The 'classes', by which he meant 'the dukes ... the squires ... the Established clergy ... the officers of the army, or ... a number of other bodies of very respectable people', were against the 'masses', the remainder of the population. His point was that in all matters:
where the leading and determining consideration that ought to lead to a conclusion are truth, justice, and humanity, there, gentlemen, all the world over, I will back the masses against the classes. (Matthew 1999, 348-9)
But Gladstone faced an uphill task for all kinds of reasons were causing many of the previously Liberal voters to abstain or even to turn out and vote against them. Memories of Gordon and anti-Catholic prejudice erupted throughout the country, while his fiery rhetoric, as in Liverpool, might have scared off as many electors as it encouraged.
The main problem for Gladstone and his friends was that there were two Liberal parties to vote for in 1886. The MPs who had opposed Gladstone in the Commons made no secret of their opposition to him in public, and these 'Liberal Unionists' actually formed an electoral pact with the Conservatives; by the time the elections were over there were seventy-eight of them in the House of Commons. ...