The great Liberal landslide: the 1906 General Election in perspective


By Dr Ian Packer, published 1st March 2006

On 1 May 1997 the Conservative party suffered an electoral defeat so overwhelming that political commentators were left rummaging through the statistics of the previous two centuries to find anything similar. The Times concluded on 3 May that it was the party's worst performance since 1832, though 'The disaster suffered by the Duke of Wellington 165 years ago – in a contest in which more than 90 per cent of the adult populace was deprived of the franchise – is not an especially useful comparison.' Instead, the paper suggested that, in the search for a precedent for 1997, 'the real benchmark is 1906', the year in which the Liberal party achieved a 'stunning victory' over their Tory rivals.

However, this comparison between the Conservative defeats in 1906 and 1997 need not be just a game of 'hunt the biggest Tory disaster'. By examining some of the similarities and differences between these two elections it is possible to shed some light on the Liberal victory in 1906 and to use this as a starting point for assessing its longer-term implications...

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