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The State of Twentieth-Century British Political History

  • Paul Readman (a1)
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1. Le Goff, Jacques, “Later History,” Past and Present 100 (1983): 14–28, esp. 22–23.

2. Seldon, Anthony and Ball, Stuart, eds., Conservative Century: The Conservative Party since 1900 (Oxford, 1994).

3. One notable recent example of such work is the Economic and Social Research Council–funded volume, Tanner, Duncan et al. , eds., Debating Nationhood and Governance in Britain, 1885–1945: Perspectives from the “Four Nations” (Manchester, 2006).

4. Pocock, J. G. A., “British History: A Plea for a New Subject,” Journal of Modern History 47 (1975): 601–28;Kearney, Hugh, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 2006).

5. Hutchison, Scottish Politics, 176–78.

6. For more on “Red Clydeside,” see Duncan, Robert and McIvor, Arthur, eds., Militant Workers: Labour and Class Conflict on the Clyde, 1900–1950 (Edinburgh, 1992).

7. Turner, A. C., Scottish Home Rule (Oxford, 1952); Hanham, H. J., Scottish Nationalism (London, 1969).

8. Harvie, Christopher, Scotland and Nationalism: Scottish Society and Politics 1707 to the Present, 3rd ed. (London, 1998).

9. See also, for the later twentieth century, Mitchell, James, Conservatives and the Union: A Study of Conservative Party Attitudes to Scotland (Edinburgh, 1990).

10. Extremely little has been published on twentieth-century Welsh Conservatism, although there has recently been some pioneering work by Matthew Cragoe on the nineteenth-century Right. See his An Anglican Aristocracy: The Moral Economy of the Landed Estate in Carmarthenshire, 1832–1895 (Oxford, 1996).

11. For the distinctive left-wing politics of the heavily unionized South Wales coalfields, see Williams, Chris, Democratic Rhondda: Politics and Society, 1885–1951 (Cardiff, 1996).

12. See also Foster’s brilliant collection of essays, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History (London, 1993). Foster has since updated his treatment to the turn of the twenty-first century with Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change, 1970–2000 (London, 2007).

13. See also Lyons’s Oxford University Ford lectures, published as the prize-winning Culture and Anarchy in Ireland, 1890–1939 (Oxford, 1979).

14. Jackson, Home Rule, 200.

15. Recently updated as Northern Ireland, 1921–2001: Political Forces and Social Classes (London, 2002).

16. See, for example, Hennessey, Thomas, A History of Northern Ireland, 1920–1996 (Dublin, 1997), and the discussion in Henry Patterson’s excellent Ireland Since 1939: The Persistence of Conflict (Dublin, 2006).

17. See also Tanner, Debating Nationhood.

18. Robbins, Bibliography, 14, 18–19.

19. Peter Hennessy’s “insider” perspectives on the workings of the governmental machine are also useful for the post-1945 period, but his approach is sometimes a little too anecdotal and journalistic. See Hennessey, Peter, The Cabinet (Oxford, 1986), his massive Whitehall, rev. ed. (London, 2001), and also The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders Since 1945 (London, 2001).

20. In the 1998 local elections in England, turnout was 28.8 percent: Turnout at Local Elections (London, 2002), 3.

21. Lee, J. M., Social Leaders and Public Persons: A Study of County Government in Cheshire Since 1888 (Oxford, 1963); Jones, G. W., Borough Politics: A Study of Wolverhampton Town Council, 1888–1964 (London, 1969); Young, Ken, Local Politics and the Rise of Party: The London Municipal Society and the Conservative Intervention in Local Elections, 1894–1963 (Leicester, 1975).

22. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Matthew, H. C. G. and Harrison, Brian (Oxford, 2004); online edition, ed. Lawrence Goldman,

23. Notable volumes include Bentley, Michael, Lord Salisbury’s World: Conservative Environments in Late-Victorian Britain (Cambridge, 2001); Adams, R. J. Q, Balfour: The Last Grandee (London, 2007); Wilson, John, CB: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London, 1973); Grigg, John, The Young Lloyd George (London, 1973); Grigg, , Lloyd George: The People’s Champion, 1902–1911 (London, 1978); Grigg, , Lloyd George: From Peace to War, 1912–1916 (London, 1985); Grigg, , Lloyd George: War Leader, 1916–1918 (London, 2002); Blake, Robert, The Unknown Prime Minister: The Life and Times of Andrew Bonar Law, 1858–1923 (London, 1955); Marquand, David, Ramsay Macdonald (London, 1977); Williamson, Philip, Baldwin: Conservative Leadership and National Values (Cambridge, 1999); Dilks, David, Neville Chamberlain, vol. I: Pioneering and Reform, 1869–1929 (Cambridge, 1984); Gilbert, Martin, Churchill: A Life (London, 1991); Dutton, David, Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation (London, 1997); Horne, Alistair, Macmillan, 2 vols. (London, 1988–89); Pimlott, Ben, Harold Wilson (London, 1992); Campbell, John, Edward Heath (London, 1993); Campbell, , Margaret Thatcher, 2 vols. (London, 2000–3).

