movement towards independent labour party politics.339
As we have already seen, despite Dalzielâ€™s links with Lloyd George,
Reynoldsâ€™s support for the Liberal party was at best conditional. In fact,
both W. M. Thompson and the other Reynoldsâ€™s editors missed no oppor-
tunity to criticize the NLF for its lack of adequate social policies, describ-
ing it as â€˜a middle-class partyâ€™ and going so far as to suggest that
â€˜Liberalism [had] exhausted its role.â€™340 However, as had been the case
so often in the paperâ€™s history, at least since 1864, what mattered most in
defining Reynoldsâ€™s attitude to parliamentary Liberalism was not what the
party actually did, but what its critics claimed it was doing. In this matter,
the editors reacted vigorously against Liberal Imperialist allegations that
the Gladstonians had sold out to the Boers for the sake of some abstract
principle, in disregard for the national interest. For example, Lord
Roseberyâ€™s singling out of Charles James Fox as the putative father of
pro-Boer liberalism motivated Reynoldsâ€™s to adopt the eighteenth-century
Whig leader as one of its heroes: Fox became overnight a model for
modern democrats. He was a real patriot for â€˜[he] knew that unjust
wars were the destruction of libertyâ€™. By contrast,
[t]hose who defend the present war in South Africa . . . have not got beyond
Machiavelli, whose central doctrine was that the individual exists for the State
and not the State for the individual. Self-interest, backed by material force, was
the right principle of State action according to the author of â€˜The Princeâ€™ and our
Chamberlains and Roseberys have succeeded in reviving this idea, the idea on
which the Roman Empire and old-world Pagan States were built. But the worldâ€™s
greatest martyrs, Socrates and Jesus, gave to mankind a higher conception, a
conception of a universal moral law, which States and individuals alike must obey.
Seizing the high moral ground of Christian ethics, Reynoldsâ€™s proclaimed
that the allegedly patriotic motto â€˜my country, right or wrongâ€™ embodied
â€˜not a Christian but a Pagan doctrine and, if adopted, will lead us back to
Imperialism was of course the key issue in the general election of 1900
(28 September to 24 October). As Rebecca Gill has shown, in the run-up
Cole, History of socialist thought, 196; Thompson, Socialists, 166â€“7; cf. C. Wrigley,
â€˜Liberals and the desire for working-class representatives in Battersea, 1886â€“1922â€™, in
K. D. Brown (ed.), Essays in anti-Labour history: responses to the rise of Labour in Britain
WMT, â€˜A manifesto to the democracyâ€™, 19 Jan. 1902, 1; see also the editorials â€˜The
Whig rumpâ€™, 23 June 1901, 1; â€˜The Whig secessionâ€™, 30 June 1901, 1; â€˜Radicals v.
Whigsâ€™, 7 July 1901, 1; â€˜The National Democratic League Congressâ€™, 27 Oct. 1901, 1;
â€˜A middle class partyâ€™, 23 Feb. 1902, 1.
L.a., â€˜The Rosebery manifestoâ€™, RN, 21 July 1901, 4. For C. J. Fox and the pro-Boers
see also Weaver, The Hammonds, 62.
