Can you make a judgement on Salisbury? What was his performance? Was he successful? How can you call him a great prime minister and politician? Ans. In the late 19th century United Kingdom there were two main political parties – The Conservative Party and The Liberal Party.
We see from this period the existence and development of the current Labour Party but however, at this stage, Labour was still an infant organisation and it was not too strong on the political arena to be brought under serious consideration. There were strong and influential leaders on both rival fronts – The Tories and the Liberals among which the strongest of the time was the Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone. He served as prime minister four times (1868-74, 1880-85, 1886, and 1892-94).
But most probably, the most significant turning point in contemporary British history was the retirement of Gladstone in 1894, which created splits and differences in the Liberal party and furnished a golden opportunity to an already established political personality Robert Salisbury to take advantage of the situation and emerge as a great political leader and he rose to the occasion to write his name in the history of this country as a great conservative leader and the Prime Minister of England.
His ability as a strong political leader was reflected in the fact that when Lord Randolph Churchill left the party in 1886 after a difference of opinions between him and Salisbury, it had little impact on its power because Salisbury won over the Liberal Unionists on his side. As a Conservative Party there was a lurking temptation in front of Salisbury to follow the Conservative tradition of protecting property and the empire, disallow social reforms and allow inequality in wealth.
Salisbury, however, decided to compromise on some instances as he designed his policies in a more general way. He did introduce many social reforms, which benefited almost all classes of people. In his second ministry he introduced the 1887 Agricultural Holding Act, 1888 County Councils Act, 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1891 Education Act, 1891 Tithe Act, 1887 Mines Act, 1889 Technical Instruction Act, 1891 Factory Act and 1892 Smallholdings Act. In his third ministry he introduced the 1897 Workmen's Compensation Act, and various economic policies.
Thus we see that he did all he could, even diverted the Conservative tradition, on some instances, to gain the support of the mass population. In this analysis we see the reflection of Salisbury's political knowledge as he cleverly uses the reforms to win over the middle and lower classes. Salisbury's foreign policy was extremely thoughtful and intelligent although comprised of a lot of right wing feelings. In fact, the talent of Salisbury is best shown in his role in his management of the foreign policies of Britain. He became the marquees of Salisbury in 1868 when his father died.
During his time as India's secretary he was under Benjamin Disraeli Direction. Salisbury at one time was very suspicious of Disraeli but he soon over came that feeling. Salisbury became Prime minister in 1885. Salisbury was an "unenthusiastic imperialist. " Imperial headaches in Africa nearly led to war with France in 1898 over Fashods. Salisbury famously stated, "France is, and must always remain, Britain's greatest enemy. " In 1890 he reached an agreement with Germany that would divide Eastern Africa into British and German areas of influence.
From 1898 to 1902, Britain found itself at war in South Africa with the descendants of Dutch colonists known as "Boers. " The Sudan Wars were a series of conflicts in the Sudan part of Africa in the late 19th Century. The conflicts erupted between the British and the Muslims Africans in the Sudan in 1881 because of religious disputes and the British attempt to end the "new" slavery trade. Muslim fundamentalists instigated a rebellion against the British, driving them and their Egyptian armies from Sudan.
Britain atoned for the loss in 1898, militarily reassuring control of the Sudan. Following this engagement, competition between Britain and France for the south of Sudan led to military conflict, ended by diplomatic avenues, which partitioned the disputed area. Both events demonstrate the intensifying struggle to control Africa, and the conflict between the European powers in the race of imperialism. This conflict gave rise to the beginning of World War I. The Zulus were a warlike branch of the Southern Bantus who live in the area that is currently South Africa.
They are traditionally grain farmers and cattle herders who frequently subsidized their income by raiding other nearby tribes. The Zulu people were a part of the Mtewa Nation until the death of King Dingiswayo. Through these aggressive foreign policies Salisbury tried to impress the public and tried to show them that he was doing his best to protect the British Empire and even extending it. In fact, he manipulated the issue of the victory of the British troops in the Boer War immensely to the favour of the Conservatives claiming that they were responsible for the victory of the army in South Africa.
