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The rise and fall of the progressive alliance : electoral politics and political change in Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent 1906-1922

Wolstencroft, Samantha (2011) The rise and fall of the progressive alliance : electoral politics and political change in Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent 1906-1922. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This dissertation explores electoral politics in two of Britain’s important industrial localities between 1906 and 1922, a period which witnessed unprecedented political change. The study focuses particular attention on the politics of the Progressive Alliance and explores the character, development and difficulties of progressive co-operation in Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent before the outbreak of the First World War and examines the consequences of its collapse afterwards. The study provides detailed analysis of election campaigns before and immediately after the First World War, assessing the influence of ideology, the role of candidates and political mobilisation and shows how local political activists were of central importance within the political process and consequent outcomes. The study supports the view that the British Liberal Party appeared strong before the outbreak of war and suggests that a Labour breakthrough appeared unlikely in the foreseeable future. The study shows that popular working-class Liberalism in Stoke-on-Trent remained strong and traditional political loyalties retained considerable purchase. In Manchester political support had become more spatial; party strength was concentrated in specific parts of the city and the fledgling Labour Party made only tentative progress in the years prior to 1914. Analysis of Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent demonstrates that the Edwardian political system was to a considerable extent dependent upon the continuation of the Progressive Alliance yet the long-term viability of alliance between the two left-of-centre parties is questioned. The study concludes that reasons for the decline of the Liberal Party and subsequent rise of Labour were intrinsically related to the experience of the First World War. The political situation and ideology were of central importance to the reconfiguration of party politics in Britain from 1918. Political events aided the Labour Party’s expansion at the expense of a weakened Liberal Party but this does not mean that political allegiances were simply constructed from above. The Labour Party had to consolidate its position on the basis of its policy appeal and as this study shows it did so particularly effectively from 1918. A principal objective of this study is to refocus attention on what has often been a major omission in the study of the historical development of electoral politics during the early twentieth century: the power of politics within the electoral process.

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