media

Radical Conservatism, Edwardian Tariff Reform and Brexit

Senior lecturer Mark Rothery reflects on patterns in history.

9955509-illustration-of-a-wavy-union-jack-flag-of-the-united-kingdom-repeated-to-create-a-wallpaper-backgrou

Pattern repeating Union Jack by Dawn Hudson

There are moments as a historian when you notice patterns repeating – they never repeat in exactly the same way but the repetition is always noticeable. Recent changes in British Conservatism and the wider Brexit process have reminded me of a moment in the history of the Conservative Party during the Edwardian period.

In the wake of Benjamin Disraeli’s death, in 1881, the Conservative Party faced a series of challenges. The Party seemed unsuited to the new, more democratic world that Disraeli had helped to create. Trades Unions (newly legalised by Gladstone’s Liberals), the decline of Britain’s pre-eminent global economic supremacy, of landed society and the decline of the empire all seemed problematic for a party that rested on these pillars of ‘traditional England’. How to attract the votes of the middle and working classes, this was the challenge.

Conservatism was lent a helping hand in the final two decades of the nineteenth century thanks to problems for the Liberal Party. This included a major split over Home Rule for Ireland that saw the Liberal Unionists under Lord Hartington and Joseph Chamberlain leave the Liberals and join the Conservatives, eventually permanently fusing the two parties as the Conservative and Unionist Party in 1912 (the Conservative Party bears this name to this day). For the moment the Conservatives were saved but trouble was stored up for the future.

conservative

Joseph Chamberlain at his desk in the Colonial Office: Image from Wikicommons

As a way of appealing to a wider electorate the Conservatives settled on Tariff Reform. Perhaps the most unpopular and dull political policy ever devised Tariff Reform went like this. Free trade would come to an end, tariffs would be imposed on all products coming from outside the empire. This would bind the empire more closely as a trading bloc and incrementally improve Britain’s declining position in the world. It would also provide income for social reform thereby attracting working close voters but not alienating ‘traditional support’ by taxing the rich.

All these prerogatives are reminiscent of Brexit and the thinking around this issue. These debates are about Britain’s position in the world, about trade and empire and about attracting a wider electorate.

Tariff Reform was an absolute disaster in the period it was official policy from 1903-14 under the guidance of Joseph Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour, the Conservative leader. The Tories were annihilated in the 1906 election (their biggest defeat until the 1997 election) and showed no signs of recovering in the two elections of 1910 (January and December). New Liberalism, meanwhile, cut swathes through traditional fiscal policy introducing pensions, national insurance, unemployment benefit, the emasculation of the House of Lords and a host of other radical policies, which furnished with Lloyd George’s radical oratory was all the more shocking to ‘the establishment’.

conservative2

Only war proved to be the saviour of the Conservatives. They eventually went into wartime coalition with the Liberals in 1916, repeated this in 1918 under Lloyd George and, when their confidence had eventually returned removed themselves from the coalition in 1922 (hence the ‘1922 Committee’). Labour won their first election in 1923 but this, and the 1929-31 Labour Government, were to prove brief eclipses of Tory dominance in the interwar period as the Liberal Party went into terminal decline.

(more…)

Taking Research to the Secondary School Classroom

Kerry Love is one of our wonderful PhD students! She has written a blog for us about her experiences in a school classroom. 

japanese_high_school_classroom

Takahata highschool 10; under Creative Commons licence

To me, the desire to teach is a basic extension of having passion for your subject. As an undergraduate, one of the most common career goal assumptions you’ll be faced with is ‘so you want to be a history teacher?’ and the enthusiasm with which you’ll defend your interest in it is definitely one needed to teach. During my MA I started to build up some experience as a GCSE and A-Level history tutor, mainly to get some ‘education’ experience. I was considering applying for a PGCE, so it seemed to be a logical step. A lot of it was in a summer school, so during that summer for the first time in my life I’d switched places and was standing alone in a room full of teenagers needing a rapid-fire revision of the Cold War. Whilst intimidating at first, I enjoyed the experience and it made me realise I wanted a career in education in some form. This way I could convince reluctant students that it was a subject that they could do well in and enjoy exploring further. In a way, I think it might have pushed me towards further study as well, as without realising it this was also the time I started to explore applying to start a PhD on the basis that if I learn more I could teach better!

The one thing I picked up on from my time tutoring was the familiar, but fairly restrictive curriculum. The range and depth of topics taught at university differs so much from those taught at level 1, 2 and 3. I didn’t entirely decide on history until I started to study it at university to be honest – it was more of a ‘why not?’ when choosing my own degree subject at that time. Naturally, when I did some research for my own work experience, and found the university’s UniClub tutor team whereby PhD students develop and run their own module based on their research, I thought it was perfect as I had free reign to teach exactly what I enjoy the most!

(more…)