Here we see Salisbury's performance over the foreign policy of Britain as well as extending and preserving the British Empire quite outstanding and with this performance he won over the votes of the right wing people. The aftermath of the war was exaggerated by Salisbury and he used the issue of the English victory in the Boer War tremendously in the election of 1895 in the favour of the Conservatives. It caused a massive amount of frustration in the Liberal camp who, already weakened by the retirement of Gladstone and the splits under Rosebury, could clearly see defeat in their face even before the actual election was held.
The Liberals faced even more losses when the Liberal Unionists left the party (right-wingers led by Hartington and the left-wingers led by Chamberlain) censuring the party on its stand on the issue of the Boer War. This fact is strengthened when we take into account the private letter of Campbell-Bannerman to Sir William Harcourt describing the lack of enthusiasm and motivation amongst the party workers and also his disappointment at the widespread feeling of nationality from which the Conservatives were gaining electorate support massively.
When we judge the performance of Lord Salisbury from a deeply intellectual perspective we see that he was an extremely clever politician and his success did not come by chance as he turned the situations in the favour of the Conservatives and which strengthened his position as a leader within the party as well as a prime minister of England for a longer period of time. He had excellent diplomatic skills. He laid the greatest emphasis on party organisation and he developed a cohesive Conservative Party when he allied with the Liberal Unionist.
He was practical and realistic in his approach. He most accurately predicted and interpreted the current political situation. Although he was basically opposed against vast social reforms but he often compromised when he had to win electoral support as he did in the case of introducing the County Councils Act 1888 which greatly led to the meeting of radical demands from the masses. He emphasised on issues, which he thought would be popular with the public and mot of the time he was spot on.
He was against Irish Home Rule, which turned out to be one of the main causes of Conservative victory in the election of 1895. He gained non-conformist middle class support by supporting them. They won votes from the non-resident electors because of the Housing Reforms he brought about. Salisbury's attitude was to avoid problems rather than to face them. His main aim was to avoid a split in the party and so he kept in with his colleagues all the time when introducing social reforms or managing Britain's relations with other countries.
Although he was partly responsible for the Boer War he cleverly put that fact on the background and won tremendous public support by announcing that the victory for Britain in the Boer War was primarily because of the policies adopted by the Conservative Party and he was highly successful in spreading this feeling amongst the people and win over massive amounts of vote. His party became over-dependent on his personal charisma and this is proved by the fact that the party soon lost support and split after his retirement in 1902.
Salisbury, however, has been severely criticised by many historians and we must take those into account when we make a detailed study of Salisbury and his performance as a prime minister and a successful Conservative leader. It has been argued that Salisbury did not actually achieve all his political milestones; most of them were through the mistakes made by his opposing parties (predominantly the Liberals). He also benefited from the splits in the Liberal Party.
His critics have also argued that Salisbury manipulated the people's view when it came down to deal with the main political issues of the country. He often tried to follow the path which he was sure the mass would take. He opposed Irish Home Rule and it was quite an easy decision to take, as the mass would like to preserve the empire as it was taken as an honour for the country. Dealing with the issue of the social reforms, Salisbury did see the desperate need of reforms in the country, but he often tried to delay them for as long as possible.
He does not deserve too much credit for his exploits in this field because the reforms were brought about basically through the pressure applied by Chamberlain or other cabinet colleagues within the Conservative Party. According to many, he gave his ministers too much freedom in running their own departments and he often acted only as a mediator and did the balancing act rather than providing a strong leadership for the cabinet. Many historians also believe that he was primarily responsible for the long and expensive Boer War.
Thus we come across varying opinions when it comes down to judging Salisbury as a prime minister and more importantly, a political leader. We must, in conclusion, stress on the fact that by all means he was one of the greatest politicians England had ever produced and his intellect was reflected in many of his political decisions, some even violating the Conservative tradition. He often twisted and manipulated the issues before presenting them to the public in election campaigns (Boer War) and ultimately got his own way in winning electorate support.
But we must also keep in mind that he was an extremely intellectual politician and all he did was to gain political support from the people and remain in power. Probably any other politician, being in his position, would like to reach the same political destinations but it was unlikely that he would have achieved them because the methods and policies he followed were extremely well planned and well thought out. Thus, keeping in mind his characteristic cunningness and lack of morale values he went down in history as one of the greatest British prime ministers purely because of his achievements in his long political career.