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Democracy and the politics of humanitarianism 359

scientific humanitarianism™ “ an organic combination of Gladstonian
voluntaryism and technocratic altruism.30
Indeed the war did bring about a realignment, but the beneficiaries
were the Liberals. By 1901 Campbell-Bannerman felt confident enough
as party leader to challenge the Liberal Imperialists. He helped to
co-ordinate and focus the efforts of the various groups involved in this
groundswell of protest and built a popular front of moral outrage “ one
which also included the Irish Nationalists, but avoided divisive issues by
keeping Home Rule on the backburner. Asquith and the other younger
party leaders were shrewd enough to understand that this was the time to
support him.
From then on the Liberals retained the initiative within the left. They
were in the forefront of the moral opposition to Chinese labour, a practice
which in 1903 they denounced as an abomination to humanity. At that
time only Keir Hardie, among the Labour leaders, shared any interest in
the question. By contrast, as Kim has demonstrated, the TUC, LRC, ILP
and even Ramsay MacDonald paid scant attention to the issue until
February 1904.31 But then the agitation gathered momentum, with
resolutions by the SDF, ILP, Baptist Union, London Radical clubs,
National Liberal Club and NLF, sponsored by Reynolds™s and the
Manchester Guardian. Once again the leadership devolved on the
Liberals, including Morley and Asquith, while the Labour engagement
was, as Kim has pointed out, ˜essentially reactive™ in nature.32
As already noted above (pp. 36“7), Pottinger Saab has explained the
large-scale popular support for the 1876 Bulgarian agitation in terms of
working-class alienation from the political process. It is questionable
whether there was any such estrangement in 1876, but by 1905 there
was plenty of alarm among both the trade unions and the working
classes in general. By then they had been exposed to a series of episodes
which challenged late Victorian expectations about the proper, ˜British™
relationship between the state and society. First, with Taff Vale, judge-
made ˜law™ undermined the immunity which trade unions had enjoyed
since 1871. Then ˜methods of barbarism™ “ which eventually received con-
siderable media coverage “ exposed a very ˜un-English™ way of fighting wars
by starving Boer women and children in concentration camps. Peace had
hardly been re-established when ˜Chinese labour™ suggested that the British
immigrant could, after all, be cheated out of his job in the newly acquired
empire. Apart from the humanitarian issues discussed above, this created

30
Gill, ˜Calculating compassion™, 111. 31 Kim, ˜Chinese labour™, 38“9.
32
Ibid., 48. On the political role of the National Liberal Club see R. Steven, The National
Liberal Club: politics and persons (London, 1925).
360 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

a powerful solidarity ˜between the self-interest of the worker™ and ˜the
self-righteousness of the Nonconformists™.33 The 1902 Education Act
abolished the School Boards established in 1870 which had provided an
effective system of representation for religious minorities and a frame-
work to monitor religious freedom in local authority schools. The Act
further alienated the Nonconformists at the very time their numbers and
political self-confidence were being boosted by revival.34 Not surpris-
ingly, the election mobilized their ministers and in some constituencies
they came out en masse against the Unionist candidates. As Victor
Cavendish wrote to Devonshire, ˜[l]eading members of the different
Nonconformist bodies [stood] outside the polling booths [at Bakewell] and
every elector had to run the gauntlet of this cross-fire of ecclesiastical
influence™.35
Simultaneously, the Tariff Reform campaign was widely denounced as
a further conspiracy intended to make the impoverished working man pay
for a war which had only benefited the ˜Jewish™ capitalist. Consumers
were generally alarmed, especially women. Although the Daily Telegraph
contemptuously dismissed ˜the ignorant female mind, unable to look
beyond the limitations of the . . . weekly wage™, Women™s Weekly emphati-
cally declared that 1906 was a ˜women™s election™.36 As A. K. Russell has
noted, ˜influenced by a combination of cheap food and suffrage issues™,
women played an important role, canvassing and ˜prevailing™ upon unde-
cided electors.37 In particular, the WLF was able to extend its registration
and propaganda network, ˜quite outstripping the Primrose League™38 “
not in numerical terms, but in terms of its effectiveness as an electoral
machine.
These events had further repercussions. The Boer War and the
Education Act helped Lloyd George ˜break away from his roots as a
purely Welsh politician to become a significant figure in the Liberal
leadership™.39 On the basis of other, similarly Old Liberal issues, a num-
ber of prominent ˜New Liberal™ careers were launched, including that of
Churchill, who broke with the Tories on 31 May 1904, protesting against
their ˜Imperialism on the Russian model™, ˜insular prejudice against for-
eigners . . . racial prejudice against Jews, and . . . labour prejudice against

