The End of the Hegemony 1902–6
On 12 July 1902 Arthur Balfour succeeded his uncle Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister. For a decade at least Balfour had been the heir apparent. But what value the inheritance? A fortnight later the new Ministry- suffered a severe and unexpected by-election reversal at North Leeds. The Unionist majority of 2517 at the general election of 1900 was turned into a deficit of 758, a swing of 13 per cent. ‘One swallow does not make a summer’, cautioned the Liberal Review of Reviews.1 But North Leeds was to prove the harbinger of the Liberals’ Indian summer. For July 1902 marks the beginning of the end of the Unionist hegemony and with it that resurgence of Liberalism that was to characterise the Edwardian age. It is perhaps not inappropriate that Balfour, whom his cousin Lord Hugh Cecil was one day to describe as ‘the most unskilful leader (out of Parlt.) since Wellington’,2 should inherit the Prime Ministership in the very month that the great majority bequeathed him by his uncle began to disintegrate.
KeywordsFree Trade Electoral Politics Liberal Party Fiscal Reform Unionist Vote
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- 37.The history of the Free Fooders is traced in H. W. McCready, ‘The Revolt of the Unionist Free Traders, 1903–6’, Parliamentary Affairs, xvi (1963) 188–206; and R. A. Rempel, ‘The Abortive Negotiations for a Free-Trade Coalition to Defeat Tariff Reform: October 1903 to February 1904’, Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association, 1966, pp. 5–17. It is clear from Randolph Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, ii, Young Statesman 1901–14 (London, 1967), that Tariff Reform was the excuse rather than the cause of Churchill’s departure from the Unionist Party. See chs. i, ii, and particularly the revealing letter to Hugh Cecil on pp. 70–2. The pre-1906 desertion or retirement of the Liberal element amongst the Free Fooders reduced the Free Fooders after 1906 to a small rump of Cecilian Conservatives and Whiggish Liberal Unionists, whose general ideological outlook was the most conservative of the factions within the Unionist Party.Google Scholar