Navigation – Plan du site

Texte intégral

  • 1 Editors' note: At the time of writing the article by Warwick Funnell, ‘Social reform, military acco (...)

1The Liberal Party won the 1906 general election by a landslide. They did so, in part, officially supporting a policy of peaceful foreign and imperial policy, coupled with a reduction in armaments. Eight years later that same Liberal Government, comprising several of the same figures that had been there in 1906, not only introduced the largest Naval Estimates yet seen, but took Great Britain into a major European war. Why did they do this?1

  • 2 From Gladstone's second Midlothian speech (1879), W.E. GLADSTONE, (ed. M.R.D. FOOT), Midlothian Spe (...)
  • 3 ibid, p. 92.

2From 1868 to 1894 the Liberal Party was dominated by one man. William Gladstone was party leader for twenty of those twenty-four years and Prime Minister for fourteen years. In 1880 it proved impossible to form a Liberal Government without him leading it. 'The Grand Old Man' believed firmly in low military spending and peaceful foreign policy. Shortly before forming his second Government, for instance, he proclaimed that: 'Peace, Retrenchment [cutting government spending], Reform...all of these words...are connected with the promotion of human happiness'.2 This was not just a political belief. At that same event he also commented on the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880): 'The village was burned...have you considered the meaning of these words? The meaning...is that the women and the children were driven forth to perish in the snows of winter'.3

  • 4 ‘New British Premier outlines his policy', The New York Times, 22nd December 1905, p. 6.
  • 5 1906 election pamphlet issued by Joseph Pease, GAINFORD Papers, Nuffield College, Oxon, 77/66.

3For Gladstone, national aggression was bad for the country's image, corrosive for its morals and damaging to its economy. Many Liberals shared this view, and continued to hold it after Gladstone's retirement (1894) and death (1898). In December 1905, a Liberal Government was formed after its Unionist predecessor collapsed. The new Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, proclaimed that his Administration's policy would be similar to Gladstone's governments: 'The growth of armaments was a great danger...force was not the only remedy, and economy must be adopted'.4 Some Liberal M.Ps agreed with this. As such, some criticism was bound to be levelled at the Admiralty (the Navy Ministry) and the War Office (the Army Ministry); by some margin they were the largest spending government departments (the Admiralty easily the largest spending). A good example of this electoral platform would be the election pamphlets distributed by Joseph Pease, M.P for Saffron Walden, which declared that: 'I advocate reduction in our national expenditure especially at the War Office, where incapacity and culpable extravagance have been notorious'.5

  • 6 John MORLEY, (Viscount Morley of Blackburn), Reflections: Volume II, MacMillan, 1917, pp. 89-90.

4Others though were less sure. British Liberalism at this time was in transition. In 1895 the Liberal Government by then led by Gladstone's successor the Earl of Rosebery disintegrated. At the subsequent General Election there was a crushing Unionist victory, and the Liberals began what turned out to be ten years in Opposition. In the words of the veteran (Gladstonian) Liberal John Morley, 'the mischances of [that] government naturally left the Liberal Party restless, disconcerted and inclined to blame'.6

5Some Liberals began to question the old, basic assumptions about what Liberalism meant. 'New' or 'Social' Liberalism developed, emphasising the use of the state to alleviate negative social conditions. Several younger prominent Liberals agreed with the intellectual founders of this philosophy – notably John A. Hobson and Leonard Hobhouse – that something needed to be done about social conditions in the country to encourage 'freedom'.

  • 7 For more on Rosebery's domestic policies, see David POWELL, 'The Liberal Ministeries and Labour, 18 (...)
  • 8 See minutes for 15th June 1903 meeting, Minutes of the Co-Efficient Club, Archives Division, Librar (...)

6The 'New Liberals' though were divided on foreign affairs. Both Hobhouse and Hobson were anti-imperialists; Hobson famously influencing Lenin on this subject through his Imperialism: A Study (1902). The generation that followed Hobhouse and Hobson's ideas had a notable number of imperialists though. Rosebery himself had combined those two philosophical positions well. He became the first Government minister to directly settle an industrial dispute in 1894, but based his approach while Foreign Secretary (1886, 1892-5) around 'continuation' of Unionist overseas policy.7 Rosebery was an influential figure in late nineteenth-century Liberalism, and acquired several prominent followers. Among these men were the prominent Liberal M.Ps H.H Asquith (Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1905-08; Prime Minister, 1908-16); Sir Edward Grey (Foreign Secretary, 1905-16) and Richard Haldane (Secretary of State for War 1905-12). To give some idea as to their beliefs, both Haldane and Grey were members of the Coefficients Club, a cross-party dining society that met to discuss not only how to vitalise the slums of Britain but how to (re)vitalise the bonds of Empire. When invited to consider the question 'For what ends is a British Empire desirable' (15th June 1903), the Club members confessed that they found the subject difficult as Empire was 'the principal standard by which they judged political issues'.8

Division

  • 9 'Dinner to Liberal Leaders', The Times, Saturday 15th June 1901, p. 12, col. A.
  • 10 Rosebery to the City Liberal Club, quoted in 'Liberals! Forward! March!!', Westminster Review, Octo (...)