33
Russell, Liberal landslide, 205.
34
S. E. Koss, ˜1906: revival and revivalism™, in A. J. A. Morris (ed.), Edwardian radicalism,
1900“1914 (1974), 75“96; C. R. Williams, ˜The Welsh religious revival, 1904“1905™, 77,
Journal3 (1952), 242“59.
35
Russell, Liberal landslide, 184“5. 36 Ibid., 177. 37 Ibid., 176.
38
A. K. Russell, ˜Laying the charges for the landslide: the revival of Liberal party organ-
ization, 1902“1905™, in Morris, Edwardian radicalism, 69.
39
Grigg, ˜Lloyd George™, 19; Packer, Lloyd George, 16.
Democracy and the politics of humanitarianism 361

competition™.40 The close links between Old and New Liberalism we
further illustrated by J. A. Hobson, whose ˜underconsumptionist™ ideas
were refined in the context of his critique of British imperialism and the
Boer War.41

The significance of the ˜New Liberalism™
In an influential piece of historical revisionism, Duncan Tanner has
presented Liberalism and Labour in 1900“18 as two anti-Unionist parties
competing for the same social constituency.42 In this contest, at least until
1910, the Liberals enjoyed an important advantage. For those who pro-
posed left-wing alternatives to Liberalism discovered, to their cost, that
they were locking horns with the combined forces of Christian radicalism
and Celtic nationalism, the latter being strongly Catholic in Ireland and
staunchly Nonconformist in Wales. Many thought that ˜religion and
radical politics [were] inseparably connected™43 and behaved accordingly.
In particular, the supposed link between liberty and Home Rule devel-
oped into something of a dogma and semi-religious faith. In the process
popular liberalism as a whole became similar to religious revivalism, being
driven by lofty ideals rather than practical policy aims. For these reasons
it was often ineffective and would have suffered from competition from
the new socialist organizations, had it not been for the fact that they, too,
were similar to Dissenting religious sects. However, unlike the Liberals
and the Protestant Dissenters, the socialist groups, for all their prophetic
zeal, experienced little in the way of revivals between 1895 and 1913.44
Far from challenging the Gladstonians™ hold on the working-class vote,
at the turn of the century they came under pressure from the neo-
Chartist NDL.
Patricia Jalland has argued that Home Rule delayed the rise of a new
Liberal leader who could appeal to labour and that it ˜paralys[ed] the
party™s development in other areas by lack of direction™.45 But
Gladstone™s political longevity did not hinder the debate on collectivism
and ˜progressivism™ within the NLF and Liberal intellectual circles, or,
for that matter, the government itself. In fact, collectivist legislation

40
Cited in M. Gilbert: Churchill: a life (1991), 165.
41
J. A. Hobson, The problem of the unemployed (1896); P. J. Cain, ˜British radicalism, the
South African crisis, and the origins of the theory of financial imperialism™, in Omissi and
Thompson, South African war, 176“81.
42
Tanner, Political change. 43 ˜The plebiscite™, The Congregationalist, August 1886, 603.
44
Thompson, Socialists, liberals and labour, 195, 226.
45
P. Jalland, The Liberals and Ireland: the Ulster question in British politics to 1914 (1980;
1993), 21“2.
362 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

started very early “ from 1881 in Ireland and 1886 (Crofters Act)
in Scotland. Moreover, as we have seen, the 1887 agitation against
coercion in Ireland was a formative experience for a whole genera-
tion of radicals and future Labour leaders, including George Lansbury,
W. H. Massingham and Sidney Webb, who derived from the Irish crisis
wide-ranging conclusions about social injustice and the importance of
remedial political action “ principles which contributed to the rise of the
˜Progressive™ or New Liberal agenda both in municipal and in national
politics.46 Thus in terms of formulating new social policies the Liberal
party was far from ˜paralysed™ in 1891“1905.
In any case, given the rise of Parnellism as a mass movement in the early
1880s and the unpopularity of coercion, which was necessary to hold it
back, the British ˜Democracy™ could not have ignored the question of
Irish self-government. It is hardly surprising that it arose when it did and
that it split the Liberals. Without a Gladstone, it would have severed the
Liberals from labour, with a Joseph Cowen or Charles Bradlaugh playing
the role subsequently, and rather ineffectively, adopted by Keir Hardie in
setting up an independent democratic party.
Moreover, it is not clear whether more aggressive ˜statist™ social reform
was an electoral asset at any stage before 1914. In fact, it is likely that
Chamberlain-style proposals would have been electorally counterpro-
ductive had they been tried in the 1880s: they could easily have provided
the Tories with a rallying cry in defence of the Englishman™s liberty
against the ˜Prussian police state™ associated with state intervention.
Even in 1891 national insurance was opposed by the friendly societies.
The latter feared that, if the government provided insurance, the state
˜would be competing in the same limited market for working-class savings
as the friendly societies themselves™.47 From 1910 Lloyd George was
more successful not only because the general ethos was then different,
but also because, although his basic premises were similar to those of
Chamberlain, he was more skilful than the Unionist leader and better at
playing the politics of emotionalism.48 Even so, national insurance did
not make the government more popular in 1911.
Like Lloyd George, Chamberlain was one of those radicals who liked to
˜get things done™. This required power at the centre and the preservation
of the Union, which Gladstone regarded as a constitutional quagmire.
The GOM™s rhetoric suggested the impression that, largely for moral

