Tariff Reform League
The Tariff Reform League (TRL) was a
pressure groupformed in 1903 to protest against 'unfair' foreign importsand to advocate Imperial Preferenceto protect British industryfrom foreign competition. It was well funded and included politicians, intellectuals and businessmen, and was popular with the grassroots of the Conservative Party. By 1914 it had approximately 250,000 members. [David A. Thackeray, 'The Crisis of the Tariff Reform League and the Division of 'Radical Conservatism', c.1913–1922' "History" 91 (301), p. 61.] It is associated with the national campaign of Joseph Chamberlain, the most outspoken supporter of Tariff Reform.
The TRL aimed at the
British Empirebeing transformed into a single trading bloc to compete with Germanyand the United States. It was in favour of hefty duties on imports and the channelling of the money raised from these duties into social reforms. High import duties, they claimed, would make increasing other taxes unnecessary. However opponents claimed that protection would mean dearer food, especially bread.
The Free Food League was formed by Lord Hugh Cecil in 1904 as a reaction to the TRL. Sir
Cyril Arthur Pearsonwas its Chairman and along with Sir Harry Brittainwas a founding member. Sir Henry Page Croftwas Chairman of its Organisation Committee
Tariff Reform split the MPs of the Conservative Party and was the major factor in their landslide defeat in 1906 to the Liberals who advocated
Free Trade. The Conservative Party under Bonar Lawdropped Tariff Reform as official policy. However, it became official policy under Stanley Baldwinin the general election of 1923 but the party lost the election and Tariff Reform was subsequently dropped.
Shortly after the First World War the TRL was disbanded although other organisations promoting the same cause were still active in the 1920s. One such organisation was the Fair Trade Union created by Joseph Chamberlain's son,
Neville Chamberlain, and the Conservative MP Leo Amery. The British Commonwealth Unionled by Patrick Hannonwas another.
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