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Constructing a Tory world-view: popular politics and the Conservative press in late-Victorian Leeds

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Abstract

This article examines the role played by the press in late-Victorian popular politics, focusing on the ways in which the press created and sustained distinctive party-political cultures. Through a case study of the Conservative press in Leeds the article recreates the mental world inhabited by urban Conservatives in the period after the Second Reform Act. The press, it is argued, was central to the Leeds Conservative party's strategy of managing mass politics. In the aftermath of 1867 the Leeds Conservative party was faced with the double task of consolidating its hold over the urban and suburban middle class, as well as reaching out to the recently enfranchised masses. The diversification of the press and the targeting of niche audiences allowed the Conservative party to fashion a genteel Conservatism for the suburbs along with a more populist Conservatism for the manufacturing districts. This article illustrates how the press enabled the Leeds Conservative party to construct cross-class coalitions of electoral support and bridge the gap between the slums and suburbs. Crucial to this strategy was the ability of the Conservative press to associate the party with sporting and other leisure interests. This reflected and reinforced a Tory world-view, which not only differed from, but was also frequently in opposition to, the corresponding world-view articulated by the Liberal press. The article concludes with an attempt to measure the effect of the press on popular politics, showing how the success enjoyed by the Conservative press and the party in the late nineteenth century was the product of a specific historical conjuncture, the basis of which had been weakened by the Edwardian period.

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