Gladstone’s reforms during his first ministry

Education Act: progress and meritocracy were key elements of Liberal thinking and ideology. (Read more after Break)

Why was the act controversial?

·      Neither pleases Anglicans or nonconformists.
·      It adds yet another level of bureaucracy.
·      Voluntary schools meant that in some cases Roman Catholic schools were established. Led to cries of ‘Rome on the Rates’. Non-Catholic rate-payers were paying to educate children in the Catholic faith.
·      Element of compulsion: parents had to send their kids to school, working-class income was affected. Therefore having a significant impact on their quality of life.
·      The extent to which Gladstone really understood the needs of the working classes is up for debate. Idealistic view to educate the children, but there were other more pressing ‘bread and butter’ issues.

Army, Civil Service and University Reforms

·      Meritocracy and transparency. People now had to sit exams to enter these areas. Open competition for promotion. Attack on aristocratic privilege.
·      Aimed at professionalising and ‘Improvement.’
·      Practical issues: Crimean War showed weaknesses in British military. Fear that Britain was in decline especially after the 1857 Mutiny in India.
·      Gladstone wants to show that the Professions are rigorous and truly professional: he believed that the natural rulers (aristocratic landowners) would ‘naturally’ rise to the top.
·      Gladstone wanted greater efficiency and higher standards.

Who did this annoy the populace?

·      Annoyed aristocrats. Viewed as an attack on privileges.
·      Took away from ‘personal qualities’ found amongst the aristocracy. That is they may not be highly educated but they come from a background well-suited to leadership.

Trade Union laws 1871

Gladstone gives the Trade Unions legal recognition. Under law they could now collect donations and meet together. Gladstone wanted to project the Lib Party as the “working man’s” Party. The law was passed but annoyed the working class with the Criminal Law Amendment Act: this banned Trade Unions from picketing.

This is a classic piece of “Gladstonian” legislation which please no one and irritated everyone!

·      Annoyed the business community and the Industrial leaders
·      Annoyed the aristoctracy who thought Glad was giving into Radicals
·       Annoyed the working classes who wanted the right to strike in certain circumstances: Glad had given them something in one hand and taken it away in the other
·      So this Act shows up the flaws and tensions within the Liberal Party. Workers’ right existed in Gladstone’s mind but only up to a point!

1872 Licensing Act: very controversial because it annoys large sections of the nation, rich and poor alike. Gladstone was worried about drunkenness because it led to inefficiency (hangovers meant men worked less well), and it led to moral decay. (Set strict hours for the selling of alcohol throughout the country).

·      This in turn annoyed the brewers and pub owners: after 1872 big companies such as Guinness and Bass, who then turned their support over to support the Conservatives.
·      In 1874: ‘We have been brought down in a torrent of gin and beer’.

Ballot Act, 1872

Introduced secret ballot: aimed to stop corruption during elections. Fear of intimidation. Gladstone allowed the legislation to go through but he was saddened because he saw the end of ‘community politics,’ whereby people would once declare their vote openly in town squares. From now on people would be encouraged to vote selfishly.

Gladstone’s ideology towards foreign policy

Gladstone believed in the Concert of Europe. Discussion and diplomacy rather than conflict. He was, however, committed to the British Empire, thus appearing contradictory. However, as a Liberal he believed in education and progress for the ‘natives’: this would therefore ‘civilise’ them and enable them to move one day towards self rule.

Britain was not only the workshop of the world but also the moral and intellectual guardian. For Gladstone, we had a responsibility to preach and to teach the heathen masses of the world.
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