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Untitled Essay, Research Paper
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century Tory governments held office
for seventeen years (1874 ? 80, 1886-92, 95-1900). During this time Salisbury
was Prime Minister for the last eleven years, and was also a member of the cabinet
for the first six. To add to this, he enjoyed the position of leader of the
opposition during the Gladstonian ministries that interrupted this spell of
Tory leadership. What were the reasons for this Conservative political ascendancy,
and what was Salisbury?s contribution to it?
According to Michael Bentley Salisbury was ?the most formidable politician
the Conservative Party has ever produced.? He ad the most impressive electoral
record of any Victorian politician, with his victories in 188, 1895 and 1900
all secured with massive margins, and his defeats in 1885 and 1892 close enough
to leave the Liberals heavily reliant on the unpopular Irish Nationalists.
During Disraeli?s period in office (1874 ? 1880) Salisbury served in the India
Office and was later made Foreign Secretary after Derby?s resignation in 1877.
It is important to note here that Salisbury accompanied Disraeli to the Congress
of Berlin ? arguably the ministry?s biggest imperialist success. His contribution
to Tory Dominance here was that of winning support from ?the jingoes? and thus
encompassing a further section of society under the Conservative umbrella.
The 1886 election saw Salisbury come to power with a large electoral swing.
The conservatives had 316 seats compared to 191 Gladstonian Liberal and 83 INP.
As leader of the opposition almost throughout the two Liberal ministries of
1880 ? 1886 Salisbury played a major part in crafting this electoral victory
via several channels. Firstly, in an era of growing Trade Union power Salisbury
had observed the growth of Villa Toryism as the middle classes began to move
to the right for fear of socialism. In 1884 the Lords twice rejected Gladstone?s
Third Reform Act, and Salisbury met with Gladstone to negotiate a compromise.
The result was the 1885 Re-distribution Act ? the price Gladstone had to pay
for the introduction of his Third Reform Act. This re-distribution Act, although
introduced by Gladstone, was negotiated primarily by Salisbury and was a huge
contributor to the Tory Dominance which was about to begin. It capitalised on
Villa Toryism by creating new seats in the suburbs of large cities which were
full of middle class conservatives, and the effects were staggering. In formerly
radical cities such as Leeds and Sheffield the Conservatives, after 1885, regularly
took two or three of the five seats. In London, which had received almost 40
seats under the re-distribution act, the Tories, in 1895 and 1900 were to win
51 of the 59 seats, when in 1859 and 65 they hadn?t won a single one.
Furthermore, in 1885 and 86 the Liberal Party were deep in crisis over the
Home Rule issue. At the 1886 election the Liberal Unionists, spear-headed by
Chamberlain won 78 seats, accounting for a sizeable chunk of the Gladstonian
Liberal loss. Salisbury had assisted this by instructing the local Conservative
Party associations not to place a candidate against defectors from the Liberal
Party, and so the Conservative votes went to these candidates, thus deepening
the split in the Liberal Party, and evidently, lessening their electoral threat
in years to come.
To add to this, Salisbury was also able to keep hold of the loyal working
class conservatives ? the would be benefactors of Disraelian ?one nation conservatism?,
by establishing ?constitutional clubs? sponsored by local brewers. He also envisaged
mass membership of the party by accepting the Primrose League as an official
body of the party, which confirmed support from the old Disrealian Young Englanders.
