Pamphlets and Politics: The British Liberal Party and the 'Working Man', c. 1867-c. 1925

  • Michael Perduniak

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis aims to provide a new perspective on the British Liberal Party during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries via an analysis of pamphlet literature produced in support of the party. The period under investigation saw the fortunes of the Liberal Party move from being the principal rival of the Conservative Party to one of three competing for power, with the Labour Party emerging as a party capable of forming a government. The thesis aims to contribute to scholarly debate on the subject by showing that there was indeed a 'decline of Liberalism' and 'rise of Labour', but that these themes can be best understood in terms of the appeals both parties made to the electorate. It will show that when analysed through the literature they or their supporters produced to win over voters, the Liberal Party can be seen to have failed to adapt to a shifting electorate, and that they did not react to developing critiques of Liberalism from the Labour Party and its constituent bodies in sufficient time to prevent Labour establishing itself as a credible party of government, thus removing one of the Liberal Party's main advantages over Labour. The thesis will use a close analysis of the text contained within a sample of Liberal Party pamphlet literature to show that the party had particular problems when addressing itself to working-class voters, who became an increasingly important section of the electorate following franchise extensions in 1867, 1884 and 1918. It will show that the Liberal Party constructed their appeals to working-class voters using a constructed figure, which will be termed the 'Liberal Working Man', who was possessed of particular characteristics which made him suitable to hold the vote. The 'Liberal Working Man' was both conceived within models of political behaviour deriving from 'whiggish' forms of political history and also appealed to by using narratives of political history which stressed the need for him to support the Liberal Party. The thesis will show that the Liberals did nor realise until too late that their understanding of the working-class electorate was flawed and had contributed to the emergence of the Labour critique of their party, by which time the First World War had created a series of practical problems which hampered the party's attempts to maintain working-class support. The Liberal Party will be shown to have been put into a position whereby its pamphlet appeals could no longer rely on the old assumptions with regards working-class electoral behaviour, and proved incapable of providing an adequate replacement for the concept in their attempts to garner support through electoral literature.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStuart Jones (Supervisor) & Charlotte Wildman (Supervisor)


  • Pamphlets
  • Liberal
  • Edwardian

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