7By 1900 then there were already sharp divisions in Liberal foreign and defence policy. These were brought out into the open by the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Asquith, Haldane and Grey all joined the Liberal League headed by Rosebery, which supported the War. Other Liberals attacked the War – the radical Welshman David Lloyd George making his name as a strong opponent. They were joined by Campbell-Bannerman after the Liberal leader heard of the conditions in the concentration camps the British Army were housing the civilian population in. 'When is a war not a war?' he asked publicly in June 1901. 'When it was carried on by methods of barbarism'.9 Both Liberal factions agreed that the Government was not prosecuting the war efficiently enough. As Rosebery himself though put it to the City of London Liberal Club, the issue was not the efficiency of the conflict, it was the morality of the War itself.10

  • 11 R.W Perks to Asquith, 7th January 1902, Asquith Papers, Bodleian Library, MS Asquith 10.
  • 12 Richard PRICE, An Imperial War and the British Working Class, Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1972, p. 13.

8This was the closest the Liberals had come to a formal split since the great division over Irish Home Rule in 1885-6. By January 1902 Rosebery's allies were trying to construct their own party organisation.11 Liberal supporters in the country were divided too: of the non-conformist churches, for instance, only the Baptists were united (against the War).12 The Liberal Party had been split on issues before though. Why was this division different?

  • 13 David A. MARTIN, Pacifism: An Historical and Sociological Study, Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1965, p. (...)
  • 14 Evening News report on McCrae's speech at the Picardy Place Hall, 27th March 1900, McCrae Papers, L (...)

9What was happening here was an alignment of factors. For a start, the War demonstrated the inherent tensions within Liberalism. The sociologist David A. Martin has written that 'the Boer War divided...the Liberal Party. This disunity partly reflected the traditional dilemma of a liberalism which desired peace and which also felt impelled to attack illiberal regimes, amongst which it identified the Boer Republics'.13 Public support for the War too was bound up in continuing British concerns as to their relative global power. 'Peace' was all well and good if one was in a position of strength. By 1900 however Britain was no longer the world's foremost power, and its people were beginning to be worried about that. Both Germany and the United States were economically out-producing Britain by this time, Germany plainly so. The German High Seas Fleet meanwhile was beginning to build up in Wilhelmshaven, across the North Sea from Britain (especially after the Second Naval Law was passed by the Reichstag in 1900). The British public were in no mood to have the justification of their cause in South Africa questioned. In March 1900 one Liberal MP, George McCrae, summarised the national mood as one where 'nothing would satisfy the public but Lord Roberts [the British commander] walking into Pretoria [the capital of the Transvaal, one of the Boer republics]'.14 There was also the political question. Asquith had been a leading candidate for the party leadership in 1898, but had had to give way to Campbell-Bannerman for personal financial reasons. Many still thought though that the best chances the party had were with either Asquith or Rosebery as leader.

  • 15 Edward Grey, for instance, during the 1903-4 Army Estimates Debate, see HC Deb 11 March 1903 vol 11 (...)
  • 16 See 'Anglo-Japanese Agreement: Motion for an Adjournment', HC Deb, 13 February 1902, vol 102; cc127 (...)
  • 17 David Lloyd George to William George, 14th March 1902, Lloyd George Family Letters, Kenneth O. MORG (...)
  • 18 Election Address to the constituents of Haddingtonshire, 9th January 1906, Haldane Papers, National (...)

10These divisions were not healed. The Party reunited and was reinvigorated between 1902 and 1905, but this happened for domestic reasons. They were greatly helped by the final defeat of the Boers in May 1902, which simply removed the immediate cause for dispute. The controversial 1902 Education Act and Joseph Chamberlain's divisive Tariff Reform campaign meanwhile united the Liberals in opposition. On foreign and defence matters, Liberals criticized controversial rises in the Army Estimates,15 and questioned Britain's duties under the new Anglo-Japanese alliance.16 When Liberals went into government in December 1905 therefore, despite Campbell-Bannerman's declaration, they had very few original policies – they campaigned instead on a negative basis. In March 1902 David Lloyd George had written as such to his brother. It was the Boer War that concerned him; the debate on military contracts he was 'not inclined to touch...I have no interest in it'.17 It was Free Trade especially that dominated the political debate. When Richard Haldane, by now Secretary of State for War, issued his election address to his constituents in early January 1906, defence affairs were barely mentioned.18

Entente Cordiale?

  • 19 Richard SHANNON, The Crisis of Imperialism: 1865-1915, Paladin Press, 1976, pp. 341-3.
  • 20 Each year four sets of 'Estimates' – projected spending for the next year – were laid before Parlia (...)

