A Crisis of Urban Conservatism? Politics and Organisation in Edwardian Norwich

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Abstract

Writing in the mid 1990s, Ewen Green suggested that the Edwardian Conservative Party was locked in a crisis which, after 1910, was leading towards a disintegration of Unionism. Recent research has challenged this view, contending that at constituency level, Conservative activists and parties were recovering, rebuilding around issues such as Ireland, land reform and opposition to National Insurance. However, there are few studies of the causes and consequences of the crisis of Conservatism in urban constituencies or the extent to which the party may have been recovering by the outbreak of the Great War. This article considers these issues in the city of Norwich. It assesses the profile of activists; the fortunes of the Conservatives in the parliamentary election contests of the period, addressing the ways the party used a variety of candidates to attempt to attract popular support; and the particular issues of tariff reform and socialism, to determine the extent to which voters and activists were willing to accept protection as part of a broader defence against socialism. These national issues are contrasted with the performance of the party in municipal elections, considering the basis of the growing appeal they evidenced in council elections after 1906, along with the continuing emphasis on organisational weakness evidenced by party leaders. Overall, it suggests that, despite their municipal strength, the continued commitment of the local party to tariffs prevented them from challenging effectively for the constituency against a Liberal-Labour alliance with a shared belief in free trade.

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