To what extent was the relatively meagre amount of reform in Gladstone's Second Ministry a consequence of the many problems that beset the Liberal Ministers? The main reason for the limited reform in Gladstone's second Ministry can be put down to the problems within the Liberal party itself. The lack of unity and coherent theme was down to the clash of personalities within party members. They had no definite programme and tried to base their policies on, 'Liberalism' A constant battle emerged between the Whigs and Radicals of the party and Gladstone is said to have been the cement of his party.
Gladstone was trying to maintain his party as well as trying to run the country. This was hard enough as it is but his interest and involvement with Ireland didn't help matters and in the end was what led to him retiring from politics In theory the Liberal party was what England needed. A party that was out there to get rid of unfair privilege as that was the, 'enemy. ' To some extent it did get rid of unfairness but the party was flawed with fundamental problems which limited their progress especially in the second ministry. There is no dictionary definition of Liberalism.
It is taken from the word 'Liberty,' meaning freedom and the best definition we have of Liberalism is the one given by Gladstone himself, "Liberty which I value for my self, I value for every human being in proportion to his means and opportunities' This was what the party was based on and for this reason there were so many different followers and supporters of the Liberal party. The Liberal party was built up of many supporters who in a sense used the party to achieve their goals. This was a big problem because the Liberal party had no set aim.
The Liberal Party was a nebulous coalition in which the whole political spectrum was represented, from old land-owning "Adullamite" Whigs through to idealistic Radicals and vociferous Dissenters The supporters of the party ranged from, the temperance society, skilled artisans, pro-female suffrage and more. These people all represented different views and during the first ministry, these ideas for the most part coincided with broadly liberal ideals, but at the time of the second ministry when a conservative government was in charge of a party that was going through radical change, it was becoming increasingly difficult to bridge the gap.
This lack of unity and differentiating views caused hostility within the party and this, one could argue had a direct effect on reform. After 1880 there were regular divisions within the party. One main reason for this was the way the party was made up. The only thing they had in common was the dislike they had for Disraeli and his imperial and foreign policies. They only gained power because of the depression and reaction to Beaconsfield. By 1880 two Parliamentary Reform acts (1st 1832 and 2nd 1867) had been passed. The franchise had increased, secret voting was introduced and women were gaining some liberty.
People and society were changing but the majority of the Liberal cabinet was made up of Whig, 'old guards. ' 140 of the 346 newly elected MP's were related to either the, peerage, baronets or other great landowners and landed gentry. The only element to represent radicalism in the party was the presence of John Bright and Joseph Chamberlain. The Whigs were not Conservatives but were in no way absolutely Liberals. They were Aristocrats and still had traditional views. This obviously caused conflict with the Radical wing of the party who weren't going to let Gladstone forget their importance.
Joseph Chamberlain maintained his efforts to ensure Radical influence within the party. The Radicals showed opposition from the beginning when the cabinet was composed and the Whigs showed discontent when Acts like the Ground Game Act, and attacks at landed property. They were also unhappy with the further Parliamentary Reform Acts. The Redistribution Bill 1885 affected the Whigs in a negative way,. The redistribution and loss of candidates meant that where there was normally a Whig and Radical representative now there was only a Radical. They hated Chamberlain who was regarded as disloyal.
He usually criticised and attacked hi conservative colleagues in articles. Even in the cabinet he went beyond his responsibilities at the Board Of Trade. He denounced the House Of Lords over the Reform Bill and even attacked his own party members. He likened Lord Hartington to 'Rip Van Winkle', the fictional character who went to sleep for 20 years. Chamberlain even published his own official programme and left the party after becoming leader of the Liberal Unionists. This constant battle between party members not only made the party weak but also allowed opposition to attack.
The incident with Charles Bradlaugh also caused discontent as he being an atheist didn't want to swear an oath of allegiance. This cause outrage and there was a constant campaign to allow atheist to become MP's. Gladstone being a morally conscious person was left in a difficult position. He was being attacked from nearly all directions and his party was crumbling. Although he tried to keep everyone together this was an uphill struggle especially with most of the second Ministry being dominated by Irish issues.