A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.
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PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY SINCE 1835
Between the two Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867 the politics of Leicester reveal a distinct character and possess a dramatic theme. Their character was distinguished by the effective predominance of the Reformers who secured an almost unchallenged mastery of the reformed municipal government and established in the parliamentary representation a monopoly that in 35 years was only broken twice. The dramatic theme lies in the conflicts that heaved beneath the surface of this apparently smooth and easy triumph: conflicts that were fought not between formal political parties, Reformers and Conservatives, but between the Reformers themselves, between the different and sometimes rival groups composing the reforming coalition; conflicts that could be subdued in face of the common enemy but which were sharpened beyond concealment in response to the social distress and religious discontent of the age, so that in these years the party experienced a complete cycle of revolution beginning in unity, dissolving, not smoothly, into discord and eventually outright war between its component elements, and in the end recoiling from disaster into a new and lasting concord.
The Reform Act of 1832 did not consummate a political and social revolution in Leicester. Before it was passed the wealthy nonconformist businessmen who led the Reformers had already broken the old corporation's hold over the parliamentary representation of the borough and the passing of the Act made their success in the future only more likely, not assured beyond doubt. The Reformers profited, it is true, from the clauses eliminating the outvoters, who used to be counted solidly among their opponents, and extending the parliamentary boundary to include the 'new borough' which was thought to be in their favour. (fn. 1) Yet the character and, except for the outvoters, the size of the electorate hardly changed. Except in so far as the influence of the corporation was reduced it was not more democratic. It remained a fairly small, manageable body that numbered 3,063 in December 1832 and, though growing slightly, was no more than 5,736 in 1867. (fn. 2) The conditions in which elections were conducted changed only in one respect: voters were now required to be registered, a change that had some importance in encouraging the formation of permanent political organizations. (fn. 3) Otherwise, elections continued as before, or if anything with more noise, greater vigour and violence, and less scruple. (fn. 4) The system of open voting remained in force and with it the traditional methods of influencing electors by intimidation, treating, and open bribery, so that elections continued to require a generous expenditure of hard drink and hard cash. The uncontested election of 1841 cost, it was said, at least £3,727; (fn. 5) corruption cost the members their seats in 1847, (fn. 6) and not until 1859 did 'purity principles' really begin to prevail. (fn. 7)
For the Reformers, the Reform Act was not an end in itself, but a stage in a process that had begun with their capture of the borough's representation and could not end at least until they had won a still more important prize, the government of the town itself. It was natural, therefore, that they should throw themselves into the elections for the first reformed Parliament with the same energy and sense of unity that had won their victory in 1831; and it was inevitable that they should win once more. They now enjoyed such electoral advantages as the Reform Act gave them: they still kept in being the Political Union that had organized their former campaign; their candidates were the sitting members, Wynn Ellis and William Evans, known and tried men, and their supporters were still exalted with triumph. By contrast, their opponents had little to offer: the establishment of a Conservative Registration Society (fn. 8) to organize their voting strength was balanced by the difficulty of finding a candidate who would be both strong enough to rally their dismayed followers and rich enough to risk his money in a forlorn hope. When the Conservatives at last found a candidate, J. Boughton-Leigh of Brownsover (Warws.), a gentleman and landowner, their slender chances had already been ruined by delay. The election gave another triumph to the Reformers. (fn. 9)
The success of the Reformers seemed inevitable: its permanence seemed assured by the extent of their majority; and yet in little more than two years they found themselves beaten and humiliated. The fault did not lie in the first place with the local leaders. They showed zeal enough in exploiting their victory and directing the weapon of public agitation against the next target, the old corporation. Throughout 1833 a campaign of public meetings, well supported by the Leicester Chronicle, and a petition to Parliament, bitterly indicting the old order, kept the town in a ferment of excitement which culminated in the visit of the Commissioners of Inquiry sent down by the government to report on the municipal corporation. (fn. 10) But the impetus of the movement died away as the Whig government failed to satisfy the hopes of a quick and sweeping change. Artisans, disillusioned by the new Poor Law and the treatment of the Dorchester labourers, tended to lose interest in politics and turn to trades unionism. (fn. 11) Dissenters, who had opened in 1834 their long and bitter campaign against payment of church rates, found themselves fobbed off with a half-hearted and abortive bill that discredited the government's intentions. Even the cause of municipal reform moved slowly. No wonder the Reformers lost heart and lost ground! No wonder their opponents gained what had been lost! For the wise leadership of Peel, his moderation, his acceptance of the Reform Act, his policy of 'conservative' as opposed to 'destructive' reform, was beginning to tell; and it was now supported by a temporary revival of the old Tory spirit, roused by the call to defend the Church. The local campaign against church rates and the ecclesiastical policy of the Whig ministry, timid though it seemed to the dissenters, convinced churchmen that the Establishment was in danger. The cry was taken up by the corporation and the press; the opponents of reform began to rally. The Conservative Society, founded in 1832, revived its activities and even organized Operatives' Conservative Societies to win over the working men. (fn. 12)
At this point, at the end of 1834, the Whig government fell; and the humiliating circumstances of its fall completed the discomfiture of the Reformers. In two years their confidence and harmony had been destroyed. In like measure the advent of Peel's government heartened their opponents. The corporation energetically seized this last opportunity to escape disaster. Against the general election that must soon come they mobilized the forces of corporate and clerical influence to secure the registration of their supporters and did it so well that they caught the Reformers napping: (fn. 13) indeed, the Reformers admitted afterwards that they had not yet woken up to the discovery that since the Reform Act 'the battle of the elections must be fought before we got to the hustings—in the Registration Courts'. (fn. 14) The Conservatives used also the methods of intimidation and bribery to an extent of which one of their leaders, in a cooler and much later hour, declared himself ashamed. (fn. 15) Equally important and more reputable was the acquisition of two well-connected and capable candidates. Edward Goulburn had already acquired a standing in Leicester as recorder of the borough and enjoyed the reflected glory of his elder brother, whom Peel had just appointed Home Secretary and whose devotion to his leader was likely to please at least one section of the party. The other candidate was Thomas Gladstone, the bearer of a name which his younger brother had already made prominent, though not yet great, and which promised hope to the 'stern unbending Tories'. Neither Goulburn nor Gladstone, as it turned out, was to make an effective political career, but they appear to have been active canvassers and were certainly vigorous and lively speakers. They exploited to the full the unpopularity of the new Poor Law and the theme of the 'Church in danger', and contrasted the temperate reform promised in the Tamworth Manifesto with the destructive radicalism of the sitting members, particularly of Ellis. (fn. 16)
Such were the circumstances in which the election of January 1835 took place and, although the Reformers once again put up Evans and Ellis and enjoyed the resources of corruption and intimidation, they could not make headway against the apathy of their supporters and the spirit of their opponents. Goulburn and Gladstone beat them by majorities of 132 and 162 respectively. (fn. 17)
The Conservatives had won, but not enough to save the government and the corporation. The Reformers had lost, but were saved from the worst consequences of defeat. Peel failed to secure a majority; the Whigs returned to power and now took up in earnest the question of municipal reform.
The Municipal Corporations Act of September 1835 did not affect only the local administration of Leicester. In destroying the old corporation, in replacing it by the new, elected corporation, it achieved a greater revolution than the Reform Act itself in the parliamentary politics of the borough. It was a revolution all the more striking because, with the first municipal election held under the terms of the Act in December 1835, the Reformers established a supremacy so thorough-going that it was hardly challenged before the end of the century. In every way—in its origins, provisions, and consequences—the Act struck at the fortunes of the Conservatives. The report of the Commission of Inquiry from which it originated had provided the most damaging evidence to discredit the old order and all those connected with it, and what powerful propaganda it could make against the Conservatives was only too well demonstrated in the first municipal elections. Although in the long run the Act itself, in abolishing the old corporation, freed the Conservatives from an embarrassment, its immediate effect was to deprive them of their most effective political organization. And the Act finally had the consequence, as a result of the municipal elections, of transferring to their opponents the imponderable advantages of respectability, prestige, and influence that the exercise of official authority must carry with it.
The Municipal Corporations Act had another result that should equally have affected the two parties. In introducing annual municipal elections it stimulated political activity and organization in a way that impinged as much upon parliamentary as local politics. For from the first these elections took on an avowedly political colour: the parties that disputed the representation of the borough now contested with equal heat and greater frequency the government of the town; and so their electoral machinery was kept in constant motion. Thus the parliamentary politics of Leicester struck roots deep into every ward of the town; and not only into the wards but into the parishes too, since the vestries, parish officers, and guardians were chosen as the result of elections fought no less openly on the same political lines and by the same political parties. The ascendancy which the Reformers were to establish in the parliamentary representation was founded on the control they established over the wards and parishes. (fn. 18) The Conservatives, however, appear to have profited less from this extension of political activity: in the parishes, their connexion with the Church put them mostly on the defensive, while their opponents were inspired by the crusading vigour of dissent; and in municipal affairs their fortunes were still more blighted by the record of the old corporation. In this respect, as in others, municipal reform weakened the Conservatives.
Encouraged by their municipal success, the Reformers determined to win back the borough at whatever cost. The defeat of 1835 had shocked them out of their apathy and restored their unity. This time, when the death of William IV in 1837 made a general election necessary, they were not caught napping. In readiness they had organized the Reform Society, which had taken the place of the former Political Union, and brought it into closer association with the ward societies that had been created to fight the first municipal elections. (fn. 19) In good time they brought their candidates before the electors. They were Samuel Duckworth, a barrister, something of a careerist but noted for his fidelity to the Whig government and recommended by his friendship with the former Liberal member for South Leicestershire; (fn. 20) and John Easthope, a more interesting man who had made a fortune and achieved political influence as the proprietor of the Morning Chronicle. (fn. 21) The conduct of the election was put into the hands of William Biggs, a young and energetic hosier, chairman of the Reform Society, who had already shown his fighting spirit in 1832 and was now determined, as it was reported later, to make this campaign his 'masterpiece'. (fn. 22) No effort and no expense were spared and the Conservatives complained afterwards, with some justice, that 'there never was before so profuse and lavish an expenditure and such a system of debauchery'. (fn. 23) The cost was estimated as £3,500 for each member. (fn. 24) When the Conservatives petitioned against the election on the grounds of this corruption Biggs found it convenient to have urgent business in America. (fn. 25)
Industry in the registration courts and generosity in the ale-houses did not in them- selves suffice to win an election. An issue was needed. The Reforming candidates produced a substantial programme which called for a national system of education, household suffrage, triennial Parliaments, the ballot, 'justice for Ireland', and the abolition of compulsory church rates; (fn. 26) but as the election was not precipitated by a great national question they had also to develop other themes. They stigmatized their opponents as reactionaries, 'the faction of the King of Hanover', who had recently withdrawn the constitution of his kingdom, admirers of Don Carlos and Don Miguel, who led the clerical parties in Spain and Portugal, and, with greater force, partisans of the old corporation. (fn. 27) The electors were warned that to vote for Goulburn and Gladstone would be to risk the return of the old corporation and the corruption and maladministration with which it was charged. To point the danger a balance sheet was drawn up to express the contrast between 'What the Tory Corporation did' and 'What the new Corporation has done' in the year and a half of its existence; and in this way the Reformers tried in part to turn the election into a plebiscite for or against the old municipal order. (fn. 28) This challenge was taken up by the Conservatives. They put the local issue, however, in a different form: in their view the election would decide whether the town was to be Christian or governed by a 'Socinian clique'; (fn. 29) but although they polled almost as many votes as had enabled them to win in 1835, they were heavily defeated. The Reformers won by 350 votes. (fn. 30) The Leicester Chronicle attributed this success partly to the effect of municipal reform in schooling the electorate to exercise the franchise and establishing the system of wards as 'so many citadels of liberty'; partly, also, to the organization of a volunteer police to prevent the system of kidnapping which, it was alleged, had prevailed at the last election. (fn. 31)
With this victory the Liberals, as they may now be called, secured a lasting hold on the borough: once only, before the century ended, did they lose even one of the seats, and that only in a by-election and when divided among themselves. Henceforward the Conservatives seemed to regard the odds against them as almost hopeless. They could no longer use the corporation as an electioneering agency: their churchmanship gave them little help in a town where nonconformity was going from strength to strength; their reliance on country gentlemen to fight their contests weakened their appeal to a predominantly industrial constituency, and their membership of gentry, professional men, and shop-keepers lacked the funds to compete with the moneyed power of the Liberals. The Conservatives decided, after the election of 1837, that the party could not stand the cost of another such election. (fn. 32) At most they could hope to profit from the divisions of their opponents. They could do this in two ways: by exploiting the differences between the working men and their employers they could build up a ToryRadical alliance; by working on the fears of the more cautious Reformers they could build up a Conservative-Whig alliance. Neither could be achieved easily. The Operatives' Conservative Societies seem to have been too intermittent to maintain sufficient contact with the working men: the Conservatives in general, as property owners, allowed their suspicion of these potential allies to master their political ambitions; and although from time to time they made tentative approaches there was little chance, before the second Reform Act, of a solid alliance founded on a real sympathy with the industrial and social grievances of the workmen. (fn. 33) Alliance with the more Whiggish reformers provided a more palatable and, in terms of votes, a more profitable alternative: but parties so divided by religion and memories could only be reconciled by some exceptional crisis or a long process of evolution. Either way, the hopes of a more than transient success must be slight, and this feeling explains the apathy that prevented the party from adopting either course with consistency or vigour. Although the Conservative Society remained in being and was strong enough in 1842 to give birth to a Municipal Registration Society to manage municipal elections, (fn. 34) its leaders had frequently to complain of the passivity of their following and even to admit, in the middle of the century, that it was not fair to ask a Conservative to contest the seat, so likely was he to lose his money. (fn. 35)
The Liberals did not suffer from apathy. They continued to improve their electoral machinery. The Reform Society provided the animating force of the party: it controlled its funds, selected candidates, and maintained a paid agent. (fn. 36) It kept in touch with electors in general. Its committee of eighteen members was elected annually by a general meeting of subscribers (fn. 37) and its efforts were seconded by similar organizations established in the wards, which were controlled by secretaries and elected committees of their own. (fn. 38) When, at election time, candidates were brought forward, they were not imposed on the party by the central committee without further formality, but submitted to the approval of delegates elected by the wards and to a general meeting of the Liberal electors. (fn. 39) The impression given is of an organization in close touch with the electorate and readily mobilized for action, so much so that in 1856 a Liberal leader, William Parker, could boast that they had 'a machinery for working the wards in connexion with the Liberal interest so complete that at the last election they were able in one day to compute the force they should have'. (fn. 40) The principle of the 'caucus' was developed in Leicester long before it was perfected in Birmingham.
