The Liberals won the 1906 election with a landslide victory over the Conservatives. This was due to, amongst other reasons; the impact of Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Reform and the amount of things that went wrong under Balfour's eye that were blamed on him and the Conservative Party. The Conservatives made it relatively easy for the Liberals to win. There were a number of reasons that voters deferred to the Liberals party from the Conservatives. After Salisbury retired as Prime Minister in 1902, the Conservatives decided to run a coalition government.
This was led by Balfour. He was only appointed as Prime Minister because all of the other candidates were worse. He was the best that the Unionists could produce. "I saw that Balfour was not a great man. He had charm and wit; he could be energetic when he chose, but he chose very seldom; he had a marvellously acute mind, but he feared the logic of its conclusions. " The parliament went to pieces around him; many MP's didn't turn up to parliament and he only appointed rich lords into his cabinet. The party was further disjointed by the Boer war.
The war was hard and it showed up how bad the state of England was. Not enough soldiers in a fit enough condition to fight could be found. The Public blamed the government for the losses and poor state of the army. The Conservative Party was split over policy by the Liberals were united by their hate of the war. The 1902 Education Act was passed by the Conservative government. Balfour was blamed for this policy because he closely supported it. This didn't make him any more popular with the working classes.
They felt alienated by him because he had no contacts with them. Before the act was passed, there were two main types of schools available for children to attend; Voluntary church schools which were run by the church, or Board schools which were run by an elected school board. Non-conformists with children usually preferred to send them to a board school because religious teachings were broad whereas church schools only provided religious teachings with emphasis on either an Anglican or Catholic view.
Board schools were funded by the state and church schools by the church. The act aimed to change this so that Voluntary schools were funded by the state. Also, board schools were abolished in favour of being run by the local council. This angered Non conformists; they felt that they shouldn't have to pay money to churches that they did not follow. Most decided that this wasn't the type of thing that they had voted for when voting the Conservatives into power and so looked elsewhere for support. They found this in the Liberal party.
Tariff reform was a new idea thought up by Joseph Chamberlain. Following the new policy, taxes on imports from countries outside the British Empire would be charged a much higher tax. All tax would be dropped for those inside the British Empire. The Working Class was against this because they felt that it would increase the price of food, which they couldn't afford to happen. The Unionists were divided in their views over this. Some supported it fully, some were against it and others were just not sure what to think.
A free trade group within the party is forced to leave. Because of the split in the party, a compromise was arranged. Countries would only be heavily taxed as retaliation to them making the first move. Tariff Reform is thought by many historians to be the turning point where voters started defecting to the Liberal Party. The Liberals exploited this move by the Conservatives to the full. They started a poster campaign showing what prices would be like after tariff reform had taken place.
"Dear Food" was the slogan that the Working Classes used to describe what would happen. Balfour was one of those members of the Conservative Party who took a middle line on tariff reform. He was able to see that the working classes would never accept the new policy without problems. "The prejudice against a small tax on food is not the fad of a few imperfectly informed theorists, it is a deep-rooted prejudice affecting a large mass of voters, especially the poorest class, which will be a matter of extreme difficulty to overcome.
" Although Balfour took this view of the new scheme, as he was Prime Minister it was up to him to have the final word on the matter. He did nothing to stop the reforms going ahead and so took a large part of the blame for the rise in food and lost the support of many working class voters. Many of the members of the Conservatives that strongly supported free trade defected to the Liberal party. The Liberals gained the supporters and voters because of their strong sense of unity over free trade.
The reasons that the Liberals gained victory over the Conservatives in the 1906 General Election were that Balfour's leadership lacked what was needed to be a great Prime Minister. He was blamed for many of the things that went wrong in the run-up to the election such as the 1902 Education Act and Tariff Reforms. There were several reasons why the Conservatives lost the election but there is no definite turning point when voters turned away from the Conservatives in favour of the liberals. A series of mistakes by the Conservatives made sure that the Liberals won.