chapter  6
9 Pages


Tariff reform, understandably regarded as the brainchild of Joseph Chamberlain, did not spring fully formed from the head of its creator. Between May 1903, when Chamberlain propelled tariff reform to the centre of British politics, and January 1910, when the Conservative party fought a general election on a tariff reform ticket, the shape of the tariff campaign changed dramatically. In the summer of 1903 only one item-imperial preference-was on the tariff agenda. By 1910, it included proposals for duties on a wide range of agricultural products and imported manufactures, and tariffs were also presented as a prerequisite for some ambitious Conservative schemes of land and social reform. From an argument for imperial organization, tariff reform had burgeoned into a programme that encompassed policies for the defence and indeed regeneration of British agriculture, the def ence of British industry and the implementation of wide-ranging social reforms. It will be the task of this chapter to explain why and then to examine in detail how this broad programme developed. In Part II of this study it was argued that, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Conservative party faced difficulties in terms of its identity as the party of Empire, as the party of property, and as a party confronted by the challenge of a mass electorate. The tariff campaign represented an attempt to grapple with these problems, and owed much of its appeal to the fact that a large and increasing number of Conservatives came to regard it as the solution to their difficulties in all of these problematic areas. The tariff campaign covered such a

range of issues by design. But its breadth was not simply due to the common desire of politicians to be loved. In many respects exponents of tariff reform were forced to be ambitious.