A Short History of the Liberal Party 1900–1984 by Chris Cook

By Chris Cook

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The net result was that, by September, the Liberal front bench was taking widely divergent lines over the issue of Kruger and the Transvaal. There had always been considerable tensions within the party between the ardent 'Little Englanders' and those who looked with favour on a humanitarian and benevolent Imperialism. This conflict had been a feature of the 1892-5 government. During the 1890s these fundamental divisions widened further as the prospect of conflict with the Boer Republics grew. The outbreak of war, following the ultimatum from Kruger and the invasion of Natal and Cape Colony, brought these divisions to a head.

G. H. Roberts, the Socialist-sponsored candidate, refused to stand aside and, although finishing at the foot of the poll, took 2,444 votes, not sufficient to deny the Liberals victory, but nonetheless a strong showing. Although both by-elections had demonstrated the dangers of splitting the progressive vote, local Liberal associations often continued reluctant to accede to outside pressure to come to a local accommodation with Labour -particularly in Scotland, South Wales and the industrial North-East.

If the Liberal back-benches were filled with men new to Parliament, there was no lack of capable and indeed brilliant men seeking the higher positions of office. Hence the Cabinet chosen by Campbell-Bannerman proved to be one c;>fthe strongest and most gifted of any peacetime administration. It was a blend of the outstanding intellectual power of Asquith, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer, Haldane at the War Office, Augustine Birrell as President of the Board of Education and James Bryce as Chief Secretary for Ireland, together with the dynamism and drive of Lloyd George at the Board of Trade and Winston Churchill as Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office.

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