11There was another reason why the Liberals may have been so disinterested in opposing British policy. The British historian Richard Shannon has argued that British foreign policy from 1900 to 1905 was essentially liberal.19 There is something to this. In 1902 a mutual defence alliance was concluded with the Japanese while a pacific pact, the Entente Cordiale, was agreed with the French in 1904. During this time too Naval Estimates were lowered significantly.20 This was though, arguably, liberalism enforced by self-interest. European opinion had largely united in opposition to British Imperial actions in South Africa, as the Empire was being scoured for the necessary men to fight the War. Defending the Empire without some sort of friendly treaty with a major foreign power was plainly no longer possible. The Naval Estimates meanwhile were being reduced principally as a side-effect of making the Royal Navy a more efficient fighting force.

  • 21 John Wilson, one of Campbell-Bannerman's biographers, names Campbell-Bannerman, Haldane, Grey, Asqu (...)
  • 22 See Paul KENNEDY, The Rise of Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914, George Allen & Unwin, 1982, p. 28 (...)

12From the beginning of their term, the Liberals were challenged by foreign affairs. By January 1906 France and Germany stood at the brink of war over the fate of Morocco. The French asked the British whether they would be willing to support them. A small inner group of Cabinet ministers authorised military talks between the two countries' armies.21 The importance of this decision can be both over- and under-stated. The English, and then the British, had dedicated themselves for centuries to ensuring a divided Europe; this was the latest decision in that line of thinking. Yet, as the British historian Paul Kennedy rightly argues, in the short-term from this point a clear difference emerged in British policy regarding the continent. Britain would not stand by and watch should France be losing to Germany.22

Peace at what price?

  • 23 'A Scientific Army', The Manchester Guardian, 9th March 1906, p. 7 and 'On Colonel Lee's letter', M (...)
  • 24 F. W. Hirst (editor of The Economist) to Campbell-Bannerman, 9th November 1907, Campbell-Bannerman (...)
  • 25 Letter from Liverpool Reform Club to R.R. Cherry MP (Attorney-General for Ireland), c.15th February (...)
  • 26 Murray MacDonald, John Brunner et al to Campbell-Bannerman, 4th November 1907, Campbell-Bannerman P (...)
  • 27 George Whiteley (Liberal Chief Whip) to Campbell-Bannerman, 4th February 1908, Campbell-Bannerman P (...)

13Crucially, the decision to aid France though was kept secret until 1911; the ministers thought their decision would be rejected by the Liberal Party and it very well may have been had it leaked out then. The differences between front- and back-bench Liberal parliamentarians can be overestimated: a basic belief in 'peace' remained inherent to British Liberalism. The key difference was on what that 'peace' should entail. Between 1907 and 1909, for instance, the Government faced a series of challenges to its foreign and defence policies. By 1908 the Naval Estimates had begun to rise again, heralding the oncoming European naval arms race, while its substantial Army Reforms were greeted with scepticism by some influential supporters (including several senior ministers).23 An economic downturn too meant that the Liberals were struggling to pay for both the social reform programme they had begun upon, and the defence responsibilities they were being pressed to assume. Frustrated by the Government's difficulties, successive individual Liberals such as F.W. Hirst, editor of The Economist,24 and prominent regional groups such as the Liverpool Reform Club,25 called for a return to retrenchment. Co-managed by the radical MPs Sir John Brunner and Murray MacDonald (two leading anti-armament radicals) meanwhile, in 1907 and 1908 two petitions (of 136 M.Ps and 144 M.Ps) calling on the Government to reduce armaments were presented to Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith (the later replaced Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in April 1908).26 A House of Commons motion against armament spending, in February 1908, attracted 'strong and weighty support'.27 Inside the Cabinet Lloyd George and Winston Churchill led an attempt to get the Army (in 1908) and Naval (in 1909) Estimates reduced.

14However by 1909 the Naval Estimates remained high, the military relationship with France remained strong and a new Entente was signed with the illiberal Russian Empire. Why this continuing march towards militarism?

  • 28 Diary entry for 22nd January 1914, Trevor WILSON, The Political Diaries of C.P Scott, (ed.) Collins (...)

15A basic belief in fewer armaments remained rooted fundamental Liberal Party ideology all the way up to September 1914. When Naval Estimates of over £50,000,000 brought the Government to a crisis in 1914, for instance, the Manchester Guardian editor C.P Scott was invited to give his opinion to Lloyd George, John Simon (Attorney- General) and Charles Masterman (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster). Scott replied that while many thought there was 'too much at stake' to turf out the Government, 'to acquiesce in that or anything like that as a standard would wreck the party'.28

16The mood in the party then tended towards peace based upon cuts (but not peace at any price). Among the old Liberal Leaguers in the Cabinet though, the attitude was that peace must be allied with the continuation of national security. In 1909 Edward Grey spoke in the House of Commons, defending the controversial heavy rise in the Naval Estimates that year. Grey (and the First Lord of the Admiralty, Reginald McKenna) admitted that the rise was not ideal. Belief in Liberal principles though, to their eyes, did not negate the wider duty to ensure national safety. The situation, Grey informed his audience, was serious:

No superiority of the British Navy over the German Navy could ever put us in a position to affect the independence or integrity of Germany, because our Army is not maintained on a scale which, unaided, could do anything on German territory. But if the German Navy were superior to ours, they, maintaining the Army which they do, for us it would not be a question of defeat. Our independence, our very existence, would be at stake.29

  • 30 'Burden of Armaments', The Morning Post, No. 42,638, 19th January 1909, p. 8.

