|The 'Khaki Election'
At the turn of the century, British
politics was dominated by the war in
South Africa. The Conservatives ('Tories') fought the
general election of 1900 on this single issue, and won a landslide
victory on a mandate to end the war in South Africa successfully.
At this time only about 58% of men over the age of 21, and
no women, were allowed to vote.
The political scene
In the Parliament elected in 1900, the 334 Conservative MPs
(supported by 68 Liberal Unionists who were opposed to 'Home
Rule' for Ireland) had a combined majority of 134 seats. The
opposition consisted of 185 Liberals, 82 Irish Nationalists
and 1 'Socialist'. Two MPs, including the 'pro-Boer' J. Keir
Hardie, were sponsored by the Labour Representation Committee,
the forerunner of the modern Labour party, which had been
established in February 1900 to work for the election of independent
Labour MPs to Parliament. After the Taff Vale judgment of
1901 made trade unions liable for losses arising out of strikes,
many unionists transferred their political allegiance from
Liberal to Labour.
The government's failure to end the war in South Africa, as
they had promised, seemed to induce a state of political paralysis.
In August 1901, The Times described the government
as 'unproductive and disappointing', with 'no trace of the
energy and enthusiasm that might have been reasonably looked
for after a signal and uncontestable party victory'. The Opposition
were 'manifestly disorganised and divided'. The paper's December
review spoke of a 'tired Ministry' that had abandoned most
of its legislative programme, only managing consolidation
of the factory laws and some army reform.
|The Liberal leader in the House of Lords, former
Prime Minister Lord Rosebery, claimed in July 1901 that no
government within living memory had 'crowded such a frightful
assembly of errors, of weaknesses, and of wholesale blunders
into its history'. He argued that only social reforms at home
- in housing, education, old age pensions and temperance -
would produce a people fit to run an empire. The Liberal leader
in the Commons, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, condemned the
government for its 'methods of barbarism'
in South Africa. Other Liberal anti-imperialists, such as
David Lloyd George, saw imperial commitments as a distraction
from domestic reforms. Having condemned the South African
War as 'an outrage perpetrated in the name of human freedom',
he went to Birmingham in December 1901 to address the South
African Conciliation Committee and, disguised as a policeman,
had to flee from the ensuing riot, in which one person was