24. Later editions appeared as The Conservative Party from Peel to Thatcher (London, 1985) and The Conservative Party from Peel to Major (London, 1997).

25. Ramsden, John, The Age of Balfour and Baldwin (London, 1978), The Age of Churchill and Eden, 1940–1957 (London, 1995), and Winds of Change: Macmillan to Heath, 1957–1975 (London, 1996).

26. Green, E. H. H., The Crisis of Conservatism: The Politics, Economics, and Ideology of the British Conservative Party, 1880–1914 (London, 1995); Green, , Ideologies of Conservatism: Conservative Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2002); Williamson, Baldwin.

27. Cf.Dangerfield, George, The Strange Death of Liberal England (London, 1936).

28. See, for example, Clarke, Peter, Liberals and Social Democrats (Cambridge, 1978); Freeden, Michael, The New Liberalism: An Ideology of Social Reform (Oxford, 1978); Bernstein, G. L., Liberalism and Liberal Politics in Edwardian England (Boston, 1986).

29. Tanner, Political Change, 426.

30. Matthew, H. C. G. et al. , “The Franchise Factor in the Rise of the Labour Party,” English Historical Review 91 (1976): 723–52.

31. The seminal critique being Tanner, Duncan, “The Parliamentary Electoral System, the ‘Fourth Reform Act,’ and the Rise of Labour in England and Wales,” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 134 (1983): 205–19.

32. See, for example, Laybourn, Keith, The Rise of Labour: The British Labour Party, 1890–1979 (London, 1988), which argues that “the Labour party’s growth in the early twentieth century was inevitable given the social and economic issues of the time, that the association with the working class reached its high-point during the inter-war years but that the post-war years have necessitated that the Labour party meet the changing economic and social environment—and this is has failed to do” (5).

33. Tanner, Political Change; McKibbin, Ross, The Evolution of the Labour Party, 1910–1924 (Oxford, 1974).

34. Fielding, Steven, The Labour Party: Continuity and Change in the Making of New Labour (Basingstoke, 2003); Cronin, James E., New Labour’s Pasts: The Labour Party and Its Discontents (Harlow, 2004).

35. Pelling’s, HenryThe British Communist Party (London, 1958) is the classic work. For more recent studies, see Worley, Matthew, Class Against Class: The Communist Party in Britain Between the Wars (London, 2002), and Thorpe, Andrew, The British Communist Party and Moscow, 1920–1943 (Manchester, 2000). For interesting work on the patriotism of the British Left, see Ward, Paul, Red Flag and Union Jack: Englishness, Patriotism, and the British Left, 1881–1924 (Woodbridge, 1998).

36. Pugh, Martin, “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars (London, 2005); Stone, Dan, “The English Mistery, the BUF, and the Dilemmas of British Fascism,” Journal of Modern History 75 (2003): 336–58.

37. See, for example, the debate between Pugh and Jon Lawrence on the significance of fascist violence in the movement’s decline. Lawrence, Jon, “Fascist Violence and the Politics of Public Order in Inter-War Britain: The Olympia Debate Revisited,” Historical Research 76 (2003): 238–67; Pugh, Martin, “The National Government, the British Union of Fascists, and the Olympia Debate,” Historical Research 78 (2005): 253–62; Lawrence, Jon, “Why Olympia Mattered,” Historical Research 78 (2005): 263–72.

38. In 1969, a secret internal Conservative party report estimated that if women had not been given the vote, Labour would have been in power almost continuously since 1945: Maguire, G. E., Conservative Women: A History of Women and the Conservative Party, 1874–1997 (Basingstoke, 1998), 2. The difficulties encountered by women activists in male-dominated Labour politics has been brought out well in Graves, P. M., Labour Women: Women in British Working-Class Politics, 1918–1939 (Cambridge, 1994).