The Liberals had to fear not apathy but enthusiasm, the danger that the forces that had carried them to power might burst the frame of their coalition. As a whole they remained clearly more radical than the leaders of the Whig party, united in a common distrust of the aristocracy and the established church; but the issues that were to dominate the next decade and more—religious equality, extension of the suffrage, Chartism— exposed markedly different degrees of radicalism and strained their unity.
In spite of these differences all Liberals could unite until 1846 on one issue, that of Free Trade. (fn. 41) The industrial depression that set in during 1838 provided a more pressing argument for repealing the Corn Laws: repeal would relieve both workmen and manufacturers and allow the hosiers of Leicester to beat their dangerous foreign competitors. (fn. 42) In particular it was suggested that the competition of the Saxon hosiers for the American market could not be met as long as the Corn Laws stood. The Anti-Corn Law movement, begun in Manchester, found a ready response in Leicester. The Leicester Anti-Corn Law Association was founded in December 1838, (fn. 43) and under the guidance of two leading manufacturers, John Biggs and Richard Harris, 'the Cobden and Bright of the Midland Counties', (fn. 44) began to organize a systematic agitation intended to revive the spirit of 1832. (fn. 45) Between 1839 and 1841 the public, electors and non-electors alike, were aroused by a programme of lectures, public petitions, meetings, and open-air demonstrations, culminating in the great demonstration of June 1841, when 4,000 persons crowded into the Market Place. (fn. 46) Employers were encouraged to contribute to the funds of the league, (fn. 47) and the working men were mobilized in an Anti-Corn Law Association of their own, founded in 1840. (fn. 48) The campaign continued at a steady pace during 1842 and although it afterwards fluctuated, slowing down during the next two years when trade improved slightly, and quickening with renewed vigour in the depression of 1845, it remained a considerable force in the politics of the borough until the triumph of 1846 brought it to an end. On the whole, although it was condemned by some working men as a stunt to divert them from their proper political aims, the AntiCorn Law movement kept together Liberals of all classes and opinions at a time when other issues were driving them apart.
One of these issues was the campaign for religious equality. In principle, the Liberals, being as much as anything a nonconformist party, agreed that political emancipation must be accompanied by religious emancipation, but differed over the means, speed, and thoroughness of the process. This difference appeared clearly over the question of church rates. The injustice of compelling nonconformists to contribute to the upkeep of the established church was generally admitted: a remedy for this grievance was an accepted part of the Liberal programme; (fn. 49) but they did not agree on how the remedy could be achieved. On the whole, the more wealthy and respectable Liberals were cautious, content to obey the law until the Whig government could be persuaded to change it. Others advocated forcing the government's hand by open defiance of the law. This difference of opinion coincided with a difference of religious denomination. The Unitarians, who had hitherto provided the intellectual, political, and social leadership of Protestant nonconformity, stood solidly for moderation. The pressure for direct action came particularly from the Independents or Congregationalists and from the Baptists. After 1835 two of their ministers, Mursell and Miall, both young and fervent, came forward as the leaders of a nonconformist crusade directed in the first place against church rates, ultimately against the Establishment itself. (fn. 50) In 1836 Miall declared his refusal to pay church rates in the future; leading members of his congregation followed his example and defied the law; the ecclesiastical authorities replied by levying distress on their goods. (fn. 51) So opened a contest which embittered relations between Church and dissent for the next thirteen years. On the part of the dissenters the contest was not purely passive. They went over to the offensive in an attempt to cut out church rates at the source by winning control of the parish vestries and voting down any attempt to authorize a levy. It was a long struggle: the last vestry was captured, the last rate levied, only in 1849. (fn. 52) Meanwhile, these militant nonconformists had to face the opposition of equally intransigent churchmen. In St. Martin's parish, the stronghold of the die-hards, no quarter was given and there the cause had its first martyr in William Baines, whose resistance to payment cost him seven months in Leicester prison. (fn. 53)
The church rate contest led the more militant dissenters to consider wider issues. At the beginning in 1836, they had founded, on Miall's initiative, a Voluntary Church Society: its immediate object was to abolish church rates, but its ultimate and declared aim was to achieve the disestablishment of the Church, to put an end to ecclesiastical privilege. (fn. 54) Its importance was more than local. Through it Miall hoped to use the bitterness that church rates were now arousing elsewhere to awaken the crusading spirit of nonconformity as a whole, seeing the Leicester society as the first step in a national campaign. Leicester became for a short time a centre of nonconformist propaganda, which in 1844 fulfilled its immediate purpose with the formation of the British Anti-State Church Association, later and better known as the Liberation Society. (fn. 55) Miall had then become a national figure and had left Leicester to found and edit a new dissenting journal, The Nonconformist; (fn. 56) but in his short career in the town he had successfully aroused at least a section of the dissenters and created a spirit of not only religious but political importance. As in the 17th century, religious radicalism led readily to political radicalism. Clerical privilege went hand in hand with aristocratic privilege: equally obnoxious, both must be uprooted. The combination of religious and political extremes appeared clearly at an early stage in the movement, in the foundation of a new weekly journal in Leicester. Hitherto, Liberal opinion had been represented by the Leicester Chronicle, but the followers of Miall and Mursell considered it too moderate and in 1836 founded a rival newspaper, the Leicestershire Mercury, which became the champion of both uncompromising dissent and uncompromising radicalism in politics. The relations between the two Liberal newspapers—usually bitter—reflected the strain to which these new religious and political pressures were subjecting the unity of their party.
The political views of militant dissent found expression particularly in the demand for a further instalment of reform. Although the Liberals in Leicester as a whole were united in their belief that the Reform Act had not gone far enough and in the demand for household suffrage, (fn. 57) in practice, the moderate section, represented by the Leicester Chronicle and most of the old leaders, was not prepared to press the Whig government hard. (fn. 58) Uncompromising dissenters, on the other hand, had no reason to be tender to a government which had done so little to relieve them of their disabilities and every reason to place their hopes of emancipation in an extension of the suffrage, which would break the power of privilege. The intransigent temper which led to the church rate contest led also to a new reform movement which now began to bring pressure on the Liberal party. Its influence had already been felt in the election of 1837 when Duckworth and Easthope had clearly committed themselves to household suffrage and the ballot; but even that did not satisfy some like Mursell and Miall themselves who stood out for manhood suffrage. (fn. 59) Both of them attended the conference of 1842 at which the Complete Suffrage Union was founded, and at one time they succeeded in having manhood suffrage adopted into the programme of the Anti-State Church Association. (fn. 60) In 1842 a local branch of the Complete Suffrage Association was founded; (fn. 61) and, with the support of the militant nonconformists now keenly engaged in the church rate contest, it maintained a steady pressure within the Liberal party in Leicester and attempted to revive the union between the middle and working classes that had been achieved during the struggle for reform.
This radical pressure did not originate only in dissent: it arose also in response to Chartism. As in other parts of the country the Chartist movement in Leicester had a complex origin. Its original impetus was provided, as in London, by the more intelligent artisans, who had founded in 1836 a Leicester Working Men's Association, on the lines of that in London, with similar educational and radical political aims. (fn. 62) This action expressed their discontent with the consequence of the Reform Act and marked their rejection of the middle-class leadership which they had hitherto been content to follow but were now ready to criticize. (fn. 63) By themselves they made little progress until other causes turned working men in general to politics. The most important of these was the depression that struck the hosiery industry early in 1838. The framework-knitters, who belonged to an overmanned and dying branch of the industry, suffered the greatest distress; and this was only the beginning of a depression that was to continue at least into 1843. (fn. 64) The immediate effects of hard times were to exaggerate the defects of the industry's organization, to sharpen the longstanding grievances of frame rent, charges for standing, and other vexatious deductions, and to embitter relations between framework-knitters and employers. (fn. 65) Although Mursell had tried to arouse the public conscience by a series of burning letters on the 'rights of labour' which he contributed to the Leicestershire Mercury, (fn. 66) and though the Working Men's Association had tried to form a joint committee of masters and men to consider the problems of unemployment and low wages, (fn. 67) by the summer of 1838 attempts at conciliation and relief had broken down. (fn. 68) The men were thrown back on their own resources.
This meant political action. For in Leicester they had no effective trades unions and the system of public relief had at that moment become more harsh. The effects of the new Poor Law of 1834 had not at first been felt in Leicester, but at the end of 1837 the guardians attempted to introduce its most important principles, giving out-relief only to the sick and aged, and relieving the able-bodied only in the workhouse, where man and wife were separated and the poor subjected to 'tests' like grinding corn or breaking stones considered to be degrading. (fn. 69) The tests called for a physical effort for which the framework-knitters were not fit: (fn. 70) incarceration in the 'Bastille' affronted the independent spirit of men who were not yet subject to the discipline of a factory; above all the ban on out-relief deprived an over-manned industry of a form of unemployment pay that in the past made conditions just tolerable. The attempt to apply the new system set off a bitter agitation among the workmen. (fn. 71)
The aspirations of the Working Men's Association, the grievances of the hosiery workers, the agitation against the new Poor Law, stimulated by unemployment and hunger, found common expression in Chartism. The People's Charter, published in May 1838, promised social relief through political reform. During the summer and autumn the new movement absorbed into itself all the other forms of agitation; and the leaders of other movements, such as John Seal of the Working Men's Association, John Swain, chairman of the Operatives' Committee, and John Markham, chairman of the Anti-Poor Law Committee, appeared in new guise as leaders of Leicester Chartism. (fn. 72) In October 1838 they formed the Leicester and Leicestershire Political Union to advance the cause of the People's Charter. (fn. 73) At first, and on the whole, Chartism in Leicester was less violent than in the north of England. For the most part the advocates of 'moral force' prevailed, except during the more stormy period of Cooper's leadership. Relations between employers and employed were perhaps less bitter because these dis- tinctions were less sharp and more graduated than under factory organization—John Swain, for example, was himself an employer on a small scale, a framework-knitter who had prospered enough to own a few frames of his own (fn. 74)—and were to some extent transcended by the common bond of nonconformity: John Markham, the most prominent Chartist, was a Methodist preacher. (fn. 75)Although the Chartists received no active support, they received much sympathy from middle-class Radicals like Mursell, which helped to mitigate the antagonism of classes. (fn. 76) Their leaders, also, had good reasons for caution, for they understood the local weakness of the movement. Although they could attract crowds in thousands to open-air demonstrations, they could not achieve a large, permanent, subscribing membership. Estimates of their numbers varied between 300 and 700, (fn. 77) and Markham in 1840 advocated a cautious policy of waiting because they 'were comparatively but a handful here'. (fn. 78) This evidence of comparative weakness is borne out by the remarkable way in which Leicester appeared to be subordinated to Loughborough in the Chartist politics of the county. It was a Loughborough, not a local, man who was sent to the Convention in 1839. (fn. 79)
It was not at first the physical power of Chartism that was feared in Leicester, but its voting power. Although the Chartists had few votes—perhaps twenty (fn. 80)—even these were valuable when two or three hundred made a good majority. They were still more valuable in the particular conditions of 1839. In March Duckworth resigned his seat (fn. 81) and made a by-election necessary at a time very unseasonable for his party, when its unity was openly strained by differences of opinion over church rates and the suffrage. (fn. 82) Uncertain of their own unity the Liberals felt acutely the danger of an alliance between Conservatives and Chartists. (fn. 83) Fortunately for them the Conservatives were handicapped by the difficulties of finding a candidate. Only after much search and at the last minute did they bring forward C. H. Frewen, a local landowner. He was young and inexperienced, and although he struck hard at the new Poor Law his pledge 'to maintain the institutions of the country' could not attract the Chartists. (fn. 84) Meanwhile the Liberals, quick off the mark, had brought back Wynn Ellis, who skilfully tried to appease radical and dissenting opinion. He declared himself more radical than the Whig government, hoped that the Poor Law would be modified, and advocated as his programme repeal of the Corn Laws, abolition of church rates, triennial Parliaments, vote by ballot, and extension of the suffrage; questioned on the last he replied that 'there could be no harm and no risk in giving a vote to a man who has a house over his head'. (fn. 85) His party was appeased, the Chartists not outraged. There was no alliance with the Conservatives, and the Chartists withdrew the nomination of their own candidate, the ultra-radical Perronet Thompson. (fn. 86) Ellis won by nearly 300 votes. (fn. 87)
Although the immediate political challenge of Chartism was averted, the threat of physical force kept the town in a state of anxiety during the spring and summer of 1839 when the Chartists were following the fortunes of their National Petition and Convention. In May and August the influence of the moderate leaders seemed for a while to be shaken, their meetings were marked by violent language, (fn. 88) and in August the magistrates for the first time feared that the local police force might not be able to maintain order. (fn. 89) The sense of crisis, however, quickly subsided; the advocates of moral force regained their ascendancy (fn. 90) and even the bad winter of 1839–40, when a quarter of the population was said to be receiving relief, produced no disturbances. (fn. 91) With the movement temporarily discredited by the failure of the National Petition and Convention, it seemed as if Chartism might be absorbed into the middle-class movements. One possibility was that their energies might be diverted into the Anti-Corn Law agitation. During 1840 the Anti-Corn Law leaders constantly stressed the common interest that repeal possessed for the middle and working classes, and in March formed the Working Men's Anti-Corn Law Association. (fn. 92) This approach succeeded in part, but not enough; many Chartists regarded it as a trap. (fn. 93) The other possibility was that Chartism might be absorbed into the radical campaign for political reform that had begun as early as 1838 (fn. 94) and now took on a new vigour under the pressure of Chartism and militant dissent. (fn. 95) Now the initiative was taken by one of the younger Liberal leaders, William Biggs, who proposed to resume in earnest the campaign for triennial Parliaments, the ballot, and household suffrage, to which the party was officially, but hitherto it seemed half-heartedly, committed, and appealed to the Chartists to make common cause by dropping the demand for universal suffrage and being content with either the modification or abolition of the property qualification. He advocated this policy vigorously, first at a public meeting of Reformers in May 1839, (fn. 96) and then in two letters to the Leicester Chronicle. The first, in June, repeated proposals made by O'Connell to the Chartists of Birmingham: it was here that he suggested abolition of the property qualification. The second, in November, took the form of an open letter to Joseph Hume and contained a detailed plan for redistributing seats and extending the suffrage to householders in large towns. (fn. 97) In April 1840 at a meeting of leading Liberals and Chartists he launched a petition for the extension of the suffrage, and Markham, the Chartist leader, responded enough to advise the Chartists to support it in the interests of unanimity. (fn. 98) Yet the attempt to win over the Chartists failed. Their apparent quiescence during the rest of the year made Biggs's policy less urgent and less welcome: the interest of the middle classes was more taken up with the Corn Laws and the church rate contest, which was now moving to its height with the imprisonment of Baines: (fn. 99) it was difficult to frame proposals broad enough to satisfy the Chartists, (fn. 100) yet sufficiently narrow to appease the fears of the more cautious Liberals, like Thomas Paget; (fn. 101) and finally the Leicester Chartists discovered a new leader and a new intransigence.