17Haldane meanwhile argued that failing to prepare to protect the country would be harmful to trade. 'Suppose adequate preparations for home defence had not been made?' The Morning Post reported him asking an audience in Halifax in January of that year. 'War might not ensue, but anxiety would certainly ensue....There would be an immediate depression in trade that would affect not only capitalists but workmen' […] The Territorials, he assured them, were organised 'not for aggression...but to secure peace at home...He appealed to employers to take the larger view of life, and realise what they owed to the State as citizens'.30 This is a prime example of those old Liberal Imperialist principles – belief in the Empire and the increased role of the state.

18The Liberal Leaguers presented a publicly unified and coherent argument – that the national good must come above party political considerations. By contrast their opponents were divided. Few were as committed to peace as to risk Britain's defence. A.J.A Morris, in his Radicalism against War: 1905-14, paints a picture of a sobered group of radicals once Asquith had lain out the potential risks involved during the debates of early 1909. John Ellis, a radical and former minister, recorded that:

  • 31 Diary entry for 16th March 1909, quoted in A.J.A. MORRIS, Radicalism against War, Longman, 1972, p. (...)

Asquith's...admissions as to German accelerations, and our want of knowledge of them, produce[d] the most profound effect. Our men scattered like sheep. I do not think at that moment five Liberals would have voted against increase...The only thing to do was to tide it over.31

  • 32 Arthur Lee to Bonar Law, 21st January 1912, Bonar Law Papers, Parliamentary Archives, BL/25/1/46 an (...)

19With hindsight we can see that they had missed their best chance. The 1909 'People's Budget' marked the beginning of two years where finance and constitutional affairs would dominate British politics. It also marked the final period where it would, arguably, have been politically safe for the radicals to attempt to bring down the Government. In 1910 two general elections left the Unionists and Liberals tied on 272 seats each. The Government was kept in office then by the mercurial support of the Labour and Irish Parliamentary Parties. This had a curious effect on the Government's relationship with its radical backbenchers. Beforehand, with a majority of 132 M.P.s over all other parties, it could guarantee its safety against all but the most determined attacks. Now, with a majority guaranteed by the Irish, the Government could theoretically be toppled at any time. All the more reason, one might think, for the Government to be wary of its disenchanted backbenchers. Yet the Government was only right-wing on overseas issues. Domestically it was increasingly radical – pushing through a National Insurance Act in 1911 that proved controversial among even its own supporters. Ministers continued to indicate that reducing arms spending was a possibility too. In 1912 Haldane went on a 'Mission' to Berlin to try and engender better relations with Germany; a year later, Winston Churchill called for a 'holiday' from Naval spending. Was it really worth destroying this Ministry over the Estimates so that a Unionist Administration could be brought in? The Opposition was opposed to most of the Government's social reform legislation. On defence affairs, its members at this point were both openly and privately holding that the Army was around 50,000 men too small.32

Right-wing radicals

  • 33 David STEVENSON, Armaments and the Coming of War: Europe 1904-1914, Clarendon Press, 1996, p. 9.
  • 34 A.J.A. MORRIS, The Scaremongers: The Advocacy of War and Rearmament, 1865-1914, Routledge & Keegan (...)
  • 35 ‘May it [An Englishman’s Home – premièred in 1909] run forever’ – Black and White magazine, quoted (...)
  • 36 Eyre Crowe (senior clerk, Western Department, Foreign Office) to Edward Grey, 31st July 1914, quote (...)
  • 37 Lord Esher to Lord Knollys, 27th May 1906, Maurice V. BRETT, (ed.) The Journals and Letters of Regi (...)

20The British historian David Stevenson argues in his Armaments and the Coming of War that 'arms racing is a state of mind, of deliberate emulation on both sides'.33 This is an accurate reflection of the underlying mentality at the time. In 1907, for instance, Campbell-Bannerman suggested in a journal article that with the Hague Conference on International Disarmament recently finished some work could be done on reducing Britain's armament spending. The Daily Mail (then the best-selling newspaper in the country) commented in an editorial that the nation had not given the Government permission 'to weaken its Navy for the sole purpose of providing funds for doles to the Socialists'.34 Popular suspicion of Germany especially was expressed in 'Invasion Literature' – stories featuring a Germanic invasion of Britain – which did a healthy trade.35 It was not just the popular mood too; both the Foreign Office and the Admiralty were far more conservative, and sceptical of Germany especially,36 than this group. 'Expense, and high expenditure, are necessary for the military purpose of the nation', wrote the defence official and senior courtier Lord Esher to Lord Knollys, the King's Private Secretary in May 1906.37 Not only were the radicals and Gladstonians divided therefore. They were also preaching against a strong presiding narrative; that the increasingly strong and challenging German Empire could not be completely trusted.