46
Barker, Gladstone and radicalism, 90; Maccoby, English radicalism, 1886“1914, 59“63;
Moore, Transformation of urban liberalism, 278“9.
47
G. Stedman Jones, An end to poverty? A historical debate (2004), 215.
48
Grigg, ˜Lloyd George™, 13.
Democracy and the politics of humanitarianism 363

reasons, he considered the political ˜process™ more important than its
˜results™. Although this was not necessarily what he actually thought “
most of the time he was more interested in achieving practical solutions
than in crusading for ethical imperatives “ it was enough to exasperate
Liberals of the younger generation, like Acland and Samuel. By contrast,
popular radicals and the labour movement tended to agree with
Gladstone, not because they shared his moral concerns, but because
they feared that, without democratic control over the process, they
could not trust the government to deliver desirable policies. This was
the rationale behind the turn-of-the-century resurgence of the old
Chartist demand for full democracy as a precondition of real social
reform.
After the intense debates about collectivism and socialism in the 1890s,
and the parallel emphasis on ˜constructive unionism™ in Ireland, the ˜neo-
Chartism™ of the beginning of the twentieth century could be perceived as
something of an anti-climax. But in fact it revealed a new awareness of the
limitations of ˜democracy™ in its ˜household franchise™ dispensation, and,
as Barrow and Bullock have pointed out, highlighted a plan for a ˜radical
political democracy™ in which Parliament and local assemblies would be
more directly accountable and citizens would be empowered by the
referendum and the ˜initiative™.49 However, in contrast to what they
have argued,50 there is little evidence that ˜greater democracy and full-
bloodied socialism™ were regarded as ˜but two sides of the same coin™,
except by a small minority. While ˜socialism™ was a vague notion, a new
jargon for most British and Irish people, in 1905 many believed that
the real issue was neither ˜collectivism™ or ˜statism™, but democracy. In
hindsight we can only say that they were right. Democracy “ or lack
thereof “ was the problem then and would continue to be so for a long
time afterwards. This is related to another apparent ˜anachronism™,
namely the fact that land reform was a major issue in English, as much
as in Irish, Scottish and Welsh, politics. This reflected not only the
complexity and importance of the issue (which affected urban, as well
as rural, land values and the ownership of the mines), but also an old
radical dream, a form of economic democracy (instead of social democ-
racy), based on the independence and self-reliance that a plot of land was
supposed to confer on its peasant owner.51


49
Barrow and Bullock, Democratic ideas, 14. 50 Ibid., 57.
51
M. Tichelar, ˜Socialists, labour and the land: the response of the Labour party to the land
campaign of Lloyd George before the First World War™, Twentieth Century British History,
8, 2 (1997), 127“44; G. Stedman Jones, ˜Rethinking Chartism™, in Jones, Languages of
class: studies in English working class history, 1832“1982 (Cambridge, 1983), 90“178.
364 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

Thus, in contrast to Collini, I am not sure that we can indicate a precise
point in time when collectivism fully replaced the old creed of ˜peace,
retrenchment and reform™ as a credible political strategy.52 But arguably
1906 was the last election of the late Victorian cycle which had started in
1880. Then ˜Gladstone™s speeches [had given] a moral dignity to a
struggle against a policy which claimed to be based on a sensible, realistic
approach™,53 by showing that Beaconsfield™s imperialism and ˜profligate™
mismanagement of the Treasury were both immoral and impolitic. In
1906 there was no equivalent of the GOM, though something like a build-
up of collective Gladstonianism had taken place over the previous three
years. As in 1880, so also in 1906 Home Rule played no direct role, but in
both cases there was a reasonable expectation on the part of the Irish
Nationalists that a Liberal victory would indirectly benefit the cause of
Irish self-government. In particular, there was widespread awareness that
Home Rule was not an isolated issue, but one of the broader aspects of
imperialism and democracy.
It is certainly true, as Laybourn writes, that, despite the fact that
political allegiances are hard to break, once the Labour party came into
existence it offered an alternative focus of activity.54 Indeed, this is one of
the points made in chapter 6. Political identities and loyalties were in a
state of flux after Gladstone™s retirement. Radical activists of various hues
could vote for and support a range of diverse and ultimately conflicting
organizations without feeling that this involved a betrayal of any partic-
ular cause, because many thought that Liberals, radicals, the socialist
societies, the NDL and the LRC were all “ though in different ways “
championing the overriding and all-encompassing causes of democracy
and ˜humanity™.
If 1906 was a victory for Gladstonianism and ˜the old Liberal faith™, the
economic crisis of 1908 and the electoral victories of 1910 helped the new

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