The new leader who came forward in 1841 was Thomas Cooper. Although he shared the passion for self-education and self-improvement that distinguished the other Chartist leaders like Markham, he came into the movement in a different way. They had entered gradually through the Working Men's and Anti-Poor Law Associations: he plunged into it. They had a lifetime's acquaintance with the conditions of industry: he ran into them with a shock that jarred his soul. Cooper experienced an emotional, not an intellectual conversion. He had long been acquainted with the Chartist programme, had long accepted the Six Points, (fn. 102) but it was not until he came to Leicester at the end of 1840 and saw the rags and bones of the Leicester stockingers that suddenly he felt impelled to their cause. (fn. 103) For, although born in Leicester, he had spent his life in the country, and, although he had indeed known poverty, it was nothing like the poverty of an industrial town. (fn. 104) Like so many converts he quickly showed himself more zealous than the older Chartists. Cooper had an ardent nature that threw him wholeheartedly into any cause that engaged his sympathy and he was now driven forward not only by the cause of social justice but by an imperious passion for leadership. (fn. 105) Already experienced as a teacher, preacher, and journalist, widely read and full of confidence, he quickly rose to the top, editing the local Chartist newspaper, conducting meetings, acting as secretary, and infusing a new life into the movement. (fn. 106)
The change in leadership soon led to a change in Chartist tactics. In his revulsion from the social conditions which he had discovered, Cooper was more hostile than the older leaders to the employers whom he held responsible, and less ready to compromise with the middle classes and the Liberals. Impatient of political economy he did not believe that any benefit would come from repeal of the Corn Laws. (fn. 107) He had therefore less compunction in working with the Conservatives, and the danger which the Liberals had feared in 1839 became a reality in 1841. The existence of this new alliance was demonstrated first at the Nottingham by-election in April, when a contingent of Chartists went over to support the Conservative candidate; (fn. 108) and afterwards in Leicester at the general election in July. On this occasion, although the Chartists determined to demonstrate their independence by nominating Cooper, he was to withdraw and his followers were to support the Conservative candidates. (fn. 109) So a Tory-Radical alliance was achieved; but its achievement in 1841 did not trouble the Liberals as much as its threat in 1839 because they did not expect any serious Conservative opposition; and so it turned out. The only consequence of the Chartist intervention was to add some life to the process of nomination, for the Conservatives failed to find any candidates willing to stand the expense of a poll. Wynn Ellis and Easthope were elected unopposed, having advocated a programme of repeal of the Corn Laws, abolition of church rates, and amendment of the Poor Law. (fn. 110)
Cooper did not achieve his authority over the Chartists without opposition. Some of the former leaders disapproved of his policy, particularly of his loyalty to O'Connor; others were alienated by his autocratic and passionate temper. In January 1842 a bitter quarrel with Markham led to a permanent division. (fn. 111) Nevertheless, Cooper seems not only to have retained the greater part of his following but to have increased it by an imaginative policy which made his Shakesperean Association part adult school, part a sort of Salvation Army. (fn. 112) In July 1842 he was claiming 3,000 members. (fn. 113) He succeeded also in increasing the importance of Leicester and himself in the Chartist movement as a whole. During 1842 he began to extend his leadership over the county, speaking in the villages and holding a great 'camp-meeting' at Mountsorrel. (fn. 114)
The Chartist revival led to new attempts to achieve an understanding between the middle and working classes. This course was suggested in October 1841 by Seal, one of the dissident Chartists who had quarrelled with Cooper; it was taken up by Mursell, the most thoroughgoing of the middle-class leaders. (fn. 115) At this point William Biggs once more tried to take the lead, proposing to create a union based on a 'Midland Counties Charter', which differed from the Chartists' Six Points by establishing an age limit for the suffrage and suggesting triennial Parliaments. (fn. 116) However, this local initiative did not succeed and the local movement became absorbed in the Complete Suffrage movement associated with Miall in London and, more closely, with Sturge in Birmingham. A Complete Suffrage Association was founded in Leicester in March 1842 (fn. 117) and received the expected support of the more radical dissenters, not only of Mursell, but of J. F. Winks, a Baptist preacher and publisher of religious books. Winks was an old friend of Cooper but no Chartist, who had hitherto reserved his pugnacity for the church rate contest and taken a rather more cautious opinion about the suffrage than Mursell. (fn. 118) In providing a means by which the extreme Radicals could exert a more effective political pressure the association had some success, but it failed in its immediate object: for although it was supported by the leaders of the Working Men's Anti-Corn Law Association, even Markham, despite his breach with Cooper, refused to join and Cooper denounced any who went over as renegades. (fn. 119)
This effort at reconciliation had been made at a difficult time. Already under Cooper's leadership the tone of the Chartists had become more menacing. Since the summer of 1841 they had tried to turn every political meeting into a Chartist demonstration and the violence of Cooper's language had created stormy scenes, particularly in the meetings of the Anti-Corn Law League. (fn. 120) In February 1842, for example, a crowded meeting of the Working Men's Anti-Corn Law Association was in effect broken up by Cooper, who was left in possession of the hall haranguing his followers. In the summer of 1842 the temper of the Chartists was still more inflamed when trade, bad enough during the winter, (fn. 121) came to a standstill. The condition of the unemployed became desperate, a despair reflected in the rapidly falling sales of the Chartist newspaper and the closing of Cooper's educational classes: one of the Chartists asked, 'What the hell do we care about reading, if we can get nought to eat?' (fn. 122) The distress gave a new impetus to the Chartist cause but at the same time weakened Cooper's control over it. His following was swollen by unemployed only vaguely associated with the movement, terming themselves or being called Chartists for want of a better description. It was the economic grievances of these men, not Chartism as such, that precipitated the crisis of August 1842.
Already a state of fear had been created by the bands of workmen marching through the streets, singing Chartist songs, begging money from passers-by, or entering churches during service for the same purpose. (fn. 123) Then in April, the corn mill which the guardians had recently introduced to provide a more stringent test for poor relief provoked a bitter opposition that developed into violent riots lasting several days. (fn. 124) Finally in August great strikes broke out in the north of England and the Potteries, and were quickly associated with an attempt to make the Charter the 'law of the land'. Their example soon spread to Leicester. First the colliers of Whitwick and Snibston struck; then the glove hands; then the Chartists, exhorted by agitators like Duffy, an Irishman from Lancashire, tried to turn the movement into a general strike for the Charter. For a week the town was threatened with riots as groups of strikers tried to force others to join them and marched the streets in procession, while the magistrates swore in special constables, called out the yeomanry, and kept cavalry standing to in the Market Place. Faced with this firm show of authority the strikers were soon discouraged. After a few scuffles in the Market Place and the Welford road and after a body of four or five hundred men who had marched out to join their fellows in Loughborough had been dispersed at Mowmacre Hill by police and yeomanry, the movement subsided. (fn. 125) The strikers went back to work; among the Chartists 'all was discord and jealousy'. (fn. 126)
The suppression of these disturbances was distinguished by its moderation. For the most part the rioters were bound over to keep the peace; a few were fined 10s. (fn. 127) Nevertheless, the Chartists had suffered a severe defeat. Events in Leicester had disheartened them; events outside Leicester cost them their leader. Cooper had taken no part in the local disturbances in August, having hurried north to Manchester to attend a conference of Chartist leaders. On the way, however, he had been involved in riots in the Potteries: found guilty of sedition and conspiracy, he was sentenced in April 1843 to two years' imprisonment. (fn. 128) This, as it turned out, meant the end of Cooper's career in Leicester. Although it did not mean the end of Chartism in the town, his departure and the improvement that took place in trade at the end of 1843 markedly reduced its activity.
A peaceful interlude followed, partly disturbed by the still lively contest over church rates and the agitation of the Anti-Corn Law League. In 1846 the repeal of the Corn Laws brought that agitation to an end: it put an end also to the period of peace, for it permitted the Liberals to quarrel among themselves. The divisions that were soon evident were in part only a local reflection of the national confusion of parties, which the Conservatives also felt, being divided themselves between Peelites and Protectionists. (fn. 129) The divisions of the Liberals, however, had also deep local causes. Since the Reform Act the question of suffrage and disestablishment had tended to divide them with increasing sharpness into two factions, moderates and extremists, and even, as some observers reported, into four, Whigs, moderate Liberals, Radicals, and universal suffrage men. (fn. 130) After 1846 the moderates, cooled perhaps by their experience of Chartism and taking their cue from the new Whig ministry, became if anything more cautious, maintaining that the country had 'become weary of all the isms' and that the government must devote itself now to uncontroversial objects, on which all parties could unite, such as sanitary reform, prison discipline, and education. (fn. 131) By contrast the extremists were encouraged by the achievement of repeal to press still harder, and could count on the powerful reinforcement of those repealers who were now ready to turn their energies to new objects. The most important of these reinforcements were the brothers John and William Biggs. Although the older brother, John, had, except in the Anti-Corn Law movement, played a lesser political part, in the next fifteen years he came forward as by far the most prominent political figure in the borough. He was wealthy and ambitious to play the part appropriate to a merchant prince, (fn. 132) sturdy, sanguine, lavish in his generosity, terse in speech, and able to command popularity with an ease denied to his more didactic and prosy brother. (fn. 133) Although he did not at once throw in his lot unreservedly with the Complete Suffrage and Anti-State Church party, he now moved steadily away from the moderates. In this he was prompted not only by his own political optimism and appreciation of the Complete Suffragists' voting strength, but by differences over local policy. Since 1843 a sharp conflict had broken out in the town council over a proposed improvement bill and had divided the Liberals in much the same way as did the national issues. Whereas the moderates, led now by the wealthy and prudent worsted-spinner, Joseph Whetstone, advocated a cautious system of sanitary improvement, their opponents, John and William Biggs at the head, wanted a thoroughgoing scheme of civic embellishment. (fn. 134) The squabble between 'economists' and 'expenders', which openly divided the Liberals in the municipal elections of 1846, quickened their other disputes. (fn. 135) The new alignment so created became evident in the general election of 1847.