39. Some indication of the potential for future research in this area is given by Jarvis, David, “The Conservative Party and the Politics of Gender, 1900–1939,” in The Conservatives and British Society, 1880–1990, ed. Francis, Martin and Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Ina (Cardiff, 1996), 172–93; Jarvis, , “‘Behind Every Great Party’: Women and Conservatism in Twentieth–Century Britain,” in Vickery, Amanda, ed., Women, Privilege, and Power, 289–314; Jarvis, , “‘Mrs. Maggs and Betty’: The Conservative Appeal to Women Voters in the 1920s,” Twentieth Century British History 5 (1994): 129–52.

40. Pugh, Martin, The March of the Women: A Revisionist Analysis of the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage, 1866–1914 (Oxford, 2000). For a somewhat polemical and notably controversial treatment, see Bearman, C. J., “An Examination of Suffragette Violence,” English Historical Review 125 (2005): 365–97.

41. See, for example, Purvis, June, Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography (London, 2002); Purvis, June and Stanley Holton, Sandra, eds., Votes for Women (London, 2000).

42. Gullace, Nicoletta F., “The Blood of our Sons”: Men, Women, and the Renegotiation of British Citizenship During the Great War (New York, 2002).

43. Other notable recent examples include Grayzel, Susan R., Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France During the First World War (Chapel Hill, 1999); Pedersen, Susan, Family, Dependence, and the Origins of the Welfare State: Britain and France, 1914–1945 (Cambridge, 1993); Rose, Sonya O., Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Wartime Britain, 1939–1945 (Oxford, 2003); Summerfield, Penny, Women Workers in the Second World War, 2nd ed. (London, 1989).

44. Jefferys, Kevin, The Churchill Coalition and Wartime Politics, 1940–1945 (Manchester, 1991); Brooke, Stephen, Labour’s War: The Labour Party During the Second World War (Oxford, 1992).

45. See, for example, Calder, Angus, The Myth of the Blitz (London, 1991); Lowe, Rodney, “The Second World War, Consensus, and the Foundation of the Welfare State,” Twentieth Century British History 1 (1990): 152–82; Jefferys, Kevin, “British Politics and Social Policy During the Second World War,” Historical Journal 30 (1987): 123–44; Harris, Jose, “Political Values and the Debate on State Welfare, 1940–45,” in War and Social Change: British Society in the Second World War, ed. Smith, Harold L. (Manchester, 1986), 233–63.

46. Green, E. H. H., “Thatcherism: A Historical Perspective,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 9 (1999): 17–42.

47. Kennedy, Paul, The Realities Behind Diplomacy: Background Influences on British External Policy, 1865–1980 (London, 1981).

48. Steiner, Zara, The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898–1914 (Cambridge, 1969); Steiner, , Britain and the Origins of the First World War (London, 1977); Parker, R. A. C., Chamberlain and Appeasement: British Policy and the Coming of the Second World War (Basingstoke, 1993); Parker, , Churchill and Appeasement (London, 2000).

49. For a strident—probably too strident—defense of the “primacy of domestic policy,” see Wilson, Keith M., The Policy of the Entente: Essays on the Determinants of British Foreign Policy, 1904–1914 (Cambridge, 1985).

50. Full details of the project are available at

51. See, for example, Thompson, Andrew S., Imperial Britain: The Empire in British Politics, c. 1880–1932 (Harlow, 2000); Goldsworthy, David, Colonial Issues in British Politics, 1945–1961 (Oxford, 1971); Darwin, John, Britain and Decolonization (Basingstoke, 1988); Darwin, , The End of the British Empire (Oxford, 1991).

52. See, for example, Murphy, Philip, Party Politics and Decolonization: The Conservative Party and British Colonial Policy in Tropical Africa, 1951–1964 (Oxford, 1995); Howe, Stephen, Anticolonialism in British Politics: The Left and the End of Empire, 1918–1964 (Oxford, 1993).

53. Cain, P. J. and Hopkins, A. G., British Imperialism 1688–2000, 2nd ed. (Harlow, 2001).

54. Readman, Paul, “The Conservative Party, Patriotism, and British Politics: The Case of the General Election of 1900,” Journal of British Studies 40 (2001): 107–45.

55. Although see Thompson, Andrew, The Empire Strikes Back? The Impact of Imperialism on Britain from the Mid–Nineteenth Century (Harlow, 2005), which provides an excellent if inevitably rather general overview.