  • 38 'Yesterday in Parliament', The Manchester Guardian, 28th July 1908, p. 7. The Guardian was, arguabl (...)
  • 39 ‘Mr Lloyd George on the International Situation’, The Times, 22nd July 1911, p. 7, col A.
  • 40 Lloyd George to Churchill, 27th August 1911, Lloyd George Papers, Parliamentary Archives, C/3/15/6, (...)
  • 41 'Mr Gibson Bowles, who writes on finance.....', Manchester Guardian, 18th May 1907, p 8.
  • 42 Electoral Address of Arthur Ponsonby, 1st May 1908, Ponsonby Papers, Bodleian Library, ff. 1-2, MS (...)
  • 43 King Lear (Act 3, Scene 6), see Michael BROCK, and Eleanor BROCK, (ed.) H.H Asquith: letters to Ven (...)

21These anti-armament Liberals then were ideologically out of step with much of the rest of the country, and out of time with contemporary affairs in many important areas. They also lacked a charismatic leader without Gladstone there to guide them. Hope was put in Lloyd George and Churchill. They were the 'watchdogs of economy' in the words of The Manchester Guardian.38 Churchill though defected from this group after his appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911: he pledged himself to a strong Navy. That year came the second Morocco Crisis too, and Lloyd George’s aggressive ‘Mansion House’ speech warning Germany of Britain’s inability to stay on the sidelines during a potential European war.39 The Chancellor did not defect entirely from the radical cause, but clearly he could no longer be entirely relied upon. By 1911 and the Franco-German crisis of that year, he and Churchill were busily plotting how to use the British Army to reinforce the Franco-Belgian forces they assumed would be opposing the Imperial Germany Army,40 as the Chancellor publicly admonished the Reich. Of the backbenchers meanwhile, some objected to the Government's actions for financial reasons;41 some supported a more pacific foreign policy.42 Without these two men the anti-armament campaigners failed to find an equally strong spokesman in the heart of Government. To give some idea of their relative political standing, the anti-armament Cabinet minister Lord Beauchamp (First Commissioner of Works, 1910-14) was referred to as 'Sweetheart' by the Prime Minister, after the 'little dog' in King Lear.43 When the Cabinet was told about the talks with the French in 1911, they objected loudly that they had not been informed in 1905-6. They never called the talks off though, which continued up to 1914.

Campaigning inside and outside Parliament

  • 44 Arthur Ponsonby to the National Peace Council, c. 13th October 1910, Ponsonby Papers, Bodleian Libr (...)
  • 45 Stephen KOSS, Sir John Brunner: Radical Plutocrat, Cambridge University Press, 1970, p. 260.
  • 46 ibid, pp. 264-5.
  • 47 'The Liberals and the Navy', The Times, 17th December 1913, p. 10, col C.
  • 48 Radicalism against War, ibid, p. 268.

22There was little too that could be done outside of Parliament. Parliament was beginning to professionalise among other considerations – in 1910 the radical and strongly anti-armament M.P. Arthur Ponsonby had to turn down an invitation to become Chairman of the National Peace Council as he thought he would not have enough time to be an M.P and the Council's Chairman.44 1911 saw a raft of measures taken by the radicals to try and control the Government. An extra-parliamentary 'Liberal Foreign Affairs Committee' was formed, alongside a 'Radical Foreign Affairs Committee' (also known as 'Lord Courtney's Committee', after its founding chairman, a leading anti-armament campaigner). A Vice-President on 'Lord Courtney's Committee', Sir John Brunner, sought and won the Presidency of the National Liberal Federation (NLF), one of the two major national organisations for the Liberal Party (Brunner was also one of the co-managers of the 1907 and 1908 petitions). Brunner used his position to campaign on behalf of radical beliefs on foreign policy. Before an NLF meeting in Nottingham on 26th November 1912, he spoke of the need for peace and armament reduction.45 A year or so later (1st January 1914) he asked 'every Liberal Association which believes in the good old Liberal doctrine of peace, retrenchment, and reform, to pass resolutions before the end of January in favour of reductions in our armament expenditure'.46 His fellow travellers continued to make their own views known. On 17th December 1913, for example, a deputation of forty backbenchers (led by the anti-armament radicals Leif Jones, Percy Molento, J. Annan Bryce and Arthur Ponsonby) saw the Prime Minister. With them they had a memorandum with a hundred signatures in favour of service retrenchment.47 A.J.A Morris credits the Liberal Foreign Affairs Committee with forcing the Government to agree to a general debate in the Commons on its foreign policy.48 They lacked enough support, and crucially enough political 'weight', to actually force the Government's hand though. Whereas in 1907 and 1908 the petitions had the support of one hundred M.P.s who could potentially vote the Government out, the 1913 petition did not have such strong backing. The NLF had no formally binding powers on the Liberal leadership. It could express forcibly put opinions, but they were only opinions. If the Liberal leadership felt itself strong enough to ignore what the NLF was suggesting, it could, and, as indicated above, neither Brunner nor his allies ever managed to find that combination of favourable circumstances, coherent argument and charismatic leadership necessary to carry the country with them.