The first sign of change appeared in the repudiation of the sitting members. Easthope had forfeited much nonconformist support in refusing to vote against Graham's Education Bill of 1843 which was thought to bestow dangerous privileges on the established church; (fn. 136) and both Ellis and he too fully identified themselves with Russell's cautious Whig ministry of 1846 to satisfy the now powerful militant wing of the Leicester Liberals. The members had not only offended the rank and file; a dispute had also broken out between them and a number of the local leaders, John Biggs in particular, over the expenses incurred in the election of 1841, a dispute bitter enough to provoke a lawsuit. (fn. 137) Although Easthope and Ellis still received the support of moderate opinion as expressed by the editor of the Leicester Chronicle, (fn. 138) they could not prevail against the party machine now controlled by John Biggs and his fellow leaders. With suspect haste, meetings of Liberal electors were held in the wards and delegates elected to a general meeting which resolved on a change of candidates. (fn. 139) The choice of new candidates took longer. John Biggs and Whetstone had both been considered and declined: (fn. 140) it was rumoured that the delegates had approached John Bright but he had turned the offer down because of the constituency's bad name. (fn. 141) Mursell and the Complete Suffragists had been campaigning for the last year in favour of George Thompson, an extreme Radical who could also be counted on to resist any further proposals for state education such as had been suggested in 1843 and 1846. (fn. 142) In the end the delegates adopted Sir Joshua Walmsley and Richard Gardner, men who could be expected to sympathize with the commercial and industrial interests of the town. Although Walmsley came from Liverpool where he had distinguished himself as a prosperous corn-merchant and as mayor, he had close connexions with Leicestershire, having an interest in collieries in Snibston and Whitwick; and through them and the affairs of the Midland Railway he had enjoyed a long acquaintance with John Ellis, the important coal-merchant and railway director, who also took a prominent place in the local Liberal party. (fn. 143) Railway politics were thought to have played some part in his nomination. (fn. 144) Gardner, who was regarded as more radical than Walmsley, (fn. 145) was a Manchester mill-owner, brought into contact with the local Liberal leaders through his work for the Anti-Corn Law League. (fn. 146) Their programme was designed to appeal to Radicals of all types. They took care to appease the militant dissenters by opposing government grants for religious purposes— a clear reference to the controversy over the Maynooth grant of 1845 which had roused violent indignation in Leicester (fn. 147)—by advocating the neutrality of the state in the matter of religious education and asserting their hostility to the privileges of the established church. They appealed to Complete Suffragists and Chartists alike by accepting complete suffrage 'in principle'—indeed five of the Six Points of the Charter (fn. 148)—and proposing the reform of the Poor Law and the laws of settlement. (fn. 149) At this time, in the spring and early summer of 1847, a new industrial depression had brought the hosiery trade to a standstill and sent the parties of unemployed again parading the streets begging charity. (fn. 150) A second time, social distress found expression in Chartism which now enjoyed its last brief revival. It discovered a new leader in George Buckby, a hottempered and outspoken framework-knitter, who directed his agitation chiefly against the great grievance of frame rent. (fn. 151) This agitation had been stimulated by Muggeridge's Report on the Framework Knitters of 1845 and the subsequent attempts of Sir Henry Halford, Conservative member for South Leicestershire, to introduce a bill to abolish frame rent. (fn. 152) Frame rent then, as well as the Six Points of the Charter, became an issue at this election and in order to avoid the danger of a Tory–Chartist coalition Walmsley and Gardner were obliged to express their sympathy with the stockingers' case. (fn. 153)
The danger to the Liberal candidates did not in fact come from the Chartists. Although the Conservatives had also shown sympathy with Halford and the frameworkknitters, (fn. 154) they now saw a greater advantage in trying to exploit the grievances of the dissident Liberals, the Whigs and moderates who agreed with the Chronicle in denouncing Walmsley and Gardner as dangerous ultra-Radicals imposed on the party by 'a coup de main which is unparalleled in the annals of local electioneering'. (fn. 155) The alliance on this occasion was to be between Conservatives and Whigs. For, with this in mind, the Conservatives took care to distinguish between the 'Destructive Party' (fn. 156) and the Whigs, and in token of their moderation adopted only one candidate, James Parker, Q.C., of Rothley Temple. As Peelite, Free Trader, and a connexion of the old Whig family of Babington, he might be expected to win over the dissident Liberals; as country gentleman, independent of the hosiers, one who 'did not come on the money-grinding system' and readily condemned frame rents, he stood some chance with the Chartists. His letter to the electors contained a many-sided appeal: he would protect the church while showing sincere respect to the dissenters; uphold the cause of 'Protestant Truth' against the Romanists; defend Peel's commercial measures; accept a national system of education and support legislation 'to improve the moral and social condition of the people'. (fn. 157) With this programme the Conservatives hoped to beat Gardner as the more radical of their opponents. They failed. Buckby, the Chartist leader, having allowed himself to be nominated to demonstrate his independence, at once withdrew and advised his followers to vote for Gardner and Walmsley. (fn. 158) The dissident Liberals, alienated though they were from their own party, were not yet won over to the other side and abstained from voting. (fn. 159) Gardner and Walmsley were returned but with a significantly lower majority than Duckworth and Easthope had won in the last general election in 1837. (fn. 160)
The new members did not long enjoy their victory. The Conservatives brought a petition alleging corruption, proved their case, and Walmsley and Gardner were unseated. (fn. 161) It was improbable that the election of 1847 had been conducted more lavishly than usual—in fact it was distinguished 'by a sobriety as novel as it was creditable' (fn. 162)— but the Conservatives were able to obtain evidence by taking advantage of a dispute between a number of publicans and the Liberal managers and on this occasion felt in a strong position to press their charges home because for once they were not involved themselves. (fn. 163) Their success was not perhaps without fruitful results as it may well have served to awaken public feeling against corrupt practices, but it won the Conservatives no immediate advantage. For the new election, held in September 1848, the Liberals brought forward two unbeatable candidates, Richard Harris and John Ellis, to conduct the contest on 'Purity Principles'. (fn. 164) They were not only townsmen but men so respected that even the Journal could find nothing to say against their characters. (fn. 165) Although, in face of this opposition, Parker decided not to stand again, a number of Conservative electors with some Whig support put up Henry Paget of Birstall, who came forward on 'old Whig principles', but he received only half-hearted support from his own side and did not press the contest to a poll. Harris and Ellis were elected unopposed. (fn. 166)
Meanwhile, during the spring and summer of 1848, the town had experienced an outbreak of agitation and disorder that recalled the events of 1842, with which indeed it had much in common. Since 1847, unemployment and poverty had been reviving the force of Chartism and at the same time swelling its ranks with many temporary adherents. Then in 1848 the European revolutions of February and March stirred Chartism into life all over the country and encouraged the organization of a new National Petition and National Convention. The new Chartist campaign aroused the enthusiasm of the Leicester working men, who kept the town in a tense excitement during April, May, and June. Buckby, elected as delegate to the Convention, was sent off with a demonstration attended by several thousand: (fn. 167) rumour spread that the Chartists were arming for violent revolution and as 10 April, the day of presenting the National Petition, approached, the town's authorities swore in 400 special constables, called out the pensioners, stored ammunition in the county gaol, and kept in touch with London by telegraph. (fn. 168) These precautions were superfluous. The Chartists, though numerous, were predominantly peaceful and displayed little of the class antagonism that marked the events of 1842. Later in the month middle-class reformers had sufficient confidence to try to organize a joint campaign with them and on 27 April all the leading Liberals of the town combined with the Chartists in a great reform meeting which launched, with marked amity, a new petition for the extension of the suffrage. (fn. 169) This harmony continued into the next month. Then in the middle of May the peace was suddenly and harshly broken. The riots that now broke out did not form part of a Chartist insurrection and bore only an indirect relation to Chartism, in that they originated in the same source of poverty and unemployment. Since the beginning of the year the extent and duration of industrial depression had been straining the resources of the Poor Law; and the application of the law had strained equally the temper of the unemployed. In February they had broken into riot in protest against labour tests and the refusal to grant relief entirely in money. These disturbances were suppressed without difficulty; (fn. 170) but on 15 May new regulations introduced by the guardians provoked a far more formidable outbreak. For four days the town experienced a state of siege, and order was not restored until the end of the week, when yeomanry and other troops had been brought in. (fn. 171)
Although the Poor Law riots were not Chartist they affected the fortunes of Chartism. It was not easy to discriminate and they therefore destroyed much of the sympathy that had been shown for Chartism as recently as April. They also divided the Chartists themselves: extremists, like Buckby, were encouraged to talk of violent insurrection as in 1839; moderates, like Markham, insisted all the more vehemently on repudiating violence. (fn. 172) Deprived of middle-class sympathy, weakened by divisions, diminished in number and appeal as trade slowly revived during the summer, the Chartist movement faded away. In June the advocates of physical force could still frighten the public authorities; but after the Whit Monday meeting had passed off quietly the danger was over. (fn. 173) Although as late as 1853 attempts were made to resuscitate the Charter, (fn. 174) the movement was no longer an effective political force in Leicester by the end of 1848. Its leaders turned to other activities. Buckby continued to agitate but only as spokesman of the framework-knitters, and in 1856 emigrated to the United States. (fn. 175) Others, like Markham, continued their political career on the radical wing of the Liberals.
There was ample opportunity for such a career in the following years. The decline of Chartism and the virtual end of the church rate contest, when in 1849 St. Martin's parish was brought into conformity with the other parishes of Leicester, (fn. 176) did not lead to political stagnation. The breach among the Reformers between their moderate and Radical wings and their subdivisions, which had appeared in the election of 1847, now became deeper. Their relationship was still irritated by municipal discord between 'economists' and 'expenders' (fn. 177) and it was exasperated further when Radical leaders like John Biggs alarmed religious interests in adopting the cause of national secular education. (fn. 178) Deeper, if unavowed, motives were also at work. The moderates shared the disillusionment that was so widely experienced on the Continent after the European revolutions had failed in 1848. They manifested a cautious and defensive mood in relation, at least, to domestic politics. In 1852, for example, the Chronicle, which claimed to speak for them, considered that the problem for Liberals was less 'What shall we try to get?' than 'What shall we do to hold our own?'. (fn. 179) Louis Napoleon's coup d'état and the plebiscite that sanctioned his dictatorship warned them afresh of the danger in political experiment and universal suffrage. (fn. 180) They were therefore less prepared than ever to tolerate the attempt of the Radicals to use the political organization of the Liberal party to monopolize the representation of the borough. As the moderates were a minority (fn. 181) they could only maintain their influence as long as the party observed the understanding, which they claimed had been implicitly accepted in the past, that the Liberal candidates should represent the two wings equally. (fn. 182) The refusal of the Radicals to respect this understanding appeared therefore as a form of political dictatorship, even a personal dictatorship, as in the next ten years John Biggs emerged as their indisputable and unrivalled leader.
The election of John Ellis and Richard Harris in 1847 had been acceptable to both groups, but it soon became clear that the Radicals would take the first opportunity to bring back Walmsley and Gardner. Walmsley maintained a close interest in the borough and the establishment there of a branch of his newly formed Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association served not only to unite Radicals and former Chartists in a common reform movement but to keep his name before the voters. (fn. 183) It was hardly surprising therefore that in the general election of 1852 Walmsley and Gardner should once more be invited to stand for the Liberals, (fn. 184) nor that when they stood it should be with a programme substantially that of Walmsley's movement—vote by ballot, redistribution of seats according to equal electoral districts, triennial Parliaments, removal of taxes on raw materials, substitution of direct for indirect taxation, religious equality, a national system of education 'without compulsory inculcation of any religious creed', and electoral rights made 'coextensive with payment of taxes and settled residence'. (fn. 185) Except in substituting a householder and lodger franchise for universal suffrage, this programme had much in common with the Six Points of the People's Charter. For the moderates it had too much: they objected particularly to the proposals for the franchise which went far beyond the cautious measures of Lord John Russell's recently introduced Reform Bill, of which the Chronicle had been able to approve. (fn. 186) Condemning the requisition of the candidates as the work of a 'Chartist clique', they at last broke openly with the radical section of their party and formed a new Liberal committee 'to secure the independence of the Borough from dictation'. (fn. 187) Led by Whetstone and James Thompson, editor of the Chronicle, who had already distinguished themselves at the head of the 'economists' in municipal politics, supported by the founding fathers of the party, Thomas Paget and Robert Brewin, who came out of retirement to throw the weight of their reputations into the campaign, (fn. 188) they put up two candidates of their own, James Wilde, a barrister and nephew of Lord Truro, a former Lord Chancellor, and Geoffrey Palmer, the Whig son of a Conservative Northamptonshire gentleman. Wilde and Palmer stood as supporters of Lord John Russell, pledged to Free Trade and 'steady, not intemperate reform', (fn. 189) but their chances depended not on their positive programme but on their ability to negotiate a defensive alliance with the Conservatives. The character of the candidates, who were both Anglicans, and the confusion of parties in national politics made such an alliance possible. As many Conservatives were Free Traders, the issue of Protection no longer stood between them. (fn. 190) When the Conservatives met, their committee took the view that as it was not fair to invite a Conservative candidate because of the great risk he ran of losing his money, and as the differences between the moderates and themselves were so small, they ought to vote for Wilde and Palmer. (fn. 191) So the electoral alliance was achieved. The Chronicle regarded it as an achievement of great significance and looked forward to the time when the Liberal Conservatives and moderate Reformers would 'eventually merge into one party'. (fn. 192) At present it did not succeed. In July 1852 Gardner and Walmsley were elected with majorities of over 500. (fn. 193) Their opponents attributed their defeat to popular intimidation and lavish expenditure. (fn. 194) Earlier Whetstone had complained that there was a welldrilled body of three or five hundred freemen ever ready to sell their votes, (fn. 195) but his party's attempts to produce evidence broke down and they had to withdraw the election petition that they presented in November. (fn. 196)
The radical victory did little to revive agitation for reform. Frame rents and the truck system continued to excite the framework-knitters, whom Walmsley and John Biggs tried to appease, Walmsley by voting for Sir Henry Halford's Payment of Wages Bill of 1853, Biggs by dramatically announcing his own 'Discontinuance of Frame Rents without Act of Parliament'. (fn. 197) Ineffective attempts were made to revive Chartism. (fn. 198) But the outbreak of the Crimean War now forced these domestic issues into the background.
The war transcended the cause of reform and created a temporary regrouping in local politics. Although the moderate Liberals had supported Aberdeen's conciliatory policy to the last against the attacks of both Radicals and Conservatives, (fn. 199) when war came they readily accepted it and it reconciled them with the Radicals. Liberals had long been agreed in their hostility to Russia: in 1849 the sympathy with Hungarian independence and the resentment at Russia's part in its suppression had been such that even the Chronicle had been ready to advocate war if necessary to 'protect Europe from the aggressive movements of the Russian Emperor'. (fn. 200) They could agree therefore, once war had broken out, in demanding its effective prosecution. But, as in the country at large, the war also divided Radicals among themselves. Their more important leaders like John Biggs, Mursell, and Markham had condemned Russian 'aggression' immediately after the occupation of the Danubian principalities and supported Palmerston's demands for vigorous action. (fn. 201) Others, of whom the most important was John Biggs's brother William, now M.P. for Newport (I. of W.), followed the lead of Bright and the peace party. (fn. 202)
The peace restored former alignments and, although it could not revive reforming enthusiasm on the old scale, (fn. 203) it soon revived the rivalry of moderates and Radicals. In June 1856 the death of Gardner made a by-election necessary. John Paget, a lawyer, son of the old Liberal leader Thomas Paget, better known as author of the New Examen, came forward as a Whig. (fn. 204) He was a promising candidate but found himself opposed by a better. This time John Biggs himself stood for the Radicals. (fn. 205) Except in the matter of the suffrage there was little to choose between their programmes, and the contest depended on personal reputation. Paget could not hope to fight against Biggs's influence in the town and withdrew: no Conservative could be found to come forward; and John Biggs was elected without a poll. (fn. 206)
The general election of 1857 found the moderate Liberals more determined. Not that they wished to oppose John Biggs who was defending his seat, but they found it more difficult than ever to tolerate Walmsley when the ward delegates of the Reform Society once more put him forward. The cause of their hostility was not purely political, for, on the issue of Chinese policy over which Palmerston appealed to the electorate, both groups were in agreement. More important was the religious feeling aroused not only by Walmsley's advocacy of secular education but recently and more formidably by his attitude to the Sabbath, as President of the Sunday League. According to his critics his suggestion for opening the British Museum and the National Gallery on Sunday afternoons would 'exchange the quiet and decorous Sunday of England for the "Vanity Fair" of France and Germany'. (fn. 207) The opposition to him was therefore as much religious as political, and the candidate of the moderates, John Harris, son of the Richard Harris who had been M.P. for the borough in 1848, received the support of Radicals like the Quaker John Ellis and of almost all the dissenting ministers, although he himself was a churchman. (fn. 208) The weight of nonconformity allied with conservatism was only counterbalanced by the dubious support which the licensed victuallers, alarmed by Harris's association with the temperance movement, offered to Walmsley. (fn. 209) It was not enough. After a sharp contest, marked by some popular violence, Harris, supported it was said by 700 liberal and 900 conservative votes, was returned by a majority of 178 (fn. 210) and now shared the representation with John Biggs. Walmsley, for local and personal reasons, had shared the fate common to Radicals in other parts of the country.
