August 02, 2009

Factionalism in the Conservative/Unionist Party before World War I-the Old Conservatism and the New


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!

16 comments:

Vino S said...

I tend to agree with your view that the distinction between the Liberal Unionists and Tories quickly ceased to be significant within the unified Conservative & Unionist Party. This was because the Liberal Unionists themselves were divided between Whigs and Radicals.

The Radicals, I think, were able to mesh with Disraelian ideas of social reform and getting skilled working-class votes - and were opposed to the Liberal middle-class.

I would think the Whigs meshed with the old Tories - generally sceptical of further political, economic and social reform.

I think the one thing that united them was nationalism. The party put "unionist" in its title since the one thing it was not keen on was Home Rule.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

Part One of Two

I quite enjoyed this post. However, I'm not altogether convinced by your reasoning, insofar as I can understand it - in places I find it quite difficult to comprehend and in others I think you are simply wrong. Four particular points:

"The conservatives were probably more cohesive than the liberals in this period ( though a fair number of free traders defected in the 1900's )."

Depends how you measure it. Prior to 1903 that would be true, in later years it would not be. Moreover, I would suggest that the divisions of the Liberals in the period 1896-1903 were less deep and bitter than those of the Unionists between 1903 and 1913, although in the event they lasted much longer and were perhaps never fully healed. As Bernstein pointed out, when Home Rule ceased to be the main issue all quarrels were patched up fast and a reasonably cohesive government (the slightly absurd Relugas Compact notwithstanding) was formed with little trouble in 1905. Even defence of the House of Lords in 1910 couldn't do that to the Unionists, which is why Bonar Law was so desperate to catch at any issue, even that of potentially provoking a war in Ireland, that offered a distraction from tariffs.

"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."

No he wouldn't. He was too old and although his policies were popular with the surviving rump of the Unionist party, he himself wasn't. While his incapacitation considerably eased the pressure on Balfour, it wasn't Joe he was afraid of, even then, it was Austen. I don't know where you got this from, but I would treat the information with caution.

"They [the "Tories"] 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."

Balfour was a member of this group, even accepting he was not quite an orthodox member, and he pursued a meaningful if sometimes misguided programme of land reform, educational improvement and poor law reform, as well as his quite radical diplomatic direction (most notably the Entente Cordiale). It was not that they had minimal sympathy with reform, but that they regarded it rather as a means to an end not as something to be done for its own sake - in the case of land reform in Ireland, for instance, an attempt to buy off the Irish by addressing a grievance they believed was feeding Home Rule sentiment.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

Part Two of Two

"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."

That's far too sweeping. Devonshire was indeed implacably opposed to Chamberlain, a stance that cost him the leadership of the Liberal Unionists, but he was only a "leading" opponent in the sense that he was the one everyone looked to for leadership, which was not forthcoming, partly due to age, deafness and illness, and partly due to his confusion on the subject - was he for Free Trade, which might lead to a Liberal victory and Home Rule, or against Home Rule, which would mean finding a compromise with Balfour on other issues, including tariff reform (incidentally, why no mention of the "retaliationist" position Balfour took up)? This was a problem shared by other key figures in the Lords, notably James, Goschen, Balfour of Burleigh and later, Hicks Beach.

The greatest advocates for the Free Fooder Unionists were in fact the Cecil brothers, James, Robert and above all Hugh, who were certainly not former Liberals but were more than a little obsessive on the subject. They even attempted to conspire with Asquith in order to bring the government of their own cousin, Balfour, down (an attempt blocked by Campbell-Bannerman, who thought their votes would not help greatly him in the Commons and might damage him in the country).

Incidentally, as an afterthought, strictly speaking all references to this grouping between 1892 and 1925 should be to the "Unionist" party, although I can appreciate that doing that here might only have caused confusion.

I apologize for such a long comment (eek, I have had to split it in two!) and for the negativity, especially since I liked the post. The topic is an interesting one if rather complex, but one well worth bringing to wider attention. As reviewers of Green's Crisis of Conservatism noted, the parallel between Balfour and Major is all too apparent - as is that of Balfour and Brown now (although maybe Brown and Asquith could be sketched in, but in 1916 circumstances were a little unusual). Hope you find the information of use.

Sulla said...