  • 49 'Mr. J.R Macdonald MP: Socialism and Peace', Manchester Guardian, 6th May 1907, p10; HC Deb 23 Apri (...)
  • 50 'Election Intelligence', The Morning Post, No. 42,628, 6th January 1909, p. 6 and 'The Youngest Can (...)
  • 51 Radicalism against War: 1905-1914, ibid, p. 226.

23Labour's objections to the Government’s actions were most often based on the status of the worker and objection to militarism in general.49 The Unionists believed firmly that what the Government was doing was risking national security for mistaken ideology.50 What was the Liberal complaint? The Liberal benches were not immune from nationalism. One Liberal M.P resigned in 1909 to fight a by-election in favour of military conscription (this was the maverick Capt. Malcolm Kincaid-Smith. He lost). Not all radicals were pacifists, or pacific-minded either, and at times radicals attacked each other across the floor of the Commons.51 When war did come, several marched off willingly to the front. Josiah Wedgwood was, socially, impeccably radical – he later became a Labour cabinet minister. Yet at the beginning of World War One he wrote the following to his local paper, the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel:

  • 52 Josiah Wedgwood M.P to the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel (Autumn 1914), quoted in C.V. WEDGWOOD, T (...)

Liberals like myself, love liberty...My political work has all been directed to the securing of economic liberty for the worker. I must now leave that struggle to others and to my children. There is other more elementary and more painful work to be done for liberty. It has to be done. All who think like me ought to take part.52

Conclusion

24In conclusion then, the anti-armament campaigners lacked all that was necessary for a successful campaign. They had no charismatic, substantial leader around which they could unite. They had no agreement among their wider faction of the Liberal Party as to what position to take on this subject. They were part of a party with its own strong problems in overseeing and scrutinising this particular area of Government business. They were met too by unhelpful circumstance, especially in the aftermath of the 1910 General Elections. That they got as far as they did seems to have been a testimony to the extent to which a desire for peace was still part of Liberal politics.

  • 53 Richard Haldane to Mary Haldane, 21st October 1908, Haldane Papers, National Library of Scotland, f (...)
  • 54 G.C. PEDEN, The Treasury and Public Policy, OUP, 2000, p. 49.
  • 55 H.C.G MATTHEW, For Gladstone to John Bright on the Gold Coast expedition of 1873, see Gladstone: 18 (...)
  • 56 See Crichton to Seely, early 1906, Mottisone Papers, Nuffield College, Oxford, ff. 102-3, Box 1, 'T (...)

25This paper has suggested that the Liberal division over overseas policy was rooted in the 1895-1905 period. However, there were some more long-term trends at work. The state was becoming more complicated during this period. Cross-departmental efforts at alleviating social problems were becoming more popular; Haldane spent the last months of 1908 trying to find a way to use the Army Reserve to help alleviate unemployment.53 The problem was that while some areas of the state surged ahead, others struggled to keep up. Traditionally, for instance, the service estimates were first discussed at cabinet level.54 Gladstone himself had found it difficult to control his War and Colonial Secretaries on occasion.55 Now as defence spending became more complicated and politics more professionalised, it became questionable whether existing methods of scrutinising defence spending were fit for purpose. Certainly individual soldiers, newspapers and defence officials , all wondered whether the Commons' procedures could keep up any longer.56

  • 57 Leonard HOBHOUSE, Democracy and Reaction, T. Fisher Unwin, 1904, p. 229.

26It would be, meanwhile, vastly overestimating the effect of this disagreement to suggest that it played a definitive part in the replacement of the Liberal Party by Labour. Bearing in mind what has been said though – the consistent dislike of Government policy by a fair proportion of their own supporters, who were more aligned towards the Labour viewpoint especially – one must consider that it played some part. To quote Leonard Hobhouse, one of the intellectual fathers of New Liberalism, writing in 1904: ‘Socialism is avowedly based on the political victories which Liberalism won, and as I have tried to show, serves to complete rather than to destroy the leading Liberal ideas’.57

Haut de page

Annexe

Papers consulted

The H.H. Asquith Papers (Bodleian Library, Oxford),

The Arthur Balfour Papers (British Library),

The Andrew Bonar Law Papers (Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament),

The Henry Campbell-Bannerman Papers (British Library),

The Gainford [Joseph Pease] Papers (Nuffield College, Oxford),

The Richard Haldane Papers (National Library of Scotland),

The David Lloyd George Papers (Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament),

The George McCrae Papers (Archive Division, Library of the London School of Economics),

The Mottisone [John Seely] Papers (Nuffield College, Oxford),

The Arthur Ponsonby Papers (Bodleian Library, Oxford),

Papers of the Co-Efficients Club (Archive Division, Library of the London School of Economics).

Haut de page

Notes

1 Editors' note: At the time of writing the article by Warwick Funnell, ‘Social reform, military accounting and the pursuit of economy during the liberal apotheosis, 1906-1912’, Accounting History Review, Volume 21, Issue 1 March 2011, pp. 69 - 93, had not been published.