56. Craig, F. W. S., British Electoral Facts, 1832–1987, 5th ed. (Dartmouth, 1989); Craig, , British Parliamentary Election Results, 1885–1918 (London, 1974); Craig, , British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918–1949 (Glasgow, 1969); Craig, , British Parliamentary Election Results, 1950–1970 (Chichester, 1971); Craig, , British Parliamentary Election Results, 1974–1983 (Chichester, 1984).

57. It is now complemented by works such as Norris, Pippa, Electoral Change in Britain Since 1945 (Oxford, 1997), which provides an accessible entrée into the study of postwar elections from a political science perspective.

58. Butler has authored or co-authored all the “Nuffield” studies of general elections since 1951. His first book was The British General Election of 1951 (London, 1952); his latest is Butler, David E. and Kavanagh, Dennis, The British General Election of 2005 (London, 2005).

59. McCallum, R. B. and Readman, Alison, The British General Election of 1945 (Oxford, 1947).

60. Russell, A. K., Liberal Landslide: The General Election of 1906 (Newton Abbot, 1973); Blewett, Neal, The Peers, the Parties, and the People: The General Elections of 1910 (London, 1972); Turner, John, British Politics and the Great War (New Haven, 1991); Cook, Chris, The Age of Alignment: Electoral Politics in Britain, 1922–1929 (London, 1975); Thorpe, Andrew, The British General Election of 1931 (Oxford, 1991); Stannage, Tom, Baldwin Thwarts the Opposition: The British General Election of 1935 (London, 1980).

61. For a good example of some recent work in this vein, as well as a helpful summary of the historiography, see Lawrence, Jon and Taylor, Miles, eds., Party, State, and Society: Electoral Behaviour in Britain Since 1820 (Aldershot, 1997), esp. 1–26.

62. As Michael Bentley has suggested, postmodern ideas have “begun to nibble at, sometimes bite on, the assumptions of working historians whose conscious activity may betray no shadow of interest in theoretical matters.” See Bentley, Michael, ed., Companion to Historiography, 2nd ed. (London, 2002), 489–90.

63. Jones, Gareth Stedman, “Rethinking Chartism,” in Jones, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, 1832–1982 (Cambridge, 1983), 90–178; Jones, , “Anglo-Marxism and the Discursive Approach to History,” in Was bliebt von marxistischen perspektiven in der Gesichictsforschung? ed. Lüdtke, Alf (Göttingen, 1997), 204–5. According to Stedman Jones, the reception of political messages by their audiences can never be studied with reference to an extra-discursive reality, as “‘interests’ are only articulated through discourse. The potential number of ‘interests’ possessed by an individual is infinite. It is the dialogical form of the development of political discourse which creates (or fails to create) constituencies and brings this or that ‘interest’ to the fore” (ibid.).

64. See, for example, Lawrence, Jon, “Political History,” in Writing History: Theory and Practice, ed. Berger, Stefan et al. (London, 2003), 183–202; Pedersen, Susan, “What Is Political History Now?” in What Is History Now? ed. Cannadine, David (Basingstoke, 2002), 38; Readman, Paul, “Speeches,” in Reading Primary Sources, ed. Dobson, Miriam and Ziemann, Benjamin (London, 2009), 209–25. Cowling’s works include The Impact of Labour, 1920–1924: The Beginning of Modern British Politics (Cambridge, 1971) and The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policy, 1933–1940 (London, 1975).

65. See, for example, Bentley, Michael, “Politics, Doctrine, and Thought,” in High and Low Politics in Modern Britain, ed. Bentley, Michael and Stevenson, John (Oxford, 1983); Turner, British Politics and the Great War.

66. Williamson, Baldwin.

67. Jones, Andrew, “Word and Deed: Why a Post-Poststructuralist History Is Needed, and How It Might Look,” Historical Journal 43 (2000): 517–41 at 528; Mandler, Peter, “The Problem with Cultural History,” Cultural and Social History 1 (2004): 94–117.

68. For perceptive comments on this point, see Formisano, Ronald P., “The Concept of Political Culture,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 31 (2001): esp. 395–96, 418–22.

69. Cf. Pedersen, “What Is Political History?” 46–50.

70. See, for example, Stone, Lawrence, “History and Post-Modernism,” Past and Present 131 (1991): 217–18, and Past and Present 135 (1992): 189–94.

71. Searle, John R., The Construction of Social Reality (New York, 1995), 149ff.; Searle, , Mind, Language, and Society: Doing Philosophy in the Real World (London, 1999), esp. 12–37.

72. Lawrence, “Political History.”

I am grateful to Arthur Burns for his comments on an earlier draft of this article.

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Journal of Policy History
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