I’m now finishing the series of Posts on pre world war one British Poltics . I’m very gratefull to Grachhi for letting me post for the last week or so instead of him.
Before finishing this series of posts I wish to talk briefly about factionalism in the Conservative Party in the pre war era -in a similar way to my previous post about the liberals.
The conservatives were probably more cohesive than the liberals in this period ( though a fair number of free traders defected in the 1900's ). However I would argue two large tendencies can be identified in that party. One the more or less straight continuation of the old Disraeli an party . This was at least it's hard core the tightening of party lines lost a handful of eccentric candidates-for example Winston Churchill's fellow Conservative candidate in his first election- a working class trade unionist who (according to Churchill) was motivated in his Conservatism by dislike of middle class industrialists. However this was the exception rather the rule-by and large those who had been Conservatives stayed in it-wiht hte same profile as before.
The latter group though represented newer set of issues and groups that were largely new to the conservative party. If Salisbury was very much from the "old" perspective albeit flexible, Joe Chamberlain was perhaps the leading example of the latter-not just a liberal but a radical liberal until very shortly before his defection. One could use various labels the former could perhaps be seen as "Tories" and the latter "unionists" to help show the difference in nomenclature. I have decided to call them the "old" and the "New"-though while the groups are identifiable the terms are my own (and are meant non normatively)
The old conservatism was rooted in the institutions and social network that had kept the Conservatives going pre Salisbury. . Their big issues were the defence of the traditional institutions- an Anglican establishment, the honour of the Crown (the two naturally led them to oppose Home Rule), the aristocracy and other institutions that formed the traditional constitutional and social settlement. It's support was highly rural and highly Anglican in nature- the Tory ghetto the Tories were in the process of breaking out of. It tended to be strong among the aristocracy and the gentry- the Cecil family even after the Prime Minister's death were classic examples of the genre.
In terms of viewpoint ( and it is important to remember this was not some rigid or sharply organised group) They were in a way very much conservatives in the strict sense of the word- and had minimal sympathy for social reform and regulation, whether alcohol , poverty programmes or the like-a "positive" conservatism had little appeal to this group. Oxfordshire and other counties still dominated by Anglican rural (or at least rural linked) electorate were the paradigm area of politics of this sort. It's obsessions were the recognisable airs to Disraeli’s' or even the pre Disraeli an Conservative Party, "church in danger" and suspicion of meddling reform- particularly if statist or changing the established institutions of the country whether the Church, the Union or the army.Even their imperialism was old fashinoed and very India centered.
The "new" toryism by contrast drew it's strength from the newer sections of the Conservative coalition . If Oxfordshire might have been a paradigm "old tory" stronghold Birmingham-where the Conservatives traditionally failed to win seats at all was that of the new". Urban voters- particularly ones who worked in fields such as defence production or areas vulnerable to foreign competition such as textiles were more "new tory". Rather than necessarily being Anglican in support it was more ecumenically Protestant as well as more secular including the not very pious and dissenters- and non Episcopalian Scots. Scotland had virtually been a one party state before the mid 1880's and the more vigorous Conservative/Unionist party that followed particularly in Glasgow tended to be very "new tory" in type. Ideologicaly this Conservatism could be seen as more "modern" given the fashions of the time. It was much more sympathetic to social reform-and strongly supported tariffs as the solution to that. It was nationalist in a much more contemporary way- for example it was strongly imperialist rather than just pro military and it's notable that before World War I when this conservatism had grown strong the Conservative party s flirted with armed resistance to Home Rule- in a way that had never been true of governmental reform in the century before . The tendency to see nationalism in a sectarian way in terms of Protestantism-does not contradict this incidentally- Confessionalism and support for a strongly confessional state was falling out of fashion on the European right- but nationalists were very often defined in partly Sectarian terms as separately as Germany or Turkey. Those few conservatives who were sympathetic to such liberal social causes as alcohol control or non denominational education were very much of this type (though it should be emphasised they were a minority even of this type.
When looking at these differences Five key points need to be made.
Firstly it was not a simple matter of moderates vs hardliners-not that such differences did not exist but they cut across these categories rather than between them- both Joe Chamberlain and Hugh Cecil were hardliners on the House of Lords in 1910 for example. It is true the "old" conservatives tended to be more hostile to expansion of the state domestically, much more defensive of the old Confession state ( it was mainly Conservatives of this stripe who opposed Welsh Church Establishment ) and much more constitutionally conservative- seeking to avoid change in the House of Lords altogether for example. But on other issues they were actually more moderate. They tended to be less militantly nationalist as already mentioned, were much less supportive of Tariffs- essentially all the handful of strong supporters of free trade in the Conservative party after the early 1900's were of this faction, and much less militant in their imperialism or desire to military strongly - it was "new conservative organisations such as the magazine National Review that called for conscription for example. So if on some of the "cleavages" of British Politics they were more moderate on others they were more extreme and opposed to the liberal party.