Vilno thanks as alwasy for your comment. I think your guide is roughly right though i'm sure there are exceptions (and of course most radicals and arguablly a few whigs stayed in the liberal party). Nationalism if broadly defined defiley held them together (also feeds on priviledge etc)/ However I would say it was more than nationalism that united them, there was also dubousness about high domestic taxation. Abnd in practice for most conservatives drink etc provided a union as well.

Sulla said...

half blood welshman thank you for your comments which are very interesting and well informed. I think I'll try and answer the critical ones separately since I judge them to be independent conceptually and I think it'll save confusion albiet create space. I'll paste your commetn and put the comment above it

Sulla said...

I agree they won't realy that cohesive but would still say that's more- as you semi seem to state in saying they patched up their differences more equally. the 1903-1906 peruiod was of course a major division but it's dwared by the World ONe Split for the liberals. Moreovert the hard core free trade faction in the Conservative/Unionists either defected or stayed in as a fairly weak rump for the next few decades (mostly becuase they were extreme conservatives on other issues like Hugh Cecil.

I stronlgy disagree on the 1910 comparison-the conservative diviions were much less serious than the liberal ones on the Boer war or their own in the 1903-1906 period. The Relugus pact was a squib but it was at least as serious as anything Balfour got.

In any case my big piont was the Conservatives/Unionists while ideologicaly diverse were less so than the liberals would you disagree?

"The conservatives were probably more cohesive than the liberals in this period ( though a fair number of free traders defected in the 1900's )."

Depends how you measure it. Prior to 1903 that would be true, in later years it would not be. Moreover, I would suggest that the divisions of the Liberals in the period 1896-1903 were less deep and bitter than those of the Unionists between 1903 and 1913, although in the event they lasted much longer and were perhaps never fully healed. As Bernstein pointed out, when Home Rule ceased to be the main issue all quarrels were patched up fast and a reasonably cohesive government (the slightly absurd Relugas Compact notwithstanding) was formed with little trouble in 1905. Even defence of the House of Lords in 1910 couldn't do that to the Unionists, which is why Bonar Law was so desperate to catch at any issue, even that of potentially provoking a war in Ireland, that offered a distraction from tariffs.

Sulla said...

You may be right I think I read it in Roy Jenkins which may vindicate your caution-though frankly I think an Austen leadership with Joe healthy would have been a Joe leadership with another name. What are you sources? I would have thought Joe Chamberlian wouldh ave had a very good chance of taking over having placed himself so much in the center of the newly dominat protectionists and with the amazing achievemnt in Birmingham-not losing a single seat!

"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."

No he wouldn't. He was too old and although his policies were popular with the surviving rump of the Unionist party, he himself wasn't. While his incapacitation considerably eased the pressure on Balfour, it wasn't Joe he was afraid of, even then, it was Austen. I don't know where you got this from, but I would treat the information with caution.

Sulla said...

I wouldn't regard Balforu as a hardcore member of such a group or even necessarily leaning in that direction -save in social background where he obviously would be. But ideologically he strikes me as in the middle of the two-maybe with an "old Tory" lean but much more ambiguos than Salisbury or chamberlain. One reason for this ambiguity is the tide of socail reform (though see my next post) you acknowledge his unusuallness in that group so i think we may not actualy disagree on this?


Balfour was a member of this group, even accepting he was not quite an orthodox member, and he pursued a meaningful if sometimes misguided programme of land reform, educational improvement and poor law reform, as well as his quite radical diplomatic direction (most notably the Entente Cordiale). I

Sulla said...

I think you have a point here- i wsz perhaps insuficnety precise in my language (though of course I was generizing about a large group of people not trying to be totally precise). Pehrpas a better way to describe them would be all their support for social reform was as a necessary evil to stop further reform -with the Irish policy being a classic example!

It was not that they had minimal sympathy with reform, but that they regarded it rather as a means to an end not as something to be done for its own sake - in the case of land reform in Ireland, for instance, an attempt to buy off the Irish by addressing a grievance they believed was feeding Home Rule sentiment.


"They [the "Tories"] 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."

Sulla said...

Again I think this isn't a real difference. My piont on the "greatest advocates" was that they were actaully most likely to be free trade if they'd been in the liberal party (partly of course a product of the liberla party of the 50's and 60's perhpas the most free trade in British history). I don't think you disagree with this. Nor would I disagree Devonshire was useless.

interesing stuff on Cecils where'd you get it from? I think it emphasises' Hugh Cecils ultimate "old tory" credentials- as a man whose hard right views on everything else meant the liberal party was impossible!

