Poltics and Economics
Events gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Events of 1901
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Politics in 1901
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.
Conservative election poster - link to an enlarged version

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 Conservatives

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 Liberals
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 killed. Liberal election poster - link to an enlarged version
Politics in 1901 The Big Issues The Golden Age? Trade