ABSTRACT

The political situation after 1886 By this time an interesting political situation had arisen. The grant of household suffrage in urban areas in 1867, and its extension to rural areas in 1884, led to an increase in the Commons of Radical supporters of the Liberal party. Their leader, Joseph Chamberlain, helped to divide the party by advocating free elementary education and the disestablishment of the Church of England; imperialism, towards which Gladstone was unsympathetic, became another bone of contention; but it was the 'Irish Question' which did most to weaken the Liberals. ln 1886 the party split over Gladstone's Bill proposing Home Rule for Ireland; the dissidents, with Chamberlain prominent among them, not only helped to bring down the government but combined to form the Liberal Unionist party. After the ensuing elections seventy-eight of these Unionists held the balance of power in the Commons and threw their weight behind the Conservatives, who held office for all but three (August 1892-June 1895) of the next nineteen years. In 1891 Chamberlain, so long the most active parliamentary champion of the Nonconformists, became the leader of the Unionists in the Commons. The difficulty of his position was obvious, and in the same year he appealed to his supporters to forget old quarrels, since 'no practical statesman would dare to propose a measure which would be followed by the immediate withdrawal or extinction of the denominational schools' (Garvin, 1933, II, 428). But it was one thing for Nonconformist leaders like Dale and Chamberlain to accept the existing situation, quite another, as the latter well knew, to convince the rank and file.