2 From Gladstone's second Midlothian speech (1879), W.E. GLADSTONE, (ed. M.R.D. FOOT), Midlothian Speeches, Leicester University Press, 1971, p. 90.

3 ibid, p. 92.

4 ‘New British Premier outlines his policy', The New York Times, 22nd December 1905, p. 6.

5 1906 election pamphlet issued by Joseph Pease, GAINFORD Papers, Nuffield College, Oxon, 77/66.

6 John MORLEY, (Viscount Morley of Blackburn), Reflections: Volume II, MacMillan, 1917, pp. 89-90.

7 For more on Rosebery's domestic policies, see David POWELL, 'The Liberal Ministeries and Labour, 1892-1895', History: The Journal of the Historical Association, Volume 68, Number 224, October 1983, pp. 408-426.

8 See minutes for 15th June 1903 meeting, Minutes of the Co-Efficient Club, Archives Division, Library of the London School of Economics.

9 'Dinner to Liberal Leaders', The Times, Saturday 15th June 1901, p. 12, col. A.

10 Rosebery to the City Liberal Club, quoted in 'Liberals! Forward! March!!', Westminster Review, October 1901, p. 370.

11 R.W Perks to Asquith, 7th January 1902, Asquith Papers, Bodleian Library, MS Asquith 10.

12 Richard PRICE, An Imperial War and the British Working Class, Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1972, p. 13.

13 David A. MARTIN, Pacifism: An Historical and Sociological Study, Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1965, p. 172.

14 Evening News report on McCrae's speech at the Picardy Place Hall, 27th March 1900, McCrae Papers, LSE Archives. Pretoria was the capital of the Transvaal Republic, one of the two Boer states.

15 Edward Grey, for instance, during the 1903-4 Army Estimates Debate, see HC Deb 11 March 1903 vol 119 cc 428-437, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1903/mar/11/army-estimates-1903-4.

16 See 'Anglo-Japanese Agreement: Motion for an Adjournment', HC Deb, 13 February 1902, vol 102; cc1272-313, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1902/feb/13/anglo-japanese-agreement#S4V0102P0_19020213_HOC_248.

17 David Lloyd George to William George, 14th March 1902, Lloyd George Family Letters, Kenneth O. MORGAN, (ed.), University of Wales Press, 1973, p. 131.

18 Election Address to the constituents of Haddingtonshire, 9th January 1906, Haldane Papers, National Library of Scotland, ff. 12-13, MS 5907.

19 Richard SHANNON, The Crisis of Imperialism: 1865-1915, Paladin Press, 1976, pp. 341-3.

20 Each year four sets of 'Estimates' – projected spending for the next year – were laid before Parliament. These were for the Navy, the Army, the Government of India and the Civil Service. They had to be approved by Parliament for funding to be allocated.

21 John Wilson, one of Campbell-Bannerman's biographers, names Campbell-Bannerman, Haldane, Grey, Asquith, Lord Ripon (the Leader of the Lords) and Edmond Fitzmaurice (Grey's deputy). See John WILSON, C.B: A Biography of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Constable, 1973, p. 530.

22 See Paul KENNEDY, The Rise of Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914, George Allen & Unwin, 1982, p. 283.

23 'A Scientific Army', The Manchester Guardian, 9th March 1906, p. 7 and 'On Colonel Lee's letter', Manchester Guardian, 19th July 1906, p 6.

24 F. W. Hirst (editor of The Economist) to Campbell-Bannerman, 9th November 1907, Campbell-Bannerman Papers, British Library, ff. 153-4, Add 41240.

25 Letter from Liverpool Reform Club to R.R. Cherry MP (Attorney-General for Ireland), c.15th February 1908, Campbell-Bannerman Papers, ibid, ff. 229-230, Add 41240.

26 Murray MacDonald, John Brunner et al to Campbell-Bannerman, 4th November 1907, Campbell-Bannerman Papers, ibid, f. 138, Add 41240 and 'Political Notes', The Times, 30th July 1908, p. 10, col C.

27 George Whiteley (Liberal Chief Whip) to Campbell-Bannerman, 4th February 1908, Campbell-Bannerman Papers, ibid, ff. 263-4, Add 41231.

28 Diary entry for 22nd January 1914, Trevor WILSON, The Political Diaries of C.P Scott, (ed.) Collins, 1970, p. 77.

29 HC Deb 29 March 1909 vol 3 cc61-62, Vote of Censure, 29th March 1909, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1909/mar/29/vote-ofcensure#S5CV0003P0_19090329_HOC_352.

30 'Burden of Armaments', The Morning Post, No. 42,638, 19th January 1909, p. 8.

31 Diary entry for 16th March 1909, quoted in A.J.A. MORRIS, Radicalism against War, Longman, 1972, p. 157.

32 Arthur Lee to Bonar Law, 21st January 1912, Bonar Law Papers, Parliamentary Archives, BL/25/1/46 and 'Mr. Bonar Law and the Army: the Albert Hall speech examined', The Times, 2nd February 1912, p. 4, col A.

