New Liberalism in Britain

In the early 20th century the ideology of the Liberal Party in England was changing dramatically. This change was from 'Old' or 'Classical' Liberalism to 'New', transforming and altering certain aims and laws from before. This came about from various reasons; all implying that Old Liberalism needed a refurbishment. The Classical view promoted minimum state intervention in people's lives, business and trade as a priority and low taxation. New Liberalism was, in a way, the opposite of this view.

This encouraged an increased state intervention, but only when it was essential as it did not want the country to be ran as a 'nanny-state'. The priority had changed- the community and society was now the main aim, not trade and business. Finally, taxation was increased to be used for reforms and assistance for the less wealthy citizens. In this essay I am going to bring forward both the ideological and political reasons that led to the evolution of the Liberal Party. New Liberalism developed partly due to the ideological ideas and theories which emerged in the early 1900's.

The work of two social researchers, Booth and Rowntree had a huge impact on the communal attitude of poverty in England. They carried out research to analyse the levels of poverty in Britain, using hypotheses and theories in which they could compare their findings. This is where the phrase 'physical efficiency' came about. Rowntree stated that a person who could not afford to buy the bare necessities needed to live, then they were living in poverty- They were not meeting physical efficiency. The results were shocking, and brought to life how extreme the levels of poverty in the country actually were.

This had never been an issue to people in Britain before; it had never aroused to be a problem. Rowntree's aim was to explode the myth that poverty was the fault of the individual, which had been the traditional view in Britain. He, and others, came up with a number of causes of poverty which were a result of external factors, highlighting that it was not always the fault of the individual. Wages, prices and consumption, family size, irregularity of work, old age and the cycle of poverty are just a few of these external factors causing poverty.

The main aim of this research was to exert some influence on those people who could do something to change the outstanding levels of poverty in Britain, and this was achieved. The findings that some people were so poor that self-help would never lift them out of poverty shocked many Liberals and encouraged them to question their values. Reforms and assistance became a 'must-have' in the running of the country, and so increased state intervention seemed an attractive new method. The change in the Liberal Party ideology also came about as a response to changing political factors.

A new political climate was emerging as after the 1880's socialist ideas were becoming more popular. This meant that the liberal Party needed to devise new ways to attract this support. The ideology needed to be edited in order to gain support (especially from the working class) in elections. As well as 'physical efficiency', 'national efficiency' also created a change in ideas. This phrase means that the country has a strong economy. At this time, it was feared that Britain's economic position as a world power was in decline.

This caused a need to look at the workforces in the country. It was thought that because of a huge lack of physical efficiency in the cities then this could be leading to the problem of under-production. As a result, it was believed that the solution to this would be to improve the physical efficiency of the people. To do this, reforms were again thought to be the best option. Not only would they improve the living conditions of the community, but also improve the economy as a whole. Taxation was also a big change to be made.

The Chancellor, William Harcourt, brought about a distinction between 'productive' and 'unproductive' wealth and he then used this as the basis of his new taxation policy. No longer were taxes low to promote trade as people will spend more money into the economy, he increased taxes for the more wealthy citizens of the country (those with unproductive wealth) in order to pay for social reforms for those in need. Successful experiments made by the local governments throughout the country had shown that society could be run in a way that benefited the whole community.

Schemes were held in towns and cities which brought about a new way of thinking for the Liberal party. These were often described as 'gas and water socialism' but surprisingly were run by Liberals. The accomplishment of this intervention raised the possibility of similar schemes being set up on a more national scale. This would indeed create a new look for the Liberal party. It was, in a way, becoming more socialist in its actions. It is undeniable to say that the changed within the Liberal party were drastic and yet helpful. However, the changes did not completely destroy the original values of Classical Liberalism.

It needs to be remembered that these changes were within a party and so similarities would still be present. Both Old and New Liberalism agreed on a class-based society-meritocracy. The only difference was that New Liberalism recognised that if obstacles are in the way of someone being successful, it should be the government's duty to help the situation. Both forms preferred for the social services to be paid for by voluntary contributions rather than that raised by the state, however, New Liberalism did see that it was necessary in some circumstances.

A belief was shared in that there was 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor people, New Liberalism did not dismiss this fact. And finally, they were both united in wanting people to better themselves and move up the class systems in society. The evolution of the Liberal Party was not due to one single factor that transformed the ideology of the party and its members. The combination of all the factors explored contributed to the development of the New Liberal ideas and values and changed the traditional views for the better.