To summarise, Salisbury?s contribution to Conservative Dominance by means
of winning the1886 election was very important. His negotiation of the Re-distribution
Act completely converted whole cities from Radical to Conservative, and he preyed
on Gladstone?s unpopular infatuation with Home Rule. He was able to achieve
the latter of these two points through an overall improvement in party organisation,
through a re-channelling of funds, made possible by the Corrupt Practices Act
For all the above reasons, Salisbury became Prime Minister in 1886, and immediately
spoke of ?the virtues of doing nothing?. (David Cooper). Salisbury?s most fundamental
belief was that of self help. He saw it as the state?s job to shape matters,
by providing education and other public services, not to give handouts. Salisbury
was non-interventionalist to the core, as ?too many ?big bills?, he believed,
proceeded on the assumption that every political problem, no matter how complex,
had a solution.? Salisbury was much happier to provide pragmatic solutions to
problems as they arose and not busy Parliament with a dynamic and exhausting
programme, confirming his belief that ?legislative interference generally made
problems worse.? Bearing in mind the fact that he faced extremely weak opposition,
this ?policy? proved very successful. When faced with an opposition as deeply
divided as Salisbury?s was at the moment the only way he could bring about his
downfall would be to shoot himself in the foot with failed legislation, and
his conclusion that ?our bills must be tentative and cautious, not sweeping
and dramatic? removed such an eventuality from the equation. Indeed his thirteen
years as Prime Minister produced only three significant pieces of domestic legislation
? the Local Government Act of 1888, the introduction of free elementary education
in 1891 and the Workmen?s Compensation Act of 1897. As short as the list is,
Salisbury only introduced these measures as a step towards consolidating Conservative
power. The primary goal of the Local Government Act was to keep the power in
the hands of the traditional figures, such as the Justices of the Peace, and
by doing this he lessened the likelihood of their power being removed totally
in ?some future torrent of radicalism? (Cooper). In this sense, this is comparable
to his provision of free elementary education which, he perceived, would fend
off the Radical Liberal plans to review the whole system and eventually disassociate
education and the church, which would inevitably lessen the bond between the
Church of England and the Conservatives, which Disraeli fought to uphold. It
would seem that all his domestic legislation kept the radicals at arms length,
and the electorate content, using what could be described as cautious and tentative
Throughout Salisbury?s period in office Britain?s Foreign Policy was, albeit
unofficially, that of Splendid Isolation. Salisbury himself had once described
Foreign Policy as that of ?drifting downstream in a boat, occasionally putting
out an oar to fend off the bank.? Whilst he was prepared to accept that intervention
was sometimes necessary he distrusted grand schemes, such as Chamberlain?s desired
alliance with Germany. Salisbury?s main objectives were to avoid war, although
he appreciated the importance of upholding British interest and was prepared
to use violence to do so. This again contributed to the dominance of the Conservative
Party as a less rampant Imperialist policy lessened the possibility of the embarrassment
of British troops and thus himself. His handling of the Fashoda Incident in
1898 without the need for war was seen as ?one of the country?s greatest diplomatic
triumphs? (Ramsden) and this won him support from the more Gladstonian ?moral
politicians? who were extremely anti-imperialist.
Salisbury pleased the population by conveying the straight-forward message
that he had no interest in joining any of the existing alliances in Europe.
He was supported in this view by many politicians who also feared the danger
of ?permanent or entangling alliances.? (Campbell-Bannerman).
In spite of this however, in the 1890s the Conservatives were better equipped
than the Liberals to gain from any public enthusiasm for imperialism, the virtues
of which were publicised in the popular press. As Salisbury re-enforced the
Conservative identification with patriotism and empire and publicly exalted
the Crown, they were assisted by the occurrence of two Royal Jubilees (1887,
1897). Moreover, the Primrose League and its branches skilfully encouraged patriotic
sentiment. Salisbury was prepared to exploit war-time patriotism ? in the Boer
War, at the time of the reliefs of Mafeking and Ladysmith ? to call a ?snap
election? much to his party?s advantage.
In conclusion, Salisbury?s contribution to the Tory Dominance of the late
nineteenth century was primarily in helping the Liberals to self-destruct. Salisbury
engaged himself in exacerbating the impact of the Home Rule debate on the Liberal
party, and using his significant influence in the Lords, gave Gladstone a very
high price for his Third Reform Act ? the re-distribution Act. Indeed one he
was perhaps foolish to pay. His pessimistic pragmatism quite simply allowed
things to tick along without entering into any radical shake-ups. The majority
of his domestic legislation was aimed at increasing the likelihood of long-scale
prevention of the introduction of radical measures in the fields of local government
and education. Also, he was aware of the power of the argumentative Chamberlain
and appeased him with ?non-threatening? social reform, such as the Workmen?s
Compensation Act and the Tythe Act, until his attention switched to that of
the Boer War. Looking at the above factors Salisbury basically knew that he
faced a weak opposition. He knew that the opposition could only be strengthened
through his own shortcomings and his appreciation of the fact that anything
radical has an equally radical opposition was the most significant reason for
the relatively tame nature of his ministries, and therefore, for the reason
why Tory Dominance could prevail for so long.
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