C.P. Scott and the Boer War on the 170th Anniversary of his Birth

John McCrory writes:

On the 170th anniversary of the birth of C.P. Scott, it is appropriate to focus on a period in which Scott’s tireless political advocacy, steadfastness in following his convictions, and intransigence in the face of popular hostility were all demonstrated, the Boer War (1899 – 1902).

His intense opposition to this conflict, which he expressed as editor of the Manchester Guardian, in parliament as the Liberal M.P. for Leigh, as a committee member of the League of Liberals against Aggression and Militarism, and Vice Chairman of the Manchester Transvaal Committee, is reflected in the range in the Scott correspondence in the Guardian archive.

Scott was chiefly occupied as an M.P. at this time and deeply involved in the struggle which consumed the Liberal Party over its attitude to the war; divided between ‘Liberal-Imperialists’ who supported the conflict, the derisively termed ‘Pro-Boers’ who condemned it, and a centrist element represented by the party’s leader, Henry Campbell-Bannerman. A letter sent on 4 October 1899 demonstrates Scott’s willingness to undermine his fellow Liberal M.P.s whose position differed from his on the war.

Writing to L.T. Hobhouse, then a leader writer on the Manchester Guardian, Scott asks his subeditors to find more detailed accounts of a recent speech given by W.H. Holland, the Liberal M.P. for Rotherham. Holland, while insisting on his freedom to criticise the Government’s conduct, believed the time to be importune for doing so, asking that full support be given to British soldiers in South Africa.

Scott demanded this view be challenged:

Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

It occurs to me that steps should at once be taken to hold Peace Meetings right through Holland’s constituency, but it would be best that nothing would be done by our own [Manchester] Transvaal Committee in the matter.

Believing Rotherham will be receptive to his message; Scott describes it as a ‘magnificent Radical constituency’ and cites the 3000 majority of its previous incumbent, the Liberal Arthur Acland. Two reasons account for Scott’s reluctance to directly involve the Manchester Transvaal Committee, ‘We have enough on our hands’ being one, Scott adding that:

Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Looking to his… long political connection with me it might seem unfriendly.

Holland had a great many connections with Manchester. He was born in the city, worked there as a textile manufacturer, and had a fine record of public service in the area. Acting as an Alderman from 1888 until 1892, serving as a Liberal member of parliament for North Salford from 1892 to 1895, and as president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce from 1895 to 1899, he was also a leading member of the British Cotton Spinners’ Association.

Having conceded to Hobhouse the difficulties of this operation, Scott resolves to act according to his conscience on this issue:

Still it may be our duty.

While Scott evidently felt opposition to the war overrode any affiliation to his fellow Liberal M.P.s, he also indicates that the party’s stance on South Africa remains a matter for debate:

Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

It may [come] to this that men like Holland will have to be opposed. Anyway I don’t think we can allow these sort of opinions to be put forward unchallenged as an expression of the Liberal position at this time.

Not wanting to be directly associated with these protests, he suggests instead that Charles Roberts, a friend of Hobhouse from Marlborough and Oxford, later a Liberal M.P. for Lincoln, ‘take the business up’. Roberts was also the son-in-law of the formidable Lady Carlisle [Rosalind Howard], advocate of the temperance movement and stern opponent of the South African war. Indeed Hobhouse himself had been a frequent visitor to Castle Howard as an undergraduate, one of the family seats of Lady Carlisle, the ‘radical Countess’. Scott concludes this letter:

Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

If Lady Carlisle would take Rotherham in hand I think she would be a match for W. H. H. [William Henry Holland].  

While remembering Scott the man of high principle, his determination to act on a cause in which he believed, along with his readiness to deploy the forces available to him, should not be underestimated. The Guardian archive is an invaluable resource for illuminating the many facets of Scott, as we celebrate his 170th birthday.


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