After this election the moderates hoped for one of two possibilities: either that their alliance with the Conservatives would lead to the formation of a permanent new party, (fn. 211) or that the Radicals would accept their defeat and restore the unity of the reforming party on the old basis. (fn. 212) Both hopes were thwarted; the former by the remarkable recovery that the Conservatives experienced in 1859, inspired by the formation of a Conservative government and by Disraeli's attempt to give the party a policy on reform; the second by the determination of John Biggs and the Radicals to avenge their defeat. Reform was in the air once more and the moderates found themselves outbid by both their rivals. The results of the last election had convinced the Radicals of the need to launch a new reforming movement. (fn. 213) In the same year they had established a new organization of the non-electors (fn. 214) which was merged at the end of 1858 in the reforming movement founded by John Bright in Birmingham. (fn. 215) Even the critical Chronicle had to remark on the sensible and moderate language of the working men, on their readiness to co-operate with the middle classes, and on the absence of the social hostility that had marked the days of Chartism. (fn. 216) The Conservative government also, abandoning the policy of uncompromising resistance, had introduced the Reform Bill of 1859. The moderates, meanwhile, had nothing to offer but caution: the Chronicle believed that it would be dangerous if the electorate of Leicester were more than doubled. (fn. 217) So the general election of 1859 found them without a policy, except on Sabbath observance, and faced by opponents on both sides. Once again the Radicals tried to win a monopoly of the representation and John Biggs brought forward Joseph Noble to stand with him. It was a shrewd choice as Noble was a local doctor, respected by his professional colleagues, popular in the town, and serving that year as mayor. (fn. 218) The Conservatives, in introducing a true candidate of their own for the first time since 1839, made a meritorious choice in W. U. Heygate, son of a country gentleman, by profession a barrister and a director of St. Martin's Savings Bank, an able speaker, and already known in Leicester as a Liberal Conservative, pledged to the principles of the Conservative Reform Bill. (fn. 219) The moderates again put up Harris to defend his seat, but the continued support of all the dissenting ministers except two could not outweigh the handicap of his views on temperance and his defects as a speaker. (fn. 220)
The chief formal issue at the election was electoral reform. Nevertheless, there was striking agreement on the subject: all the candidates agreed on its necessity, though disagreeing on its extent. The Radicals stood for household suffrage and the ballot; Harris and Heygate appealed to the caution of moderate men. But between moderate and extreme Liberals local issues were still more important. Fundamentally the chief motive of Harris's supporters was resentment at the claim of John Biggs and the Radicals to speak for the whole Liberal party, which they regarded as a form of political dictation. (fn. 221) This time, however, the religious appeal of the Sabbatarian question could not readily be mobilized, for Biggs and Noble were not so vulnerable as Walmsley. Lacking this cause the moderates failed in a very close contest and Biggs and Noble were returned. (fn. 222)
In spite of the moderates' disappointment the result was not at first sight without promise. The common front which Harris and Heygate had formed against the Radicals appeared as yet another step towards the formation of a united moderate party. (fn. 223) Nevertheless, it was an illusion. Religious differences and political memories still fought against a thorough reconciliation between Whigs or moderates and Conservatives. Neither group was ready to surrender its identity and each wanted union under its own aegis. Yet the election of 1859 made the Conservatives less prepared than ever for such a surrender. For the most striking result of the election had been the achievement of their candidate in leaving Harris well behind and nearly defeating Noble. The instinct of self-preservation now taught the Conservatives not to merge with the moderate Liberals but to exploit the division between them and the Radicals; and as an assertion of their independence they celebrated Heygate's achievement by founding a new Conservative Society. (fn. 224)
The Liberals were not blind to their danger. Even at the last election there had been a half-hearted attempt to reconcile their two wings. (fn. 225) Now, early in 1861, the sudden death of Dr. Noble made the threat acute, since the by-election made possible a threecornered contest in which the Conservatives could exploit the Liberals' differences to the full. The Conservatives saw their opportunity, made no concessions to the moderate Liberals, and again put up Heygate. (fn. 226) This decision marked the end of the entente between moderates and Conservatives that had been in existence more or less since 1847. Its corollary, Liberal reunion, was not so easily achieved. It was attempted as the election drew near, but the Radicals, though offering to accept a moderate, would not accept Harris against whom there was now deep personal bitterness; and at heart still hoped to dominate the representation. (fn. 227) Heygate therefore found himself opposed by two Liberals, Harris and P. A. Taylor. Taylor was a Radical of a younger generation, of the type of J. S. Mill in whose circle he moved, emphatically an individualist, humanitarian, and internationalist, appearing as 'a champion of universal suffrage and direct taxation and as an admirer of Mazzini'. He had already made a reputation as chairman of the Society of Friends of Italy and treasurer of the London Emancipation Society. He was a man of substance, a partner in the firm of Courtauld. (fn. 228) He suffered the handicap, however, of being young, a stranger to the town, and a friend of Walmsley whose Sabbatarian laxity he shared. (fn. 229) In consequence, in an election which failed to excite the old reforming enthusiasm, the Radical voters did not deploy their whole strength: some even, not ready to put their trust in Taylor, voted for Heygate rather than Harris, the representative of a timid though prosperous class of business-men and factory-owners, who seemed less likely to do something for the small householder and citizen. (fn. 230) Equally, many moderates found Heygate a more attractive candidate than Harris. The result in February 1861 was a crushing Conservative victory, the first since 1835. (fn. 231) The announcement provoked the first excitement of the election when an angry crowd had to be driven from the Market Place by the police. (fn. 232)
The defeat of the Liberals taught both wings a final lesson. Neither could stand on its own. The Radicals were forced to abandon their attempt to dominate the borough, the moderates to choose between absorption into a Conservative party which they could not feel at home in nor hope to lead, and tolerance of radicalism in a reunited Liberal party in the leadership of which they would enjoy at least a share. Immediately after the election they resumed negotiations and in June 1861 formed a United Liberal Registration Society. (fn. 233) The agreement which healed the wounds of the last fourteen years had as its basis the old compromise by which the borough would be shared equally between the two. (fn. 234) By means of this coalition the Liberals were to dominate the borough for over 30 years. Its immediate result was to end the confusion which had clogged local politics since the repeal of the Corn Laws. So the moderate leaders made in their way the same sort of choice as Gladstone in national politics, and by its own local and devious ways Leicester achieved the clarification of its party system that was becoming evident in the country at large.
Reconciliation had its price nevertheless. The agreement amounted to a defeat for John Biggs who had been the heart and soul of the Radicals and probably the chief source of their funds. His popularity, lavish generosity, and political leadership had earned him the jealousy of the moderates who attributed his zeal to personal ambition. Whether he felt this as a defeat of his hopes or whether his next actions were determined by the financial collapse which now destroyed his fortune is not clear. All that is known is that he took no part in the reconciliation, (fn. 235) resigned his seat eight months later on the ground that he no longer had leisure for politics, (fn. 236) and for the remaining ten years of his life maintained an absolute political silence. (fn. 237) In 1873, two years after he died, the statue that now stands in De Montfort Square was erected by public subscription after popular agitation had condemned as inadequate the proposal to commemorate him by a medallion in the cemetery. (fn. 238)
In accordance with their understanding the moderate Liberals accepted a Radical in place of John Biggs, and in February 1862 P. A. Taylor was returned unopposed. (fn. 239) The alliance, consolidated by this act of good faith, was celebrated by the union in 1864 of the rival Liberal newspapers as the Leicester Chronicle and Leicestershire Mercury (fn. 240) with James Thompson as proprietor. (fn. 241) Next year the general election provided an opportunity of testing its strength.
In Leicester, if not in the country at large, the dramatic issue at the election of 1865 was electoral reform. It was now remarked by the Liberal leaders that the apathy of the last few years was passing and they set out once more to mobilize opinion by public meetings, town petitions, and the foundation of a new Parliamentary Reform Association. (fn. 242) This issue did not disturb the unity of the party because the new association was tactfully not committed to a specific degree of reform; (fn. 243) because it was becoming evident even to the moderates that the present electorate was likely to grow more conservative as time went on and the party, as one speaker put it, 'needed new blood' if it was to survive, (fn. 244) and because the popularity of Gladstone, of which there was remarkable evidence, transcended all divisions. (fn. 245) In harmony, then, the Liberals put up Harris and Taylor with the promise of a large instalment of reform. (fn. 246) Heygate, who stood again for the Conservatives, appealed chiefly to moderates as a 'Liberal Conservative', not opposed to 'any rational scheme of Parliamentary Reform' with a suffrage based on 'intelligence, property, and education', but hostile to the enfranchisement of the £6 householder. Unlike his opponents he also made an issue of foreign policy, criticizing Palmerston's handling of the Schleswig-Holstein dispute and advocating a policy of 'non-interference' in the Continent. (fn. 247) The election, held in July 1865, the last on the old franchise, was hard fought: the poll was the largest yet and the Liberals won by only the moderate margin of some 250 votes. (fn. 248)
The reconquest of the borough inspired a revival of Liberal enthusiasm. The following year was enlivened by an organized agitation in support of the government's reform bill that recalled and in some ways surpassed that of 1832. The failure of the bill, the advent of a Conservative government, the progress of Disraeli's bill were accompanied at every stage by popular demonstrations on an unprecedented scale. (fn. 249)
The Reform Act of 1867 made no change in the representation of Leicester but increased the number of electors from 5,736 (fn. 250) to 15,161 (fn. 251) in a population of over 80,000. (fn. 252) The swamping of the old electorate did not, however, produce immediately the revolutionary results that moderates had earlier feared. For the next 25 years working men remained content to take their leaders and political philosophy from the middle-class Radicals. The trades unions sought to influence politics only when they feared a direct challenge to their interests, as in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871, and then acted through the Liberal party. (fn. 253) The nearest approach to a working-class party can be found in the formation in 1871 of the Democratic or, as it began to call itself a year later, Republican Association. (fn. 254) Although this received some support from advanced Radicals like the Revd. A. F. Macdonald, Unitarian minister of the Free Christian church in Wellington Street, (fn. 255) it was led by working men, like Daniel Merrick, a prominent trades unionist who was president of Leicester Trades Council for several years and one of the first working men to be elected to the town council. (fn. 256) But it sought to achieve purely political objects—universal suffrage, the ballot, household suffrage for women (fn. 257): its mission, it conceived, was 'to educate the people in the principles of political economy, moral virtue and social advancement'; (fn. 258) and it acted in practice as a Radical wing of the Liberal party. It does not appear to have survived for more than ten years. Apart from this, the only evidence of independent activity by working men appears in elections to the School Board. (fn. 259) The attempts made elsewhere by the Labour Representation League to put up working men for Parliament evoked no response in Leicester.
Although the enlarged electorate gave rise to no new political party, the problems of arrangement created by it forced the existing parties to adopt methods of organization that in time changed the character of local politics. It was not only that the colourful electioneering methods of the old days—treating, intimidation, bribery—were no longer adequate or acceptable, but that the development of party organization tended to deprive politics of their variety since it diminished the importance of local issues and the influence of individuals. The need to mould politics into this new institutional form was first appreciated in Leicester as elsewhere by the Liberals. The first step—taken in 1873—was the modest one of establishing a Liberal Club which should provide rooms for meetings and a centre of political life, transcending the more specifically electoral aims of the Registration Society. (fn. 260) Then in 1876 a new constitution was adopted which replaced the Registration Society by a democratic association on the Birmingham model with a central committee of 200 on which the ward associations were represented in the proportion of one to every hundred members. (fn. 261) This in turn was managed by a small executive committee. The novelty of the system did not lie in the democratic organization of the wards and central committee which gave to the humblest elector the opportunity to participate in the formation of policy; in Leicester as in Birmingham these methods had been anticipated long before. (fn. 262) It lay rather in the efficiency and comprehensiveness with which it was operated. The result was to make it more difficult for power to be monopolized by a small clique of wealthy party leaders; but while securing more fully the freedom of the individual elector and providing a means of harmonizing a variety of interests, it tended to suppress the personal differences and rivalries that had been tolerated in the more homely system of the past.
If the 'caucus' system benefited the electorate at the expense of the individual politician, the creation of party organization on a national scale increased the effectiveness of the local association at the expense of its independence and initiative. The formation of the National Liberal Federation in 1877 and the entry of the Leicester Liberal Association into it tended to submerge the individual contribution of the borough under a common pattern of activity. It marked the beginning of a new period in which as in 1832 Leicester took its lead from Birmingham and felt the powerful influence of Joseph Chamberlain. Though second to Birmingham, Leicester was nevertheless one of the first of the great towns to adapt its organization to the requirements of a mass electorate and soon claimed to be the most effective in operating it. (fn. 263)
The Conservatives adapted their organization more slowly. The new Conservative Society of 1867 did little more than revive the former Registration Society. (fn. 264) The Conservative Working Men's Association of 1869 was more important and for some years provided the driving force of their organization. (fn. 265) At last in 1878 their opponents' 'rage for organization' forced the Conservatives to copy their methods. Again Leicester took for its model Birmingham where a Conservative version of the caucus had just been created. With the help of representatives from Birmingham and Liverpool a new Conservative Association was founded with a central committee on which the wards were represented. (fn. 266) Later this was federated with the National Union of Conservative Associations. (fn. 267) These developments were followed in 1880 by the foundation of a Conservative Club (fn. 268) and the formation in 1886 of a branch of the Primrose League. (fn. 269)
Although increasingly tending to conform to a national pattern, the politics of Leicester remained for many years yet on their old basis. The Liberals, heirs of the Reformers of 1832, continued to be the party of the manufacturers, lower middle class, and artisans, united by nonconformity, still a not always easy coalition of moderates and Radicals, though as a whole more radical than the Liberal governments of the age. The Conservatives represented more diverse social interests still predominantly united by loyalty to the Church. On both sides denominational passions, aroused by the Education Act of 1870, exacerbated political controversy as vigorously as ever. After the establishment of school boards in 1870, elections to them were hotly contested on political lines and, like the church rate contests of old, had the effect of enlisting militant dissent in the cause of radicalism. (fn. 270) These contests also impelled both parties to more elaborate organization on a national as well as local level. To fight these elections, both nonconformists and churchmen formed associations, which were linked respectively with the National Education League—another product of Birmingham—and the National Educational Union. (fn. 271) In this way the school boards formed as much a part of the local political scene as the board of guardians and the town council. Their political role was frankly recognized by one of the Liberal leaders when he welcomed the nonconformist victory of 1874 because 'it would throw new life and vigour into the Liberal party' and 'pave their way to victory at the next general election'. (fn. 272) In such conditions the Liberation Society renewed its agitation for disestablishment (fn. 273) and nonconformist ministers like the Unitarians Page Hopps and Macdonald continued to take an active part in Liberal and Radical politics.