"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."

That's far too sweeping. Devonshire was indeed implacably opposed to Chamberlain, a stance that cost him the leadership of the Liberal Unionists, but he was only a "leading" opponent in the sense that he was the one everyone looked to for leadership, which was not forthcoming, partly due to age, deafness and illness, and partly due to his confusion on the subject - was he for Free Trade, which might lead to a Liberal victory and Home Rule, or against Home Rule, which would mean finding a compromise with Balfour on other issues, including tariff reform (incidentally, why no mention of the "retaliationist" position Balfour took up)? This was a problem shared by other key figures in the Lords, notably James, Goschen, Balfour of Burleigh and later, Hicks Beach.

The greatest advocates for the Free Fooder Unionists were in fact the Cecil brothers,

Sulla said...

A fair point and you correlcy summarise my reason for using Conservative/ or Conservative/unionist


Incidentally, as an afterthought, strictly speaking all references to this grouping between 1892 and 1925 should be to the "Unionist" party, although I can appreciate that doing that here might only have caused confusion.

Sulla said...

Dont' appologise-great comments much appreciated!

I think the balfour/major comparision are not only obvious but can overplayed. Major in many ways is more comparable with Baldwin in the eary 30's in disunity-and i actually think disunity was only a minor contribution to Major's problems-and his unpopularity had very different roots than Balfours.


I apologize for such a long comment (eek, I have had to split it in two!) and for the negativity, especially since I liked the post. The topic is an interesting one if rather complex, but one well worth bringing to wider attention. As reviewers of Green's Crisis of Conservatism noted, the parallel between Balfour and Major is all too apparent - as is that of Balfour and Brown now (although maybe Brown and Asquith could be sketched in, but in 1916 circumstances were a little unusual). Hope you find the information of use.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

Many thanks for the replies.

"In any case my big piont was the Conservatives/Unionists while ideologicaly diverse were less so than the liberals would you disagree? "

I would agree that the Unionists were not generally split ideologically, in the sense that by 1911 they were all more or less tariff reformers. However, they were definitely split on policy - to wit, whether tariff reform should be implemented and if so, how - and it was sometimes rather difficult to tell the difference. For instance, the party nearly collapsed entirely in 1913 over the question of whether Tariff Reform should be in its next manifesto, or if it should be put to a referendum, or whether it should be ditched as a vote loser. It was this that caused Bonar Law to seize on Home Rule as a distraction.

My sources are manifold and complex - to explain matters, a few years ago I wrote an MA dissertation on this very subject, drawing on the archival record. The important published books are Green, Crisis of Conservatism, Richard Rempel, Unionists Divided (Newton Abbot 1972) but best of all on this topic is Alan Sykes, Tariff Reform in British Politics (London 1979) especially the later chapters from chapter 5. For Balfour/Chamberlain in particular, see Chapter 5 pp. 102-105 (although it doesn't mention Austen).

And yes, the leadership of Austen Chamberlain might have been his father by anther name - but not necessarily. It depended on how busy his father was running the Tariff Reform League. I would certainly agree that Chamberlain could have exerted immense influence through Austen - but so he could have done through Balfour or Lansdowne had he been healthy, because of his sheer force of personality.

Hope you find that interesting!

Sulla said...

Thanks again. I think a difference on tactics and intensity like that is very different from over principle (like the Conservative/unonists in 1903-1906 and the liberals on just ab0out every major policy change of this period). I don't regard the 1913 diffence as near a collapse-but rather as a squabble over tactics albiet a very serious one. There would not have been a big split in Conservative/unonist ranks

I also think it's a bit misleading to see home rule as a "distraction"i t was central to boht the Conservative party as an issue and to Bonar Law's own conservatims in a very sincere way ( in his case particulary on Ulster exemption)

Gracchi said...

I'll leave the discussion to others! But there is no need for gratitude- I was on holiday and also I think these articles have been fascinating, thank you very much for all your effort!

Sulla said...

I'd add on Balfour that his keeness on universal suffrage, his keenness on protectionsim for all his poltical caution and his enthusiasm for a more modern military and even more governmetn developmetn of education help to emphaise that he had siginficant "new tory" tendencies