The Decline of Past Alignments

  • David Butler
  • Donald Stokes


Class plays a varied role in the electoral alignments of modern politics. There are many countries and party systems where race, or religion, or region, or other lines of potential cleavage are more important than class in defining electoral support. We can indeed imagine a very different electoral history for modern Britain. The Irish question in particular might have influenced the pattern of party politics even more radically than it did. This issue, which so clearly cut across class lines, led to a drastic realignment of parties in the 1880s, with Joseph Chamberlain leading a large body of the industrial working class over to the Conservatives. To this day it leaves a major mark on the politics of Clydeside and Merseyside. It is not beyond possibility that if Europe had escaped a general war in August 1914 the United Kingdom would have slipped into civil war over the position of Ulster under Dublin Home Rule. The resulting conflict might have left scars on the British body politic comparable to those imposed on the United States for a hundred years by its own civil war. In such a politics the place of class would have been very different.


Middle Class Church Attendance Liberal Party Conservative Party Religious Observance 
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Copyright information

© David Butler and Donald Stokes 1971

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Butler
    • 1
  • Donald Stokes
    • 2
  1. 1.Nuffield CollegeOxfordUK
  2. 2.Center for Political StudiesUniversity of MichiganUSA

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