Gladstonian liberalism

Gladstonian liberalism is a political doctrine named after the British Victorian Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, William Ewart Gladstone. Gladstonian liberalism consisted of limited government expenditure and low taxation whilst making sure government had balanced budgets and the classical liberal stress on self-help and freedom of choice. Gladstonian liberalism also emphasised free trade, little government intervention in the economy and equality of opportunity through institutional reform. It is referred to as laissez-faire or classical liberalism in the United Kingdom and is often compared to Thatcherism.[1][2][3]

Gladstone in 1879

Gladstonian financial rectitude had a partial lasting impact on British politics and the historian John Vincent contends that under Lord Salisbury's premiership he "left Britain's low tax, low cost, low growth economy, with its Gladstonian finance and its free trade dogmas, and no conscript army, exactly as he had found it...Salisbury reigned, but Gladstone ruled".[4] However, in the early 20th-century the Liberal Party began to move away from Gladstonian liberalism and instead developed new policies based on social liberalism (or what Gladstone called "constructionism"). The Liberal government of 1906–1914 is noted for its social reforms and these included old age pensions and National Insurance. Taxation and public expenditure was also increased and New Liberal ideas led to David Lloyd George's People's Budget of 1909–1910.

The first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, had Gladstonian economic views. This was demonstrated in his first Budget in 1924 as government expenditure was curtailed, taxes were lowered and duties on tea, coffee, cocoa and sugar were reduced. Historian A. J. P. Taylor remarked that this budget "would have delighted the heart of Gladstone".[5] Ernest Bevin remarked on becoming Minister of Labour in 1940: "They say that Gladstone was at the Treasury from 1860 to 1930".