May days

In 1903, when Dalrymple was still a young man, Joseph Chamberlain suddenly converted from free trade to protectionism. Looking back on those days, Dalrymple thinks that what followed bears comparison with the situation prevailing in England today. He writes:

Though the times were generally prosperous (judged by their own standards), Chamberlain argued that unfair foreign competition was harming, and even destroying, British agriculture and industry. The solution was protectionism within the British Empire. The Conservative party, led (or at least, headed) by the highly intellectual Arthur Balfour, was deeply divided. As Harry Cust put it, ‘I have nailed my colours to the fence.’ Balfour, prime minister, refused to express himself clearly, for fear of alienating one or other of the factions and thereby bringing the government down. He proved incapable of exercising leadership. In the election that followed, the Conservatives were swept from power. Neither free-traders nor protectionists trusted them. For many years, the Conservatives were a party whom its enemies need not fear and its friends did not trust.

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