338 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
to the election humanitarian concerns had been canvassed by the
Transvaal Peace Committees, started by the Liberal Forwards in June
1899 with the participation of a number of Liberals who had previously
been involved in the Bulgarian and the Armenian agitations â€“ including
John Morley, C. P. Scott, H. A. L. Fisher and Goldwin Smith. With the
start of the war these committees lost their purpose, but many of their
members joined the South African Conciliation Committee. The latter
was chaired by Leonard Courtney, and included, among others, Kate
Courtney, Emily Hobhouse, George Cadbury, Bernard Bosanquet and
his wife, T. Fisher Unwin and his wife Jane Cobden, Frederic Harrison,
L. T. Hobhouse, J. A. Hobson, G. Murray, C. P. Scott, Beatrice Webb,
Keir Hardie, John Burns and Edward Carpenter (for the Humanitarian
League)342 â€“ an impressive combination of Gladstonians and social
Although Lord Roberts had already started to burn farms in South
Africa, the British armyâ€™s â€˜methods of barbarismâ€™ to crush Boer resistance
had not yet been exposed by the press. In fact, most of the press did not
dare to throw â€˜mudâ€™ on the â€˜gentlemen in khakiâ€™ who were fighting for
Queen and Empire.343 It was only on 26 November that Charles
Trevelyan first expressed concern publicly in a letter to The Times,
demanding that the government provide trustworthy information and
statistics about the destruction of Boer homes.344 On 6 December, in a
speech in the House of Commons, Campbell-Bannerman took up this
issue. He referred to farm burning as something which had â€˜moved the
countryâ€™, adding that â€˜many a heart revolt[ed] against themâ€™. However, he
refused to criticize such a policy on the ground that Parliament had been
denied access to the relevant evidence.345 This prudent course of action
was part of what Jose Harris has described as his â€˜self-effacingâ€™ strategy to
disarm and neutralize his competitors for power within the party, the
Liberal Imperialists, until he was strong enough to take them on.346 Other
and less cautious Liberals, such as Bryce, displayed no such qualms and
openly called for an immediate halt to the policy of farm burning and for
generous terms to be offered â€˜to the representatives of the two Republics
and to the burghers who were now in armsâ€™.347
Gill, â€˜Calculating compassionâ€™, 107â€“8.
T. Pakenham, The Boer War (1979), 493. Reynoldsâ€™s stood out, as usual: see â€˜Lord
Roberts as a barbarianâ€™, 2 Sep. 1900, 4.
Ti, 26 Nov. 1900, 12. 345 HPD, 4th Series, LXXXVIII, 6 Dec. 1900, 114â€“17.
J. Harris and C. Hazlehurst, â€˜Campbell-Bannerman as prime ministerâ€™, History, 55, 185
(1970), 364, 371.
Ti, 13 Dec. 1900, 10: he issued the invitation in a public speech and articulated his views
more fully in a speech in the House of Commons.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 339
In the new Parliament the issue was then raised by, among others,
Campbell-Bannerman himself, John Ellis and William Redmond. The
Nationalist Redmond went so far as to claim that indignation was creating
a new solidarity among the people of England, Scotland and Ireland.
â€˜[W]hen they read of the burning of the homesteads of people whose only
crime was that they fought for their own countryâ€™ they could not but
deplore the â€˜ruthless and cowardly persecution to which women and
children [were] subjected from one end of South Africa to the otherâ€™.348
One of the MPs who spoke most frequently and forcefully on the question
was another Nationalist, John Dillon. He denounced the suppression of
English newspapers in the Cape Colony,349 and attacked the â€˜deportation
of women and childrenâ€™ as a â€˜most disgraceful and most cowardlyâ€™,
â€˜unheard-of breach of the usages of warâ€™.350Reynoldsâ€™s was quick to echo
Dillonâ€™s denunciation of â€˜the policy of brigandsâ€™351 and, later, to endorse
Campbell-Bannermanâ€™s famous attack on the â€˜methods of barbarismâ€™.
The latter turned out to be an important episode in the rapprochement
between the NDL and the Liberal party.
Campbell-Bannerman, or â€˜CBâ€™ as he was often referred to, was iden-
tified with the â€˜Liberal centreâ€™ rather than the most uncompromising
Gladstonian faction, and what he said was likely to be perceived as
representative of the views of party as a whole.352 From the start he had
doubts about the Boer War, which he first publicly condemned at
the Aberdeen conference of the Scottish Liberal Association (SLA) on
19 December 1899. Because Rosebery and so many of the other Liberal
leaders (including of course â€˜CBâ€™ himself) were either Scots or MPs for
Scottish constituencies, what the SLA decided would be of considerable
strategic importance and could affect the future of the party leadership.
When the executive (dominated by Liberal Imperialists) rebuffed
Campbell-Bannerman, it attracted the radicalsâ€™ ire. Speaking from the
conference floor, a number of them denounced the executive, suggesting
that it was acting on Roseberyâ€™s instructions. Then the General Council
took the extraordinary course of breaking with the executive, approving
both an â€˜unofficialâ€™ resolution and a programme which included â€˜Home
Rule All Roundâ€™, womenâ€™s suffrage, the abolition of the House of Lords,
church disestablishment and the taxation of land values. The Liberal
HPD, 4th Series, XC, 14 Feb. 1901, 123.