33 David STEVENSON, Armaments and the Coming of War: Europe 1904-1914, Clarendon Press, 1996, p. 9.

34 A.J.A. MORRIS, The Scaremongers: The Advocacy of War and Rearmament, 1865-1914, Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1984, p. 80.

35 ‘May it [An Englishman’s Home – premièred in 1909] run forever’ – Black and White magazine, quoted Norman LONGMATE, Island Fortress: the defence of Great Britain, 1603-1945, Hutchinson, 1991, p. 419.

36 Eyre Crowe (senior clerk, Western Department, Foreign Office) to Edward Grey, 31st July 1914, quoted in Arthur PONSONBY, Falsehood in War-Time, E.P. Dutton & Co, 1928, p. 37. Ponsonby was a prominent anti-armament Liberal, and then later Labour, M.P.

37 Lord Esher to Lord Knollys, 27th May 1906, Maurice V. BRETT, (ed.) The Journals and Letters of Reginald, Viscount Esher, Volume II: 1903-1910, Nicholson & Watson, 1934, pp. 164-6.

38 'Yesterday in Parliament', The Manchester Guardian, 28th July 1908, p. 7. The Guardian was, arguably, the most important Liberal newspaper outside of London.

39 ‘Mr Lloyd George on the International Situation’, The Times, 22nd July 1911, p. 7, col A.

40 Lloyd George to Churchill, 27th August 1911, Lloyd George Papers, Parliamentary Archives, C/3/15/6, and Churchill to Lloyd George, 31st August 1911, Lloyd George Papers, ibid, C/3/15/7.

41 'Mr Gibson Bowles, who writes on finance.....', Manchester Guardian, 18th May 1907, p 8.

42 Electoral Address of Arthur Ponsonby, 1st May 1908, Ponsonby Papers, Bodleian Library, ff. 1-2, MS Eng hist c 657.

43 King Lear (Act 3, Scene 6), see Michael BROCK, and Eleanor BROCK, (ed.) H.H Asquith: letters to Venetia Stanley, OUP, 1985.

44 Arthur Ponsonby to the National Peace Council, c. 13th October 1910, Ponsonby Papers, Bodleian Library, ff. 168-9, MS Eng hist c 658.

45 Stephen KOSS, Sir John Brunner: Radical Plutocrat, Cambridge University Press, 1970, p. 260.

46 ibid, pp. 264-5.

47 'The Liberals and the Navy', The Times, 17th December 1913, p. 10, col C.

48 Radicalism against War, ibid, p. 268.

49 'Mr. J.R Macdonald MP: Socialism and Peace', Manchester Guardian, 6th May 1907, p10; HC Deb 23 April 1907 vol 172 cc1593-1602, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1907/apr/23/territorial-and-reserve-forces-bill; 'Mr Grayson in Lancashire', The Times, 19th April 1909, p. 6, col D.

50 'Election Intelligence', The Morning Post, No. 42,628, 6th January 1909, p. 6 and 'The Youngest Candidate', The Manchester Guardian, 18th January 1909, p. 8.

51 Radicalism against War: 1905-1914, ibid, p. 226.

52 Josiah Wedgwood M.P to the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel (Autumn 1914), quoted in C.V. WEDGWOOD, The Last of the Radicals: Josiah Wedgwood M.P, Jonathan Cape, 1951, p. 10.

53 Richard Haldane to Mary Haldane, 21st October 1908, Haldane Papers, National Library of Scotland, ff. 138-139, MS 5980.

54 G.C. PEDEN, The Treasury and Public Policy, OUP, 2000, p. 49.

55 H.C.G MATTHEW, For Gladstone to John Bright on the Gold Coast expedition of 1873, see Gladstone: 1809-1898, OUP, 1997, p. 192.

56 See Crichton to Seely, early 1906, Mottisone Papers, Nuffield College, Oxford, ff. 102-3, Box 1, 'The Annual Estimates' (leader), The Broad Arrow, No. 1965, Vol LXXVI, 24th February 1906, pp. 205-206 and Clarke to Campbell-Bannerman, 7th March 1906, Campbell-Bannerman Papers, ibid, ff. 129-130, Add. 41213.

57 Leonard HOBHOUSE, Democracy and Reaction, T. Fisher Unwin, 1904, p. 229.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

David Singeisen, « Liberals and armaments 1900 -1918 », Les Cahiers du MIMMOC [En ligne], 7 | 2011, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2011, consulté le 20 août 2017. URL : http://mimmoc.revues.org/734 ; DOI : 10.4000/mimmoc.734

Haut de page

Auteur

David Singeisen

University of Exeter. Doctoral thesis (underway) ‘The Liberal Party, British politics and the Haldane Army Reforms, 1905-1914’ supervised by Professor Richard Toye, Professor Jeremy Black, mentor Dr. Justin Jones.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Mémoire(s), identité(s), marginalité(s) dans le monde occidental contemporain – Cahiers du MIMMOC est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

Haut de page