The immediate political effect of the Reform Act of 1867 was to reinforce the Liberal domination of the borough and to shatter the Conservative revival that had so marked the last years of the old electorate. In the general election of 1868 the new electors of Leicester, as elsewhere, voted predominantly Liberal. Harris and Taylor, standing again for the two wings of their party, were able to agree on an immediate programme in demanding revision of the rating clauses of the Reform Act, a redistribution of seats, disestablishment of the Irish church, and a national system of education. (fn. 274) Taylor, however, sounded a more radical note in pressing for universal suffrage as an ultimate aim and demanding an attack upon aristocratic privileges in the form of changes in the composition of the House of Lords and in 'the tenure and transference of landed property'. (fn. 275) Moderate leaders like E. S. Ellis, chairman of the Midland Railway and son of John Ellis, and T. T. Paget, son of Thomas Paget, who was at this time defending his seat in the southern division of the county, (fn. 276) admitted publicly that Taylor went much farther than they but accepted him because they believed that he 'represented the views of a large part of the constituency' and they all shared a common loyalty to Gladstone. (fn. 277)
The election found the Conservatives, by contrast, disheartened, divided between the advocates of orthodox Conservatism and Tory Radicalism. In consequence they put forward no official candidate, but left the field to the unorthodox candidature of J. Baker Greene, a London barrister. (fn. 278) Though Greene claimed to be an independent and a 'Liberal in the fullest sense of the word' (fn. 279) he enjoyed the patronage of Charles Brook of Enderby Hall, a retired manufacturer who, with Lord John Manners, was one of the founders of the Leicester Conservative Working Men's Association and its first president. (fn. 280) Certainly it was as a working men's candidate that Greene stood (fn. 281) and one of his nominators was in fact a newly enfranchised working man. (fn. 282) He advocated legislation on trades unions, the establishment of courts of arbitration and conciliation, and modification of the Poor Law; and warned the working men against Taylor as an employer. Although claiming to be a Liberal he would not support unconditionally the disestablishment of the Irish church. (fn. 283) Whatever its merits in attracting Radical votes, (fn. 284) this programme received only half-hearted support from most Conservative leaders who, in advising their followers to vote for Greene, recommended him only as 'lesser of two evils'. (fn. 285) In such circumstances it was not surprising that Greene was soundly defeated. (fn. 286)
In spite of this set-back to the Conservatives, the swing of the pendulum that in national politics was to sweep Disraeli into power in 1874 restored their fortunes in Leicester also, though with less effect. For all its achievements Gladstone's administration discontented all sides during its last years—nonconformists by the Education Act of 1870, trades unions by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871, patriots by the Alabama arbitration, the general public and the liquor trade by the Licensing Act of 1872—and the dissolution of 1874 was the recognition of the Liberal government's unpopularity, not the consequence of an important issue of policy. This meant that in spite of Gladstone's attempt to introduce the important issue of income tax, the general election of 1874 was fought on the record of his administration, that is in terms very advantageous to his opponents. The election therefore found the Conservatives very much more active than in 1868. Although their candidate, J. H. B. Warner of Quorn Hall, Loughborough, was selected by the Conservative Working Men's Association, (fn. 287) his orthodoxy recommended him to the whole party. His social programme did not go farther than the reform of the Poor Law and he made his chief appeal to patriotic sentiment in referring to the Ashanti war and the Alabama arbitration, to Anglicanism in standing for the union of Church and State and the 25th clause of the Education Act, and to the brewers and the public in condemning the Licensing Act. (fn. 288)
The Liberals were taken at a disadvantage by the surprise which the dissolution had caused them. It was an awkward moment because Harris had just announced his retirement unexpectedly and a successor had to be chosen in haste. (fn. 289) For this a number of candidates were considered, Gladstone, Miall, and E. S. Ellis among them. (fn. 290) The most serious offer was that made to Joseph Chamberlain, who was already personally known in Leicester through his work for the National Education League, (fn. 291) but he had already promised himself to Sheffield. (fn. 292) After some delay the committee finally chose Alexander McArthur, a London merchant engaged in the colonial trade, who had enjoyed a previous experience of politics in the Legislative Assembly and Council of New South Wales. (fn. 293) Although McArthur was regarded as a moderate in comparison with Taylor, who was standing again, both candidates gave expression to the nonconformist and radical discontent with the Liberal administration. McArthur, as an 'advanced Liberal', put forward a programme which had much in common with Chamberlain's 'New Radicalism' (fn. 294)—assimilation of the county to the borough franchise, reform of the land laws, abolition of clause 25 of the Education Act, legislation against intemperance. (fn. 295) Taylor was highly critical of the government and dismissed Gladstone's income tax proposals as insignificant. (fn. 296) These tactics did little, however, to rally the Liberal voters or to heal the divisions that the question of denominational teaching in particular had created among them. (fn. 297) At most they had the comfort of knowing that the trades union leader, Merrick, had advised working men to vote for the Liberal candidates as they were ready for the revision of the Criminal Law Amendment Act. (fn. 298) On the other hand, they were faced with the formidable opposition of the licensed victuallers and, over the Education Act, of the Roman Catholics. (fn. 299) This opposition and their supporters' apathy did not suffice to defeat Taylor and McArthur when the election took place in February 1874, but, in a heavy poll, the Liberals increased their votes only by some 300, the Conservatives by as many thousands. (fn. 300)
The most important political developments during Disraeli's period of administration were connected with political organization and foreign policy. The reorganization of the Liberal and Conservative parties in these years has already been noted. (fn. 301) It took place in the midst of the public excitement aroused by the Near Eastern crisis, which gave to the Liberals the opportunity to awaken their old militancy. In 1876 and still more in 1877 and 1878 they organized demonstrations on a large scale in which the moral fervour of nonconformity was aroused in condemnation of the government's foreign policy. (fn. 302) This force, mobilized by the new Liberal organization, carried the party through the general election of April 1880.
In this election the dominant issue was that of imperialism, whether the electorate would approve or reject the forward foreign and colonial policy of Disraeli. Other questions were raised—Irish Home Rule, temperance, workmen's compensation, the land laws, and the game laws (fn. 303)—but they were not matters that touched the deepest emotions. Both parties were swept by the current. Its first effect had been to stimulate the Conservatives to undertake the reorganization of 1878, to force them to remain content no longer to leave the initiative in the hands of the Working Men's Association, and to attract more men of position to the service of the party. (fn. 304) Such confidence was engendered that they now, for the first time since 1837, put forward two candidates, J. H. B. Warner, who stood again, and William Winterton, a local timber merchant whose devotion to municipal affairs had earned him the distinction of being elected mayor in 1876 in a predominantly Liberal council, the first Conservative to hold the office since the Municipal Corporations Act. (fn. 305) Both men concentrated attention on foreign and colonial policy and congratulated the country on being now a 'first-class power'. (fn. 306) Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the electors of Leicester, moved by the disasters of the Zulu and Afghan wars, experienced the revulsion from imperialism that ran through the whole country. Taylor and McArthur found no difficulty in arousing an enthusiasm unequalled since the reform demonstrations of 1867. The popularity of Gladstone was striking: the production of his portrait led to scenes of almost revivalist fervour. (fn. 307) United in the common moral indignation aroused by Gladstone's Midlothian campaign, organized with unprecedented efficiency, aided by the economic discontent of the years of depression, the Liberals overwhelmed their opponents in the keenest election yet fought, in which nearly 15,000 voted in an electorate of 18,500. (fn. 308)
The impression left by this result was so strong that when P. A. Taylor retired in June 1884 on account of age and ill health, having represented the borough for 22 years, his Liberal successor was returned without opposition. (fn. 309) The new member, J. A. Picton, had already acquired a reputation both in Leicester, when he was a Congregational minister there, and nationally as the author of a eulogistic study of Oliver Cromwell. In politics he was an uncompromising Radical of Taylor's stamp, a man of high intellectual ability and much oratorical power, well qualified, it was hoped, to 'possess the confidence of the large working-class section of the constituency'. (fn. 310) Nevertheless the retirement of Taylor marks the end of the golden age of Liberalism in Leicester just as his advent marked its beginning. The hosiery strikes of January 1884 (fn. 311) and February 1886, the latter accompanied by riots that might have become serious but for the efficiency of the police, (fn. 312) were signs of increasing social tensions: and so in a different direction was the popular agitation of 1884 directed against the Lords' rejection of the Franchise Bill, when the speakers at a massive demonstration held in July echoed the note of class warfare already sounded elsewhere by Chamberlain. (fn. 313)
As yet these were only portents. The future of the Liberal party appeared bright. The Franchise and Distribution Acts of 1885, while not directly affecting the borough, (fn. 314) were triumphs which held out the promise of extending their supremacy to the county; and even the tragedy of Gordon and the evacuation of the Sudan could hardly shake their hold on the town. Nevertheless the general election of 1885 revealed that Leicester was influenced by the wave of conservatism that swept the English boroughs in general. Although the Conservatives were handicapped by delay in finding a candidate and only at the last moment brought forward William Millican, a local architect and surveyor, town councillor, member of the council of the National Union of Conservative Associations, and lieutenant-colonel in the Rifle Volunteers, (fn. 315) they had an advantage in being able to appeal strongly to ecclesiastical and imperial sentiment. Millican replied to the Radicals' campaign for disestablishment and their educational programme by raising the old cry of 'the Church in danger', which succeeded in winning over a number of Liberal churchmen. (fn. 316) At more length he condemned the Liberal government's foreign and colonial policy, especially in the Sudan, contrasting it with his party's faith in imperial development and unity—a faith which also led him to insist that the Irish union must be maintained. In other respects his campaign reflected something of Lord Randolph Churchill's influence in his criticism of Free Trade and his recommendations in general terms of social reform for the 'content and happiness of the working class'. (fn. 317) The Liberals, McArthur and more especially Picton, not content with Gladstone's modest Four Points (fn. 318)—though accepting them—tried to rouse their following against the great landed interests and against aristocratic privilege, without, however, going so far as Chamberlain in his 'unauthorised programme'. (fn. 319) Embarrassed perhaps by the defection of the Irish vote under Parnell's instructions, they maintained some reserve about Ireland. The election was keenly fought and although, inevitably, the Liberals won it, they did not win by the majority they expected: in an electorate 3,000 larger than in 1880, their majority was 2,000 lower. (fn. 320) The election was marked by the strictness of party discipline which reduced to a trifling figure the number of divided votes.
The same discipline was evident during the political crisis of 1886, in which the Leicester Liberal Association remained loyal to Gladstone and accepted the policy of Home Rule for Ireland. (fn. 321) Nevertheless it was not so complete as to prevent all division within the party. Although the association as a whole refused to follow Chamberlain, a small but important party of Liberal Unionists broke away. The following of these Unionists among the rank and file appears to have been small, but among their leaders appeared some of the most important employers and manufacturers in the town, like Fielding Johnson, Simpson Gee and the brothers Faire, and Canon Vaughan, the most influential churchman of the day. (fn. 322) In spite of this their defection had slight immediate consequences, as the election of 1886 showed. This time the Conservatives did not imitate the tactics of 1861 when they exploited their opponents' divisions to put in their own candidate. (fn. 323) Instead they left the initiative to the Liberal Unionists, though working with them and promising support, (fn. 324) calculating, reasonably enough, that victory could be won more easily under Liberal than under Conservative colours. The election was therefore conducted by a Liberal Unionist committee and the candidate found through their central office in London. He was Robert Bickersteth, a member of a wellknown evangelical family distantly connected with Leicestershire, and had been M.P. for North Shropshire. (fn. 325) Compared with McArthur and Picton he suffered the disadvantage of being late in the field and a stranger to the town; and while he could count upon Liberal abstentions as well as upon Unionist votes he was also handicapped by Conservative distrust. (fn. 326) In the election, which was fought entirely on the issue of Home Rule, the Liberals retained their majority in a lower poll. (fn. 327)
The breach with the Unionists was not therefore serious enough to threaten the Liberal hold on the borough as yet, and was not likely to be so long as the Liberal Unionists still regarded themselves as Liberals and looked forward to an eventual reconciliation. The foundation of a separate Liberal Unionist Association was attempted only after a year's delay and by a number of members the decision was accepted reluctantly. (fn. 328) This meant that they also found it difficult to work with the Conservatives from whom many of them were still divided by religious differences. (fn. 329) Although Chamberlain had renounced the last hope of Liberal reunion at the end of 1891, it was still possible as late as 1893 for Lord Randolph Churchill to complain that relations between Conservatives and Liberal Unionists in Leicester 'have not been quite so close lately as undoubtedly they ought to be—as they are in every other part of the country'. (fn. 330) This mistrust and lack of liaison led to an extraordinary fiasco in the general election of 1892. In this year, McArthur having retired after representing the borough for eighteen years, the Liberals put up Picton and Sir James Whitehead, Bt., a London merchant who had been Lord Mayor in 1888 and earned his baronetcy by his services on the Mansion House Conciliation Committee during the dock strike. (fn. 331) Although chosen like McArthur to represent the moderate and commercial interest, Whitehead claimed in some ways to be as advanced as Picton. Certainly he accepted the 'Newcastle programme' without reservations (fn. 332) and his choice reflects the growing importance attributed to labour relations. The Conservatives, adopting the policy of 1886, tried to conduct the campaign through the Liberal Unionists. Here all was uncertainty. They had hopes of a very good candidate in Alderman (later Sir Thomas) Wright, then mayor; but it was not known whether he would stand. Days were wasted while he made up his mind. At last he turned down the offer; (fn. 333) he alleged the greater importance of his municipal duties, but his reconciliation with the Liberal party in 1894 suggests that he had other reasons for not committing himself. His refusal left the Liberal Unionists at a loss, the Conservatives with no time to find an alternative, and the Liberals with the pleasure of seeing their candidates returned unopposed. (fn. 334) This result did not do justice to the influence and determination of the Liberal Unionists. Although the Liberal press looked forward to their early dissolution (fn. 335) and some, like Sir Thomas Wright and H. Simpson Gee, returned for a while to their old allegiance, (fn. 336) they continued to survive and maintain a separate organization. Moreover the reopening of the Home Rule issue during Gladstone's last ministry drove them to co-operate more effectively with the Conservatives with whom they were to work closely in all subsequent elections. The foundation in 1893 of the Constitutional Club as a common meeting-place for both Conservatives and Liberal Unionists (fn. 337) may be taken as marking the point at which the breach with the Liberals and alliance with the Conservatives was recognized as permanent. From that time the Liberal Unionists acted in effect as part of the Conservative party.
