In the heyday (1846–73) of free trade and anti-imperial sentiment, the Conservatives were out of office, except for three brief ministries, until the Disraeli government of 1874–80. Disraeli's strong imperialism and his wooing of a broadened electorate with plans for reform, a program known as "Tory democracy," was attractive in a period of depression and increasing imperial competition. After the Reform Bill of 1884 campaign, organizations like the Primrose League and the development of the caucus gave the Conservatives greater solidarity and cohesion. They gained additional strength as a result of the secession (1886) from the Liberal party of the Liberal Unionists, who, like the Conservatives, opposed Home Rule for Ireland. (In 1912 the Liberal Unionists formally merged with the Conservative party.)
The party was in office under the 3d marquess of Salisbury (1885–86; 1886–92; 1895–1902) and Arthur Balfour (1902–5). Efforts by Lord Randolph Churchill to implement further domestic reforms in the tradition of Tory democracy were unsuccessful, but the popular imperialist emphasis remained. In this period the party was gradually drawing closer to middle-class business interests, but the insistence of Joseph Chamberlain on a program of tariff reform, including imperial preference, split the party, which lost (1906) to the Liberals. Conservatives were next in office as part of the coalition government during World War I.
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