Green, David (2019) The establishment of a new electoral normalcy? Party adaptation, organisational activity and press perspectives in Leeds from 1918 to 1924. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This dissertation investigates the implications of the 1918 Representation of the People Act in the United Kingdom, at the national and local level with specific focus on the impact of the reforms on the political environment and electoral outcomes in Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire. The study investigates how the Labour, Unionist and Liberal party organisations adapted to the challenge of appealing to the new electorate, whilst attempting to maintain their core pre-war support. How the local and regional press reported on the new electorate and how far the perspectives of their editors and journalists were calculated to have influence on the decisions of voters, is key to understanding the political climate of the city post-1918.

The study analyses the local and regional activity of the parties in comparison to the national picture and in order to put the enormous changes of the 1918 enfranchisements into context, some chapters are more focused on the national scene than the local. The theoretical framework of the research is based around the tenets of new political history (NPH), a perspective in historical writing shaped in 1990s by political historians that emphasises the importance of the ‘cultural context’ of the voting public in determining electoral choice.1 This thesis is led by empirical evidence, based on the analysis of archival resources of committee meetings, local, regional and national conferences, publications and correspondence of the three major parties and the reportage and editorials published in local, regional and national newspapers relating to the impact of the Act on the political climate in Leeds.

The study concludes that a new ‘electoral normalcy’ did develop in Leeds between 1918 and 1924. In this new environment political parties could no longer count solely on support from
voting blocs based on class, sectional interest or gender. The parties needed to work harder to enlist support and the study shows that at the local and regional level, party organisations reacted intuitively to change well in advance of any guidance from central office. Indeed, the Leeds and Yorkshire based organisations were often at the forefront of developing novel approaches in dealing with the new electoral challenge. Initiatives driven by division level Labour and regional Unionist organisations were often later adopted at the national level. The newspapers in the city and region were highly partisan, with reportage being aimed at reinforcing prejudices and preferences, and in shaping voter perspectives. In Leeds and nationwide the Liberals were the victims of their own failure to adapt their organisation and mind-set to the ‘cultural context’ of the new electorate, but more important still was the enormous influence that the anti-socialist narrative in both the Unionist and their own Liberal media exerted on the voting public, new and old.

1 Windscheffel, A. (2007). Popular Conservatism in Imperial London 1868-1906. London Woodbridge, Boydell and Brewer.

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