The division which Home Rule had thus precipitated among the Liberals broke their formal unity for the first time since 1862. If immediately it affected them less than their former disunion, since it did not cost them control of the borough, in the long run its significance was greater. The disagreement of the past had not led to a permanent withdrawal. Now the Liberals found themselves weakened by the permanent secession of a group which was considerable in influence if not in numbers. This meant that for the first time a number of leading employers and business men were to be found working for practical purposes with the Conservative party. Although the Irish question provided the catalyst, this regrouping of the political elements had long been prepared by social and economic developments. The nonconformist manufacturers had achieved the emancipation from aristocratic and ecclesiastical privilege for which they had fought from the beginning of the century. Religious and social barriers were broken down. They now sent their sons to public schools, to Oxford and Cambridge; (fn. 338) they no longer suffered the old scruples about accepting honours and titles. (fn. 339) Further, the end of mid-Victorian prosperity had modified their faith in Free Trade. Millican's criticism of it in 1885 and his appeal to the commercial advantages of imperial unity no doubt reflected this change of opinion; and it is noteworthy that a number of the Liberal Unionists, like Sir Samuel Faire, were later among the strongest supporters of Chamberlain's campaign for tariff reform. (fn. 340) By such processes the way was prepared for cooperation with the Conservatives and, more important, for the assimilation of the business world into it that transformed the local Conservative party between 1885 and 1918, so that it ceased to be little more than an appendage of the county, and became representative of the dominant industrial and commercial interests of the town.
This development was connected with another that directed a much more serious threat against the Liberals—the adoption of independent political action by the working men. Hitherto such action had been confined to the school board contests and occasional intervention in parliamentary elections. It had been generally the practice for the Trades Council to put pressure on the Liberal candidates by addressing particular inquiries to them; they had not however attempted to nominate representatives of their own. This passive acceptance of Liberal leadership appears to have changed to distrust at the time of the Unionist secession. This change was the result partly of a long social evolution that had lately increased its pace: the withdrawal of employers to the county or to select residential suburbs like Stoneygate, the greater segregation of classes, the growing divorce between management and ownership, and the replacement of the semi-independent framework-knitter by the factory operative. It was also the result partly of economic troubles which found expression in the strikes of the period, and more especially of the workers' confidence in their own strength. The change made itself felt first in the attempts to obtain working men's representation through the Liberal organization, the method of 'Lib-Lab' alliance of which the outstanding exponent in the country was Henry Broadhurst, secretary of the Labour Representative League since 1873. Leicester was slow to respond to Broadhurst's movement; the first sign of his influence can be seen in the Trades Council's tentative recommendation of a parliamentary candidate to the Liberal committee in 1884. (fn. 341) Although this achieved nothing, in the next two years the Liberals showed themselves more sensitive to the views of the trades unions. Two of the leading members of the Trades Council, Daniel Merrick and George Sedgewick, took part in the nomination of McArthur in the election of 1886; (fn. 342) and in the same year on the recommendation of the council Sedgewick was appointed J.P. for the borough. (fn. 343) These conciliatory gestures did not prevent and perhaps encouraged the more emphatic adoption of a 'Lib-Lab' policy, of which the principal advocate in Leicester was William Inskip, a trades-unionist of national importance as secretary of the Boot and Shoe Union and a member of the parliamentary committee of the Trades Union Congress. (fn. 344) In 1887 Inskip presided at a meeting, addressed by Broadhurst, which inaugurated the Leicester District Labour Association. The object of the new organization was to gain direct representation on the town council, board of guardians, and school board, not necessarily by nominating working men but by securing the election of candidates approved by them. As yet it was not intended to press for working men to represent them in Parliament, but some influence might be exerted over parliamentary elections. (fn. 345) Although given only a cautious welcome by the Liberal press, (fn. 346) the Labour Association was able to work harmoniously on the whole with the Liberal Association. After 1890 with Liberal acquiescence a number of its candidates were elected to the school board and the town council. (fn. 347) Just as it was achieving some mild success this 'Lib-Lab' policy was challenged by the more aggressive and distinctly socialist ideas that were beginning to influence the young men in Leicester as in other parts of the country. In 1892, a year in which industrial relations were 'none too cordial', (fn. 348) a meeting, presided over by a member of the Trades Council, decided to form a branch of the Fabian Society. (fn. 349) By 1894 a number of socialist societies were in existence, a Labour Club, an Anarchist Society, branches of the Social Democratic Federation and the Christian Socialists. (fn. 350) At the May Day demonstration of 1893, the first held in Leicester, these views found expression in the widely voiced demands for independent political action and the withdrawal of Picton, who had voted against the Miners' Eight Hours Bill on the grounds that there should be no legislative interference with individual rights. Joseph Potter of the Trades Council said of Picton that 'he was, or had been, a parson and was a capitalist. They might as well send a leopard in sheep's clothing amongst a flock of sheep as send a capitalist to represent the workers in Parliament.' Resolutions were passed welcoming 'the growing international union of labour against the thraldom of capitalism' and declaring that 'the only possible remedy for the poverty and misery existing today is the ownership and control of the land and instruments of industry by the co-operation of labour'. (fn. 351) In its official capacity the Trades Council had not recognized this demonstration but it could not ignore the pressure being brought against it. Its first response was to adopt a more independent policy in municipal elections; in those of November 1893 it ran two independent candidates without consulting the Liberal ward committees. (fn. 352) Then early in the next year it revealed a sharper temper in parliamentary matters. In March Picton had given notice that he intended to retire on account of ill health (fn. 353) and the Liberal sub-committee, clearly sensitive to developments, had unanimously proposed the acceptance of no less a man than Henry Broadhurst. (fn. 354) This choice of a working man, the leading exponent of the 'Lib-Lab' alliance, did credit to their broadmindedness and they had some reason to suppose that it would secure the approval of the Trades Council. Indeed, Broadhurst's name, among others, had been suggested at a meeting of the Trades Council held to consider the question. (fn. 355) But the proposition met two difficulties. One was that Broadhurst was unacceptable to those who had come under the influence of the Independent Labour Party, his rival for the control of the trades union movement. (fn. 356) The other was that even if the Trades Council would accept Broadhurst, they would only do so as their own nominee. This Liberal gesture to the working men therefore provoked an indignant reply from the Trades Council who sent off an angry letter to Broadhurst instructing him to accept nomination only from themselves. (fn. 357) The Liberals could not admit this claim, which would strike at the roots of their organization. Regardless of the protest they adopted Broadhurst by the usual procedure and he stood as a 'Liberal-Labour' candidate. (fn. 358)
Although the Trades Council had asserted its independence, the Liberals could dismiss it as a gesture intended to appease the extremists and without practical significance, since no one was likely to take the risk of running another working men's candidate against Broadhurst. But before the by-election could take place, the position was complicated by the sudden and unexpected retirement of the junior member, Sir James Whitehead. (fn. 359) As the government whips required a speedy replacement, the Liberals had hurriedly to find another candidate to meet the unusual emergency of a double by-election. After some controversy they adopted W. Hazell as partner for Broadhurst. Hazell well represented the social idealism of the age. He aspired to be a model employer and had introduced co-ownership into his printing works at Aylesbury; he had founded the Self Help Emigration Society, patronized the Children's Fresh-Air Mission, and maintained a small farm for reclaiming penniless youths. On issues like factory acts, housing, the Miners' Eight Hour Bill, and employers' liability he claimed to be in advance of many Radicals. Yet he was not adopted without opposition. As treasurer of the Peace Society he was not entirely acceptable to Liberal imperialists. Others had wanted a local man. (fn. 360) More important was the opposition that his adoption met from the Trades Council.
The initiative in this came from the I.L.P., which had been founded the year before and already acquired a following in Leicester. (fn. 361) Since then the I.L.P. had been attempting to win over the Trades Council to its policy of independent political action. Although early in 1894 the Liberal press began to complain of the way in which the Trades Council was being captured by the extremists, (fn. 362) the I.L.P. had not yet won a decisive victory. A number of the older men like Inskip remained loyal to the older policy and even among the younger and more aggressive some, like the president George Banton, who was to be the most important local Labour leader for the next 30 years, had not yet been convinced that a change was practicable. But the retirement of Whitehead opened up new prospects. Those who would be reluctant to oppose Broadhurst might have no objection to opposing Hazell. The I.L.P. now saw its opportunity. In August 1894 Tom Mann led a deputation to Leicester to sponsor a candidate and quickly won the support of the Labour Club and the socialist societies, aided perhaps by unemployment and the agitation aroused by the hosiery strike that was in progress at the time. It still remained to convince the Trades Council. The initial meeting was held on 20 August when Tom Mann appeared before the Council to put his case. Banton from the chair put forward a number of objections: the present system worked well enough; they could obtain more or less what they wanted in municipal elections and on the school board; Hazell and Broadhurst were satisfactory parliamentary candidates, not likely to be defeated by an independent; and above all the Trades Council was 'not overflushed with funds'. In reply Mann appealed to their sense of loyalty, reminding them that Hazell was an employer, pointed out that his proposal had already found much spontaneous support in the town, and clinched his argument by promising help from the emergency fund of the I.L.P. He then brought forward his candidate, Joseph Burgess, editor of the Workman's Times, who claimed an intimate knowledge of the problems of the hosiery trade and was already well known as a Labour leader in the north. Impressed by the practical nature of the proposal, the waverers seem finally to have been won over by allegations—apparently unfounded—about Hazell's attitude to trades unions. After some discussion a resolution against taking independent political action was defeated by 21 votes to 17. (fn. 363) The Trades Council recommended Burgess's candidature and so took the decision from which in time the Leicester Labour party arose.
Although the Liberals maintained that as Burgess had few funds and no organization they had little to fear from him, the Conservatives were heartened by the hope that in splitting the Radical vote he would enable them to repeat the success of 1861. In this hope they put forward J. L. F. Rolleston, a local surveyor and land agent, a strong imperialist whose forceful arguments for the acquisition of new markets overseas were calculated to appeal to manufacturer and working man alike. Between Conservatives and Liberals imperialism and the maintenance of the House of Lords provided the chief differences. On social issues like the miners' eight-hour day, Rolleston was prepared to go almost as far as Broadhurst and Hazell. (fn. 364) Burgess stood as a thorough-going Socialist for the nationalization of land and means of production; and his attack was directed not against Broadhurst, whom the Trades Council was prepared to accept, but against Hazell who stood condemned as an employer. (fn. 365) Much was made about the non-union character of Hazell's printing house at Aylesbury, described by the Leicester Typographical Society as 'one of the worst rat-houses in the country'. (fn. 366) It was a spirited election, fought as bitterly as a general election and marked by thorough organization on all sides. The I.L.P. for their part tried to make up for their handicaps by bringing down a zealous contingent of speakers, among them Keir Hardie, J. H. Clynes, and Tom Mann. (fn. 367) Although they failed to prevent a Liberal victory, Hazell had a majority of only 217 over Rolleston. The Liberal votes had been lost not to the Conservatives who polled few more than in 1885 but to the I.L.P. To the surprise of his opponents, Burgess had won well over 4,000 votes. (fn. 368) It was clear that the I.L.P. had come to stay. The result confirmed the Trades Council in its resolution and a vote of censure was passed on those members like Inskip who had supported Hazell. (fn. 369) The day after the election a permanent branch of the I.L.P. was founded: its object was the 'nationalization of the whole of the means of production, distribution, and exchange'. No member of any other political organization was eligible for membership. Its first president was George Banton and other members of the Trades Council were elected to the chief posts. (fn. 370)
The general election of 1895 appeared hardly more than a repetition of the election of 1894. No new issue had been introduced on the fall of the Liberal administration and the experiences of the double by-election had done nothing to encourage the local parties to change their tactics. They adopted the same candidates and the candidates issued more or less the same programmes as before. At most their recent practice had improved their organization and clarified their views. Rolleston reaffirmed his advocacy of a vigorous imperialist policy and social measures at home in the form of old-age pensions and better housing for the poor; to the national policy of his party he added, as his personal contribution, the advocacy of bimetallism. Burgess distinguished between his ultimate objective of thorough-going Socialism which would be accompanied by the transformation of Parliament into a 'paid convention of the People's delegates' and his immediate programme of 'palliatives', which included the nationalization of land values, the grant of compulsory powers of purchase to local authorities, the eight-hour day in industry, pensions at the age of fifty, the nationalization of transport, free education at all levels, a progressive income tax with extinction of unearned income, and universal suffrage. The Liberals, Broadhurst and Hazell, likewise accepted the necessity of old-age pensions, the payment where required of Members of Parliament, and land reform, but put their emphasis on the disestablishment of the Welsh Church and the reform of the House of Lords. (fn. 371) An 'immense distribution of literature' and a heavy poll, taken on a Saturday, achieved a result hardly different from that of 1894. (fn. 372) Yet even if the Liberals, in retaining their seats, fared better than their party as a whole, Hazell's margin had narrowed to less than 100 votes. Burgess lost a few hundred, but this could be explained by tactical mistakes, like the offence given to religious susceptibilities by Sunday meetings and to trades unionists by a proposal to forbid the employment of children under the age of fifteen. (fn. 373) More significant than this loss was the ability of the I.L.P. to maintain a poll of more than 4,000 votes. It was clear that this new force was not transient and, although not able to win a seat itself, yet strong enough to threaten the moderate Liberals with the loss of theirs.
