Explain Why the Conservatives Lost the General Election of 1906

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The 1906 general election is often referred to as the ‘liberal landslide’, but the success of the liberal party was arguably due more to conservative mistakes than what they offered new politically. A number of key conservative policies (all highly played out in the national press) all played a part in the reversal of almost 20 years of tory rule in the 1906 election.

The conservative leader at the time AJ Balfour was considered a poor public speaker as was considered out-of-touch with many of the issues of the day. He resigned the year before the election, but already the rot had set in with the electorate and the liberal party was becoming re-invigorated and more united than in recent years.

Significant issues that beset the tory leadership were the Taff Vale Railway workers strike (a dispute that caused division and resentment between the working classes / emerging trade unions and the government. The introduction of cheap Chinese labour into South Africa was also viewed publically as a threat to employment and pay at home. Furthermore the 1904 licensing act was an issue that troubled the sizeable non-conformist vote as it was seen to be something that would line the pockets of breweries at the expense of the public purse.

The only significantly ‘new’ policy that the conservatives proposed in the run-up to the election was their Education Act (1902). This caused resentment from non-conformists as it proposed the use of public money to fund state and religious schools. Many non-conformists voted liberal in opposition to this.

Perhaps more than all of these poor political moves, the issue of tarrif reform contributed perhaps more to the conservatives downfall in the election. Tariff reform sort to increase import duty on goods from ‘non-empire’ countries, known as ‘Imperial Protectionism’. Opponents to this feared it would result in higher food prices, and many decided to vote with the ‘free-trade’ supporting liberals as a consequence. The...
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