The Education Act Tax Resistance Campaign: June 1904

In our chronological stroll through the newspaper coverage of the “passive resistance” campaign against the Education Act, we’re now up to , and the movement has been growing for over a year now.

The Bedfordshire Advertiser of covered a meeting of the Luton Passive Resistance League. The coverage is notable for how it describes one of the attendees carefully itemizing the school budgets and the sources of the funding devoted to the schools in order to come up with the appropriate amount of the rates to resist:

The executive recommended the members to deduct 2d. in the £ from the rateable value set out in the middle column in the demand note. The Committee further recommended them to pay their rate at the office in Church-street if the collector did not call upon them before , so that they would be in the first police court batch. The summonses would be issued, if magistrates could be found willing to sign them (laughter) on , and the sale would probably be held about .

More and more I’m noticing in the rhetoric of speakers associated with the movement a hope that a change in government (from Conservative to Liberal) will solve their problem. Before this time, the Nonconformist vote had been split between the parties, but the Education Act controversy caused many Nonconformists to abandon the Conservatives. However this was a time when Labour was just beginning to cut into the Liberal vote. Also, Irish voters were not sympathetic to the anti-clericalism of the Nonconformists. The Conservative government was also trying to change the subject by introducing tariff reform and trying to lure voters back that way (that government had been elected largely on the issue of the Second Boer War, which ended in ). So despite the rallying of Nonconformist voters, and the championing of their cause by Liberal politicians on the rise like David Lloyd George, an electoral triumph was no sure thing.

In fact, though, the country would finally get a Liberal prime minister in , and the Liberals would hold that office until . But they would find it difficult to repeal the offensive portions of the Act (if indeed they really cared to), and the passive resistance campaign would continue.

The impression I get is that the Liberals were trying to ride the wave of indignation without committing themselves to the goals of the passive resisters… much in the same way that Republicans address Tea party rallies with insincere promises to abolish the IRS, or MoveOn tries to convince progressives and liberal peaceniks that the Democrats are totally on their side.

Anyway, at the meeting, Rev. W.J. Harris tried to strike a balance between raising hopes and managing expectations:

Twenty thousand summonses had now been signed, and the opposition to the Act to-day was more dogged and resolute than ever (applause). The Government had revived and it was a question whether at the next election their own party would secure a sufficient majority to wipe out the injustice. He thought the Irish would vote against them, for they were not yet freed from the tyranny of the Romish priesthood. They must not lose heart if they did not win at once, but must be willing to go before the magistrate fifty times if necessary.