Classical Liberalism adopted a ‘Laissez Faire’ approach style of government. Classical liberalism stood for the principle of individual freedom and especially freedom in economic affairs. Classic liberalists believed that one should be guided by the invisible hand of the free market to maximize personal and social fulfilment. Classical liberalism relied on national self-determination; the role of the state was seen as small removing obstacles to entrepreneurship. According to classical liberalism society was a collection of unconnected individuals.
Gladstone’s ‘ Laissez Faire’ approach however only emphasised the problems within society. Internally there was a recognition that the liberals had to change their ideology in favour of concentrating on a more collectivist approach. Several factors highlighted the need for the liberals to break with tradition in order to benefit society. Externally the Boer war highlighted the challenge to British supremacy faced and the inability of Britain to meet the challenge posed to them. Britain won the war but at what price?
During the Boer war it became apparent that Britain was very short of European allies. The threat posed to Britain also became apparent, Britain’s world status was facing challenges from new rivals such as Germany and the U. S. A. Internally the Boer war highlighted the quality of working class male, almost a third of those who volunteered to fight in the conflict were turned away on the grounds of medical unfitness. The difficulties facing the Boers led Lloyd George to comment:
‘The country that spent 250 millions to avenge an insult levelled at her pride by an old Dutch farmer is not ashamed to see her children walking the streets hungry and in rags’ The Boer war had also demonstrated deficiencies in British defence administration and foreign policy. William Booth and Seebohm Rowntree furthermore exposed and refined the extent of poverty in Britain. They had shown that family size, low wages, unemployment, illness, old age and the death of the family’s wage earner were blamed for the poverty in Britain rather than lax class morality such as drunkenness and laziness.
In London Booth and Rowntree exposed that the vast majority of working class males had experienced poverty during at least three stages of their lives and ‘vices’ such as drinking and betting were symptoms rather than causes of poverty. The growth of social ideas, the formation of labour groups such as the LRC and ILP and the recognition of a more collectivist approach in Britain were also contributing factors in why the Liberals felt that there needed to be a shift in ideology. The growth of socialistic ideas were only heightened by the formation of such party’s as the Labour Representation Committee (LRC0 and the Independent Labour Party.
The LRC appealed to the working class males. The working class became more aware of their common bonds and their position and influence of their labour within a prosperous capitalist society. The formation of the labour party was dangerous to the liberals ‘ Laissez Faire’society. The LRC was gaining support and increasing social ideas. Socialism was not just a problem for nineteenth century Britain Bismarck’s Germany was also facing similar problems. Bismarck was rather unsuccessful in his attempt to repress the growing socialist movement within Germany.
Socialism was proving similar to the threat posed to him by the Roman Catholic Church. Bismarck tried to repress the church in a movement called Kulterkampf, this failed and socialism was only gaining support. Bismarck decided in an attempt to curb socialism introduced a programme of state sponsored legislation. These legislations would provide every German worker with insurance against accidents at work sickness and old age. These introductions were limited but these were the most comprehensive and far-reaching system of social welfare introduced by any state in the late nineteenth century.
New Liberalism was concerned with transforming and modernising liberal ideology from an almost Victorian creed concerned with individual and political liberty to a successful ideological alternative to socialism. The new liberals within the party recognised that there needed to be greater state intervention and their answer to this came in two forms. Firstly the state enacted social reforms and secondly the state imposed minimum wages to ensure those with jobs were paid an adequate wage. The liberals came back to power in the 1906 elections, they did not have a clearly outline set of social reforms.
From 1906 onwards there were a package of social reforms that were partly the product of the growing interventionist concensus, the reforms were financed by a shift in fiscal policy to tax the wealthy. I feel that when looking at New liberalism and the package of social reform I need to look at what was the impact they had on society and what success was attributed to them finally I am going to look at to what extent liberal social legislation was motivated by humanitarian concern or motivated by political pragmatism.
The first reforms were introduced in 1906 these were aimed at helping the children in society. The first reforms aimed at children were the Education (provision of meals) Act this entailed school meals paid for needy children at half price, but this reform came with limitations. In order for a child to receive meals the local authorities must comply but it was not compulsory therefore not a vast majority of children benefited from this reform and a government grant to fund this reform was not awarded until1914.
In the following two years two more reforms were introduced for children one, which provided medical care for children and one, which established the legal rights of a child, but really this reform was only clarifying the existing situation. In 190e an Old Age Pensions Act was set up as a payment scheme for those over the age of 70 but the payments received by the elderly were deliberately kept low and before receiving these payment applicants must have passed a character test.
Commencing from 1909 a set up reforms were set up in order to benefit the wage earner. In 1909 a Trade Boards Act was set up also in 1909 a Labour Exchanges Act. In 1911 the National Insurance Act was set up, it consisted of two parts, part one contained health and part two consisted of helping the unemployed. These reforms again came with problems the wage earner complained that in order to receive national insurance their already low wages were being deducted even more to fund this reforms.