Property and Political Power

  • David McCrone
  • Brian Elliott
Part of the Edinburgh Studies in Culture and Society book series (ESCS)


The origins of the commonly observed links between property interests and local politics are not hard to find, for in Britain as in other western societies, cities have for centuries been governed by those who own land, commercial or industrial capital, or housing. The massive urbanisation in nineteenth-century Britain produced much debate about appropriate forms of local government, and Municipal Reform Acts extended participation in local political life, but during the Victorian period they certainly did not challenge the notion that those best fitted to run our towns and cities were the local men of property. It was argued that keeping municipal affairs in the hands of local businessmen or property holders made for efficiency, minimised waste or extravagance, and ensured that those who paid the piper also called the tune. City Corporations were, after all, ‘corporations’, essentially similar to business corporations. It followed that those experienced in the direction of commercial or industrial enterprise would naturally be the best qualified to control the civic enterprise, or so it was claimed It seemed important too that these men of property be local men, for in all the discussions about municipal reform, it is clear that Victorians, or at least bourgeois Victorians, attached great importance to local autonomy:

The principle of local self-government has been generally recognised as of the essence of our national vigour. Local administration under central superintendence is the distinguishing feature of our governments. The theory is that all that can should be done by the local authority, and that public expenditure should be chiefly controlled by those who contribute to it (quoted in Best, 1971:40).


Local Government Town Council Property Holder Property Interest Council House 
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Copyright information

© David McCrone and Brian Elliott 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • David McCrone
    • 1
  • Brian Elliott
    • 2
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK
  2. 2.University of BritishColumbiaCanada

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