The Liberals in Opposition: 1900–1906

  • Chris Cook


Campbell-Bannerman became leader of the Liberal Party in the Commons in February 1899. He was hardly the most obvious candidate to be leader of a party — indeed, in 1895 he had nearly become Speaker of the House, a post which would have removed him from active party politics. Nor had Campbell-Bannerman many of the characteristics of charisma or dynamism likely to set him as an obvious leader. Although he had first experienced Cabinet office in 1886, and had been Secretary of State for War under both Gladstone and Rosebery, his ministerial experience was relatively narrow. Yet Campbell-Bannerman had qualifications much needed by the party: good-humoured, upright, a man of character and principle, he had just the temperament required to hold the party together. Indeed, the many difficulties facing the new leader were soon to be greatly compounded by a serious division within the Liberal ranks over the situation in South Africa. From early 1899 onwards, the position grew increasingly tense as conflict with the Boers appeared nearer. Appropriations were increased for the Army in Cape Colony and plans, were under way to send out additional troops. These appropriations were criticised by Campbell-Bannerman on 21 April in the Commons. By June, the Liberal leader’s criticism of British intentions had significantly increased.


Free Trade Short History Liberal Party Liberal Principle Annual General Meeting 
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  1. 1.
    Herbert Gladstone’s memorandum of 13 March 1903 is printed in full in F. Bealey, ‘Negotiations between the Liberal Party and the Labour Representation Committee before the General Election of 1906’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, XXIX (1956) 269 f.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For this contest, see R. Douglas, The History of the Liberal Party, 1895–1970 (1971) pp. 71–3.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For the 1906 election, see A. K. Russell, Liberal Landslide: The General Election of 1906 (Newton Abbot, 1973) passim.Google Scholar

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© Chris Cook 1984

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  • Chris Cook

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