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The Rise of the Party System

  • Angus Hawkins
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Abstract

In Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore, which opened before enthusiastic London audiences in 1878, Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, sings:

I always voted at my party’s call,

And never thought of thinking for myself at all.

W. S. Gilbert’s satirical lines touched a nerve of contemporary sensibility. The supplanting of parliamentary government by a more rigid party system appeared to be imposing on MPs the increasingly powerful dictates of cabinet and electorate. In his book Popular Government, published in 1885, a forum far removed from the Savoy operas, Sir Henry Maine, anxious at the advance of democracy, saw MPs being demoted from unfettered representatives to instructed delegates.1 Two comparisons readily illustrate the transition highlighted by Gilbert and Maine: first, the contrast between those differing parliamentary processes which produced the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884; secondly, a comparison of those two great crises of party dislocation, 1846 and 1886.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Sir Henry Maine, Popular Government (1885) p. 94.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    H.J. Hanham, Elections and Party Management: Politics in the Time of Disraeli and Gladstone (1959) p. xxvi.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J. A. Froude, ‘Party Politics’, Short Studies on Great Subjects 3 vols (1894) iii, p. 437.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    W. H. Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, 2 vols (1896) i, p. 30.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    John Robertson, Chamberlain: A Study (1905) pp. 23 and 26.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Hugh Berrington, ‘Partisanship and Dissidence in the Nineteenth-Century House of Commons’, Parliamentary Affairs, 21: 4 (1968) pp. 338–74.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    A. Lang, Sir Stafford Northcote, First Earl of Iddesleigh 2 vols (1890) ii, p. 150.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    R. Wallace, in Nineteenth Century, 37 (1895), cit.Google Scholar
  9. H.J. Hanham, The Nineteenth Century Constitution (1969) p. 147.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    A. L. Lowell, The Government of England, 2 vols (1908) i, p. 440.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    Gary Cox, The Efficient Secret: The Cabinet and the Development of Political Parties in Victorian England (1987) pp. 54 and 64.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    E. A. Wasson, ‘The House of Commons, 1660–1945: Parliamentary Families and the Political Elite’, English Historical Review, 106 (1991) pp. 635–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 20.
    W. C. Lubenow, Parliamentary Politics and the Home Rule Crisis: The British House of Commons in 1886 (1988) p. 57.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    See Searle, Country Before Party; and Alan Beattie, ‘The Two-Party System: Room for Scepticism’, in S. E. Finer (ed.), Adversary Politics and Electoral Reform (1975).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Angus Hawkins 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angus Hawkins

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