™ proclaimed the Weekly Times in 1895, â€˜[o]ther-
wise, the ominous defections of the Labour vote will increase rapidlyâ€™.216
But the problem of competent leadership was also shared by the new labour
and socialist organizations, as the Weekly Times had conceded at least since
1889.217 In 1893 Keir Hardie launched his bid in an article which, at the
time, must have been one of his most widely circulated publications â€“
arguably more so than his contributions to the Labour Leader.218 He claimed
that the political differences between the bourgeois parties were â€˜minorâ€™ and
that the â€˜experiment of a Socialistic party . . . will . . . hasten the time . . . when
the dividing lines of politics will no longer be the more or less shadowy line
which divides Liberalism from Toryism, but that of Collectivism v.
Individualismâ€™.219 Yet his messianic socialism appeared somehow vague
and utopian: he deprecated state intervention, exalted collective working-
class self-help and invested his best hopes in the ballot box â€“ which was
precisely what the despised Liberals also did.220 Likewise, the joint
William Saunders to T. E. Ellis, 24 Mar. 1894, in Ellis Papers, 1925.
Packer, Liberalism and the land, 201.
Thompson, Socialists, 96; Howell, British workers, 258; Moore, Transformation of urban
liberalism, 124, 214â€“34.
E. W. Yates, Organiz. Secretary, Somerset, Gloucester and Wilts. Agricultural and
General Labourersâ€™ Union, to E. Blake, Dec. 1892, in NLI, Blake Letters, [523â€“4]
4685. E. L. Gales wrote to Blake about the attention he commanded among â€˜those men
who are the unlettered & despised working menâ€™. 25 Apr. 1894 Blake Letters,  4686
(emphasis in the original).
â€˜A Cornish Quakerâ€™ to E. Blake, 16 Mar. 1893, Blake Letters,  4685.
L.a., â€˜The Liberal collapseâ€™, WT&E, 21 July 1895, 8.
L.a., â€˜Socialism in the northâ€™, WT&E, 2 June 1889, 8.
The paper had a circulation of about 50,000 in 1894: Morgan, Keir Hardie, 67.
Keir Hardie, â€˜Independent Labour Party conferenceâ€™, WT&E, 22 Jan. 1893, 9.
Keir Hardie, MP, â€˜Marching orders for the Labour armyâ€™, WT&E, 15 Jan. 1893, 9: â€˜I
confess to having great sympathy with those who honestly deprecate State interference
316 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
manifesto of the â€˜Socialist bodiesâ€™ (including Fabians, SDF, the
Hammersmith Socialist Society and other such groups) was strongly anti-
anarchist but very ambiguous about socialism, which it defined in terms of
individual freedom more than anything else.221
Although such evidence may be read in different ways, in context it
suggests that these socialist groups were aware that they operated within a