Parties, Agents and Electoral Culture in England, 1880-1910

Parties, Agents and Electoral Culture in England, 1880-1910

Kathryn Rix


Royal Historical Society



A study of how the role of party agents grew and became professionalised in local political parties.
The electoral reforms of 1883-5 created a mass electorate and transformed English political culture. A new breed of professional organisers emerged in the constituencies in the form of full-time party agents, who handled registration, electioneering and the day-to-day political, social and educational work of local parties; they performed a vital role as intermediaries between politics at Westminster and at grass-roots level, bridging the gap between "high" and "low" politics.
This book examines the agents not only as political figures, but also as men (and occasionally women) determined to establish their status as professionals. It addresses key questions about the nationalisation of electoral politics in this period, demonstrating the importance of understanding the interactions between the centre and the constituencies, and showing that while the agents' professional networks contributed to a growing uniformity in certain aspects of party organisation, local forces continued to play a vital role in British political life. It also provides a fresh perspective on the evolution of the modern British political system, shedding new light on debates about how effectively the Liberal and Conservative parties adapted to the challenges of mass politics after 1885.

Dr Kathryn Rix is Assistant Editor of the House of Commons, 1832-1945 project at the History of Parliament.


290 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Royal Historical Society Studies in History New Series
Hardback, 9780861933402, December 2016
eBook, 9781782049074, December 2016
Royal Historical Society
BISAC HIS037060, POL020000
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Table of Contents

The changing electoral system
The rise of the professional agent
The agents as aspiring professionals
The agents in the constituencies: registration and political education
The agents in the constituencies: the social side of politics
Electioneering: the candidates
Electioneering: the campaign


An important volume that sheds new light on a neglected area of British electoral history and restores the lost world of the political agent to centre stage. PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY

Kathryn Rix, in a wonderfully observed, cogently argued and impressively researched book, has now rescued the agent from the myopia and condescensions of history. PARLIAMENTS, ESTATES & REPRESENTATION

Offers an exceptionally rich array of information about the dynamics of turn-of-the-century political culture and electioneering, with important consequences for how we should think about the wider political history of the era. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

[An] excellent volume... This book manages to break new ground in terms of the subject matter researched at the same time as making a significant contribution to current historiographical debates. REVIEWS IN HISTORY

Authoritative, original and well-written....A model of archival research.... Essential reading. JOURNAL OF LIBERAL HISTORY

A meticulous examination. THE SPOKESMAN

Necessary reading for anyone interested in the evolution of electoral politics in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, as well as the professionalisation of party activism and the role these professionals played in the electoral process during that time.CERCLES

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