HPD, 4th Series, XC, 22 Feb. 1901, 841â€“2.
HPD, 4th Series, XC, 25 Feb. 1901, 1163; cf. â€˜Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman at Oxfordâ€™,
Ti, 3 Mar. 1901, 15. On the context see Davey, British pro-Boers, 56â€“60, and
McCracken, Irish pro-Boers, 106â€“7.
Rep., â€˜Farm burning in South Africaâ€™, 8 Mar. 1901, 4. 352 Pakenham, Boer War, 112.
340 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
Imperialists, and Rosebery in particular, were humiliated. He resigned as
president of the SLA on 26 January 1900.353
At this stage, the Roseberyites were still under the impression that time
was on their side, but, despite the jingoist backlash of the following
months, there was evidence that public opinion was beginning to change.
In March the Edinburgh Trades Council held a special meeting to protest
against recent attacks on free speech (pro-Boer meetings had been broken
up by jingo mobs). Yet the party continued to be hopelessly divided
on everything except dislike for Chamberlain. In particular, Irish Home
Rule â€“ despite having taken â€˜a back seatâ€™ from 1895 â€“ remained a powerful
symbol for the Gladstonians and a thorn in the flesh for the imperialists.
Many young MPs and candidates did not want to know about it, and
Campbell-Bannerman and Herbert Gladstone (who had become chief
whip upon the death of Tom Ellis) had to reassure them that â€˜they would
not be committed to support a bill in the next parliamentâ€™.354 In the fervidly
imperialistic climate of the â€˜Khakiâ€™ election, there was a 2 per cent
swing against the Liberals nationwide. However, they did well in
Wales, as we have already seen, and gained a slight majority of the popular
vote in Scotland. Overall, they improved marginally on their disastrous
result of 1895, securing seven more seats. There were now 184 Liberal,
82 Nationalists and 2 Labour MPs contrasting with 402 Conservatives
and Unionists. However, in terms of the popular vote, the United
Kingdom was more equally divided, with about 1,797,000 votes for the
government and 1,721,000 for the opposition (including Labour and the
From then on Campbell-Bannerman mounted a consistent attack on
the Liberal Imperialists, challenging them either to reaffirm their loyalty
to the party leader and the â€˜old Liberal faithâ€™, or to leave the party
altogether and join the Liberal Unionists. The clash was not merely
over imperialism but also â€“ and largely â€“ over the question of whether
Irish Home Rule should remain part of the official programme.355 The
Liberal Imperialists had long been wishing to drop Home Rule anyway
and had recently become even more disenchanted with the Irish because
of the latterâ€™s opposition to the Boer War. The fact that the reunited Irish
party had just proclaimed their wish to resume Parnellâ€™s old policy of
independence from all British parties further strengthened their
S. J. Brown, â€˜ â€˜â€˜Echoes of Midlothianâ€™â€™: Scottish Liberalism and the South African war,
1899â€“1902â€™, The Scottish Historical Review, 71, 191/2 (1992), 165â€“6.
H. W. McCready, â€˜Home Rule and the Liberal party, 1899â€“1906â€™, Irish Historical
Studies, 13, 52 (1963), 319; Pakenham, Boer War, 492.
