Uniting the whole people: proportional representation in Great Britain, 1884–5, reconsidered



This article examines the ideological context and political role of proportional representation in the reform crisis of 1884–5. It demonstrates that proportional representation was part of a broader liberal project to promote social cohesion both at home and in the empire. As shown by the cross-bench support for the Proportional Representation Society, proportional representation roused unexpected enthusiasm in the Commons in 1884. It was rejected because single-member districts were more acceptable to Gladstone while promising to achieve the same narrowly political ends as proportional representation, though not its liberal purposes. This reconsideration of proportional representation revises the history of the reform crisis and lends support to the contention that Victorian liberalism emphasized not rights-based individualism but rather the building of voluntary communities.