The Key Function of Government Today, it is widely accepted that a key function of Government should
be to provide for and ensure the welfare of its people. In the early
20th century, that view was not held by the vast majority of people.
The prevailing ideology of Laissez-Faire (“leave alone”) said that the
state should stay out of the lives of the people. Any state
intervention in the economic or social world would be a hindrance to
individual freedom and a step towards tyranny. Poverty and
unemployment were the results of the moral inadequacies of
individuals. It is in this environment that the Liberal Government of
1906 would be elected, with a massive majority of 400. Their manifesto
promised to protect “free trade”, as opposed to the Conservative
policy of tariffs. Social reforms, even if planned, were not
mentioned. Nevertheless, between 1906 and 1914, the Liberals made a
series of welfare reforms including the first state pension, national
health insurance system and unemployment legislation.
The 1906 election was notable for another reason. The emerging Labour
party, promising to improve the lives of working people, gained 24
seats in parliament. Although the MP’s were aligned with the Liberals
on most issues, their mere presence was still significant. For the
first time, there was an organised working class alternative to the
Liberals. This essay will discuss to what extent the Liberal reforms
were motivated by this “threat” from the Labour Party: Or whether
other factors such as the growth of New Liberalism, drives for
‘national efficiency’ and the social investigations of Booth and
Rowntree were just as important.
The forerunner of the Labour Party, the Labour Representation
Committee, formed in 1900. It was an uneasy alliance of relatively
small socialist parties and the Trade Unions. The LRC vowed to fight
for changes in legislation, which would benefit the Trade Unions and
the working class in general. This development made the Liberal party
uneasy. They were afraid that...