McCready, â€˜Home Rule and the Liberal partyâ€™, 326â€“8.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 341
resolve.356 However, â€˜CBâ€™, John Morley, Sir William Harcourt and Lords
Kimberley and Spencer â€“ who had all held prominent posts in the last
Gladstone government â€“ remained committed to Home Rule in princi-
ple. They rejected even the â€˜step-by-stepâ€™ approach, proposed by Asquith
and Sir Edward Grey and supported by some New Liberal imperialists,
including Herbert Samuel. It consisted of a vague endorsement of â€˜as
liberal a devolution of local powers and local responsibilities as states-
manship can from time to time deviseâ€™.357 â€˜CBâ€™ and his friends continued
to regard Home Rule as the central plank of the Liberal solution to the
Irish problem. It was based, as they put it, on both â€˜principlesâ€™ (self-
government and an appreciation of national sentiment and popular will
in Ireland) and â€˜factsâ€™ (the solid Nationalist majorities in election after
election from 1885).358 Meanwhile Lloyd George, the leading Liberal
pro-Boer, further infuriated the Roseberyites by vigorously denouncing
both the war and some of the British officers who were conducting it. On
27 February 1901 the NLF passed a resolution condemning army brutal-
ity in South Africa. In March two Radical MPs (John Ellis and
C. P. Scott, of the Manchester Guardian) first used the expression â€˜con-
centration campsâ€™ to describe the places where Boer women and children
were kept.359 According to the government they were places of
â€˜refugeâ€™,360 but Scott and Ellis compared them to the notorious reconcen-
trado camps used by the Spaniards in 1898 in their vain attempt to defeat
the Cuban rebels.361
It was only on 14 June that Campbell-Bannerman delivered his first
â€˜methods of barbarismâ€™ speech, following the publication of Emily
Hobhouseâ€™s famous indictment, which confirmed the worst allegations
about the camps.362 The report was based on first-hand evidence collected
during her five-month visit to South Africa (December 1900 to May
1901). As Rebecca Gill has argued in her brilliant work, â€˜[i]n engaging
J. Redmond, E. Blake, J. F. X. Oâ€™Brien and T. Harrington, â€˜Irish party manifestoâ€™, Ti, 12
Feb. 1900, 8.
Asquith on 30 Sep. 1901. Cited in McCready, â€˜Home Rule and the Liberal partyâ€™, 332;
B. Wasserstein, Herbert Samuel: a political life (1992), 47.
McCready, â€˜Home Rule and the Liberal partyâ€™, 332. Campbell-Bannerman reaffirmed
these views in the Liberal Magazine, Mar. 1902, 98ff.
J. Ellis, HPD, 4th Series, XC, 1 Mar. 1901, 180; and C. P. Scott, ibid., 5, Mar. 1901,
Secretary of State for War (Brodrick), HPD, 4th Series, LXXXIX, 25 Feb. 1901, 1021,
and XC, 1 Mar. 1901, 180.
Pakenham, Boer War, 535; R. Fry, Emily Hobhouse: a memoir (1929).
More than 20,000 women and children died in the camps, with mortality rates of
between 117 and 500 per thousand among children: Pakenham, Boer War, 536â€“41;
Grigg, â€˜Lloyd Georgeâ€™, 18; K. O. Morgan, â€˜The Boer War and the media (1899â€“1902)â€™,
20th Century British History, 13, 1 (2002), 12.
342 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
the language of â€˜â€˜atrocityâ€™â€™, Emily Hobhouse and her supporters in the
Liberal party were able to transform the question of the Governmentâ€™s
policy in South Africa from a minority cause into a pressing â€˜â€˜human-
itarianâ€™â€™ issue necessitating immediate redressâ€™.363
â€˜CBâ€™ then used the expression â€˜methods of barbarismâ€™ again in a speech
in the Commons on 17 June. Although a majority of Liberal MPs refused
to vote with their leader, it soon emerged that Campbell-Bannerman had
Scottish opinion on his side. In early September the Liberals openly split
at the North-East Lanark by-election, when â€˜CBâ€™ and the Scottish whip
John Sinclair supported Robert Smillie, the Labour candidate (a pro-
Boer, Home Ruler and leading NDL figure), against the official Liberal
candidate, Cecil Harmsworth, a Liberal Imperialist from the powerful
newspaper family. The contest resulted in a Liberal Unionist being
elected. In response, the Liberal Imperialist leaders â€“ including
Asquith, Haldane and Grey â€“ campaigned in Scotland from the end of
the month, demanding the abandonment of Irish Home Rule and the
subordination of other radical causes to imperialism and national effi-
ciency. However, they met with limited success and within a month their
campaign had petered out. In any case, on 25 October the SLA strongly