A Short History of the Liberal Party 1900–88 by Chris Cook

By Chris Cook

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Such a programme of legislation undertaken by a government with a slim and declining majority (by December 1894 byelection defeats and withdrawals from the party had reduced the Liberal majority from 40 to 32) in the face of the hostility of the Parnellite section of the Irish, who had gone into open opposition to the government when it refused to press Home Rule after the 1893 defeat, proved unprofitable. It served only to highlight the impotence of the Liberal Government. Finally, the Cabinet seemed to have lost touch with its supporters.

By 1907 the economic prosperity of the previous year had given way to a worldwide trade recession. Nor had the Liberals any cause for optimism on the electoral front. The party lost three of the 16 contested by-elections during 1907, while in the municipal elections of November 1906 there had been heavy losses to the Conservatives. Two of the by-elections, at Colne Valley and at Jarrow, were both significant for the increased support shown for Labour. In the Colne Valley, Victor Grayson, an avowed Socialist who in fact refused to join the Labour Party, won the seat despite Liberal and Conservative opposition.

Even extreme Radicals could see reason in the Gladstonian argument that the total removal of the Irish problem would leave the field open for a COIJIprehensive reform of domestic institutions, all the more possible now that the recalcitrant Whigs had removed themselves from the rest of the party. Eventually, the numbers Chamberlain was able to carry into 3 Watson, The Natio1UJ1 Liberal Federation, pp. 84 If. 24 A Short History of the Liberal Party the lobby against the Home Rule Bill were small.

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