Thirdly this did not mean the conservative party was full of individuals in the "wrong party" even ignoring the degree to which so many Conservatives shared elements of the two types. They could be held together to defend the Union-whether as prerogative of the Crown or expression of British nationalism (or of course both),both could oppose liberal tax reforms whether as unjustified interfering reform or an "anti-British" alternative to Protectionism . And in practice areas like drink, opposition to church disestablishment and at least a position more protectionist than dogmatic free trade held the large majority of Conservatives together
Thirdly these were nonetheless real factional tendencies. The classic case was Joe Chamberlain's organisation of his "Tariff Reform" crusade in the fact of hostility or at least mixed feelings from much of the party. Chamberlain would almost certainly have become Conservative leader-if it had not had a stroke in the 1906 election which left him a shadow of his former self. The leadership election in 1910 to succeed Balfour- the only such election in this period was between two candidates Sir Walter Long and Austen Chamberlain (Joe’s son) who represted the two groups if imperectly. In the end a compromise candidate was achieved Bonar Law who had strong new conservative leanings (he was Church of Scotland rather than Anglican and even had prohibitionist sympathies) but was more acceptable to old Conservatives-not least because he was a less fanatical protectionist and was not likely to take instructions in the same way from "old Joe".
Fourthly the fact it was more "modern" did not necessarily make the policies of the New conservatism more popular-it was a mixed bag though no doubt it's sympathies for welfare expansion were popular in principle . Probably the greatest obstacle to the Conservatives winning victories in the 1900's and 10's was Protectionism- the paradigm of the new Conservative cause. Though interestingly in Birmingham the greater centre of the cause they managed to win seats-suggesting perhaps it was as much the way it was embraced as the reality. The party like the liberals was probably strongest at elections when it could unite around some cause dear to the heart of all factions. Examples were 1895- thought essentially on Home Rule and 1900 fought on the Boer war, allowing old conservatives to defend the military and the Crown's standard, and new conservatives to defend Anglo-Saxon nationalism and expansion.
Finally it would be very easy to see one as "Tories" and the other as Unionists. The liberal party had a massive split in the mid 1880's-when these tendencies were beginning to describe the diversity in the party. It's easy to make this correlation seem causation. The old Tory voting block and elites formed the "old toryism" base among voters, activists and mp's defecting liberal the new. And indeed Birmingham went from being a great liberal stronghold-to a great "new Tory" stronghold-still dominated by the Chamberlains!
However this view would be wrong. IN fact the greatest advocates of free trade in the Conservative Party were former liberals-as were some of the greatest opponent of disestablishment and of the Tories adopting protectionism. Former radicals and Scottish liberals turned Conservative tended to be quite "new conservative"-but former Whigs did not. Indeed Hartington as Devonshire ended up as ones of Chamberlains leading opponent on tariffs. This is easily explained. The Whigs had differed from "old Tories" in having a lower view of monarchical and Episcopal power and believing in a more "open" establishment. But the issues on which these divisions had been fought- issues like the earlier franchise extensions (to a limited degree )and (much more) issues such as admission of Dissenters to Parliament and the "old" universities, were now largely moot. They shared with old Tories a suspicion of reform that either abolished establishments and "privilege" altogether and the new wave of taxation, spending and regulation.
In a sense this shows how quickly the "liberal unionists" became part of a new Unionist party-or to put it another way were absorbed into the Conservatives-the new divisions in the party ran through these boundaries rather than between them. This can remind one of other parties when the defences across the lines that separate close allies start to matter more than the distinctions between them. For example in France the "non Gaullist right’s distinction with the Gaullist right rapidly broke down after De Gaulle's departure from office ending with he foundation of a united party in the twenty first century (albeit with small break away)
So in a sense the factionalism of the Unionists- shows how successful the union between Conservative and Liberal Unionists was. Here is a picture of Joe Chamberlain- the architect more than anyone else of both that union and the “new toryism”. He was about the only figure to be powerfull throughout this period (he died as World War I began) and so is a very fitting figure to end this series with!