The danger became real at the general election of 1900. No reconciliation or understanding had been achieved between Liberals and Labour. The Trades Council and I.L.P. had reasserted their independence by resolving to join the newly founded Labour Representation Committee (fn. 374) and adopting its secretary, J. Ramsay MacDonald, as their parliamentary candidate. (fn. 375) The Liberals themselves had suffered from the divisions among their national leaders and still more from those caused by the South African War. The local association as a whole accepted the leadership of Campbell Bannerman, (fn. 376) but a small number of Liberal imperialists had criticized their attitude to the war (fn. 377) and tended to throw in their lot with the Liberal Unionists who were now experiencing a slight revival. (fn. 378) As in the rest of the country the Conservatives profited from an election intended to exploit the patriotic sentiments that the war had aroused. With the county regiment and yeomanry on active service, part, indeed, for so long besieged in Ladysmith, the town could hardly have taken a detached view of the fighting; and for a year past the war had almost driven from the local newspapers the ritualist and the vaccination controversies that had engaged their attention immediately beforehand. The relief of Ladysmith and of Mafeking was celebrated with abandon; (fn. 379) the I.L.P.'s campaign against the war aroused hostile demonstrations; and at least one of their meetings was broken up by rowdies. (fn. 380) Even the Trades Council was disunited on this question. (fn. 381) As the war provided almost the sole issue of the election, the Conservatives enjoyed unusual advantages and made the most of them. Sir John Rolleston's (fn. 382) candidature was supported by a letter from Chamberlain alleging that the return of Radicals would 'indicate that the people of Leicester were opposed to the war and to the annexation of the Boer Republics'. His meetings were marked by a 'distinct khaki flavour' and conducted in the midst of an enthusiasm excited by patriotic airs and songs. (fn. 383) His opponents tried to divert attention to other issues, especially the Conservative government's failure to introduce social legislation, (fn. 384) but Hazell's position in particular was threatened by his policy towards the war. He neither opposed it sufficiently to please some of the Radical voters, who were reported to prefer MacDonald's outright condemnation, nor supported it so as to please all those moderate Liberals whom he was supposed to represent. (fn. 385) More serious was the attitude in the Trades Council of a militant minority who voted against the resolution to support MacDonald and Broadhurst and determined to give their second vote to the Conservatives. (fn. 386) Although the loss in this way of nearly 1,000 votes could not hurt Broadhurst, whose majority was secure, their transfer to Rolleston determined the precarious fate of Hazell. Broadhurst was safely returned for the Liberals but Hazell was beaten by over 500 votes. (fn. 387) A Conservative now represented Radical Leicester for the first time in 40 years, and he did so because the division in the Radical ranks had reproduced the circumstances of 1861. History, however, was not exactly to repeat itself. The seat which the Liberals had now lost they were never again to win.
When the long domination of the Liberals began to end, the party had to face the prospect of disintegration as Radicals felt and moderates resisted the attraction of Labour. Their partial failure in the election of 1900 provoked a crisis in their affairs which revealed the tension to which they were subjected. The Radicals put the blame for their defeat upon the unenterprising leaders who had lost touch with the Radical working men and maintained control by a 'miserable system of wire-pulling'; who had not dared to reach an understanding with the I.L.P. and lacked sympathy with recent developments in municipal government. These criticisms were directed particularly at the president of the Liberal Association, Sir Israel Hart. Although bound to recognize his long service and munificence, they charged him with being an old-fashioned Liberal, in municipal matters 'the greatest Tory of them all', who had opposed the acquisition of new undertakings such as electric light and tramways by the corporation. These charges obtained sufficient support to provoke Hart's resignation. (fn. 388) The Radicals, however, failed to commit the party to an understanding with the I.L.P.: the executive still proposed to run two candidates at the next election; and an influential minority wanted to put up Sir Israel Hart, whom the executive could not now accept. (fn. 389) In June 1901 Sir Israel announced his intention of fighting the next election regardless of the executive; (fn. 390) after a number of conferences with Labour representatives, the executive itself failed to achieve an agreement which would satisfy moderates by passing off Broadhurst as the Labour candidate and introducing a true Liberal for the second seat. (fn. 391) In the middle of 1902 it seemed likely that at the next election many Radicals would support MacDonald: the remaining votes of the party would be divided between the official Liberal candidate and Sir Israel Hart; and the Conservatives would win both seats. (fn. 392) At this point the Education Act of 1902 did more than anything to restore the party's unity and sense of purpose. By the privileges that it appeared to grant to the established church, it aroused the long dormant ardour of militant nonconformity. From the spring of 1902 onwards the Free Churchmen began to mobilize their forces and in the next three years organized an agitation unequalled since the contest over church rates. Mass meetings were held at which Liberal leaders and the massed pastorate once more sat side by side on the platform: (fn. 393) the Liberation Society took on new life, (fn. 394) and a Citizens' League encouraged respectable citizens to defy the law and make their protests in hundreds before the borough magistrates. (fn. 395) As the conviction spread that the Liberals had not yet fulfilled their mission of destroying aristocratic and clerical privilege and blended with the newer mission of social reform, the party found itself impelled by an imperative demand to ensure success by reaching an understanding with Labour at whatever cost.
This would not easily be secured. An extreme section of Labour had shown clearly in the last election that they considered the Conservatives more palatable than the Liberals. The conference of 1901 had broken down on their opposition and next year the overtures of the Liberals had been defiantly answered by the adoption of MacDonald as Labour candidate. (fn. 396) But this attitude was soon to be modified by events. The implication of the Taff Vale decision and the disinclination of the Conservative government to provide a remedy to protect trade union funds imposed on trades unionists as on nonconformists an imperative mission. (fn. 397) Common sense pointed to an understanding with the Liberals and its teaching was reinforced by the advice of MacDonald, who had always been regarded as a cautious member of the I.L.P. and had not reiterated in the last election the note of class warfare that Burgess had sounded in the two earlier campaigns. His adoption in itself marked a change of tactics towards moderation; a local commentator remarked: 'It is whispered in my ear that Mr. M. is a better man than the party to which he is allied: and that he has no iconoclastic disposition towards the Liberal party'. (fn. 398) Not that MacDonald was ready to concede much, certainly not to give up his own candidature nor to operate under Liberal colours. He differed from the extremists only in his readiness to accept an electoral compact by which Liberals and Labour agreed to put up only one candidate each and instruct their followers to give their votes to both.
Although Radicals had long been pressing for it and some had combined with the trades unionists and Socialists to support MacDonald's adoption, (fn. 399) an understanding of this sort demanded a large sacrifice from the Liberals. The agreement of 1861 which restored unity in similar circumstances had succeeded in containing moderates and Radicals within a single organization. Now the Liberals were expected to acquiesce in the surrender of one of the seats to an independent organization with which they would be in no more than a temporary and precarious alliance. Labour, however, would accept no other terms, and as time passed their ability to bargain increased as their movement grew stronger. The publication of a Labour newspaper, the Leicester Pioneer, the eloquent and energetic campaigning of MacDonald, the success of a Labour Missionary Week, (fn. 400) and the formation in May 1903 of a local Labour Representation Committee (in effect a local branch of the Labour party, although it did not bear that name) (fn. 401) all pointed the need for an accommodation. It was at last achieved in September 1903 on the initiative of Edward Wood, the new president of the Liberal Association, who had accepted office on the understanding that he would have a free hand to negotiate. (fn. 402) By its terms the Liberals agreed to run only one candidate and to give their second vote to MacDonald; in return, Labour agreed to support the Liberal candidate. (fn. 403) This amounted to a complete surrender by the moderate Liberals, for, although Broadhurst, the sitting member, represented the Radical section of the party, they could hardly give him up and replace him by a moderate. If, then, this 'progressive Alliance' achieved its aim, Leicester would be represented by two Labour members, one of the old school, one of the new.
It was one thing for the leaders to make the agreement, another to secure its acceptance. On the Liberal side there was still the risk that Sir Israel Hart would carry out his threat to stand on his own. He had already appointed a political secretary (fn. 404) and begun his campaign. (fn. 405) With rumour of a general election to be held in the coming November or March, (fn. 406) the prospect appeared dangerous, until at the last moment, in a letter read out by Lord Rosebery at a meeting dedicated to Liberal reconciliation, Sir Israel renounced his claim to stand. (fn. 407) The Liberals could now be certain that their electoral discipline would enable them to carry out their share of the bargain. They could be less sure of Labour's ability. Although MacDonald gave the alliance his blessing, it was difficult to overcome the bitterness of his followers. Tempers were still sharpened by municipal politics to which the truce did not extend, and by the unemployment of 1904 and 1905. (fn. 408) The sympathy shown by all classes, however, softened the latent antagonism, particularly on the occasion of the march of the Leicester unemployed to London, in which an Anglican clergyman, F. L. Donaldson, Vicar of St. Mark's and for the last ten years the leader of a small body of Christian Socialists, distinguished himself by accompanying the marchers and sharing at least some of their hardships. (fn. 409) Other issues too, like the importation of Chinese labour to South Africa, reconciled Labour to any understanding that would prevent the return of the Conservatives. (fn. 410) By the spring of 1905 the Liberals could feel assured that the understanding would be respected. In March not only MacDonald but other leaders like Arthur Henderson were advising the Leicester party not to 'plump' but to vote for 'both progressive candidates'. (fn. 411) Even so Labour maintained a prickly sense of their independence which they refused to compromise by undertaking a joint electoral campaign or holding joint meetings for both candidates; (fn. 412) and the Social Democrats condemned outright the policy of the Labour Representation Committee. (fn. 413)
The Conservative government held on long enough to unite all its opponents in a common front and Chamberlain's campaign for Tariff Reform provided yet another issue on which Labour and Liberal could agree. (fn. 414) On the other hand, it did not appear to divide the Conservatives in Leicester so deeply as elsewhere and when Sir John Rolleston announced himself a convert he received the hearty support of the Liberal Unionists whose leaders, like Sir Thomas Wright and Sir Samuel Faire, were also promoters of the Tariff Reform League. (fn. 415) When the general election was at last held in January 1906, Rolleston tried to make it turn chiefly on this issue and that of Ireland, declaring himself against Free Trade and Home Rule. He dismissed briefly the agitation about the use of Chinese labour in South Africa; on the Education Act of 1902 he stood on the defensive, appealing to his supporters to rally to 'save the Bible' in the schools. On this occasion, however, the moral fervour upon which he had been able to rely in 1900 was overwhelmingly manifest on the side of his opponents in whom the dissenting ardour of the older generation burned alongside the social idealism of the new to revive the crusading spirit of 50 and 60 years back. The campaign had hardly begun before it was evident that the Conservatives were being borne down in a tide of enthusiasm: Labour leaders and nonconformist preachers vied with one another in moral denunciation of the evils of imperialism, protection, and armaments, of intemperance and bad housing, of the exploitation of labour, the crippling of trades unions, and the perversion of education, and Rolleston had a hard fight in some wards even to obtain a hearing. (fn. 416) It was reported to be the most excited election for 50 years. (fn. 417) Fewer than 3,000 electors failed to vote, and Broadhurst and MacDonald were swept in by a majority of more than 7,000, one of the largest in the country. (fn. 418)
Between the election of 1906 and the outbreak of war in 1914 the political allegiance of the borough continued to be determined by the relationship of the Labour party, as the Labour Representation Committee now called itself, and the Liberals. It remained an uneasy relationship, disliked by some on both sides. Liberals were disquieted by the steady advance which Labour made at their expense in municipal politics. When the municipal elections of 1909 deprived the Liberals for the first time of their absolute majority among the councillors there were those who drew the conclusion that they would do better not to 'coquette with the Socialist party'. (fn. 419) Labour, too, was still divided between the moderate advocates of co-operation and intransigents, and had also to consider the militants outside their own ranks, like the Social Democratic Federation and later the British Socialist party. (fn. 420) For the time being, however, the sense of solidarity created in 1906 maintained the Progressive Alliance. It was first tested immediately after the general election, when Broadhurst retired on account of ill health and financial difficulties. He felt able to do so now because the government's majority was so secure that there was no risk in running an untried candidate. Untried, indeed, he had to be since the election had left a dearth of Radicals without seats. In making their choice, the Liberals went back to an older tradition, choosing a manufacturer, Franklin Thomasson, 'a thorough nonconformist and splendid Radical', whose father had been Radical M.P. for Bolton, whose mother was related to John Bright, and whose training could satisfy the commercial interests and whose reputation as employer the trades unionists. He was sound on Home Rule, Free Trade, the Education Act, and the Taff Vale decision, a temperance reformer and opponent of compulsory vaccination, and he was prepared to go as far as women's suffrage and nationalization of the land. The composing staff of Tribune, a paper which he had lately begun to publish in London, sent a message in his support to the trades unionists of Leicester. (fn. 421) In these circumstances the understanding held firm and Thomasson was elected by a sound majority over Rolleston. Even so, the Liberals complained of some lassitude and of Labour abstentions. (fn. 422)
In the next three years the Conservatives had some hope of exploiting the differences between their opponents. The Tariff Reform League conducted an active propaganda to convert the working classes (fn. 423) and Rolleston warned the middle class about the dangers of Socialism, against which the House of Lords must be preserved as their sheet anchor. (fn. 424) Their hopes were such that they decided to run two candidates in the next election. Rolleston retired to the calmer politics of East Hertfordshire (fn. 425) and was replaced by Foster Fraser, a journalist. (fn. 426) In November 1909 the Conservatives introduced a second candidate to oppose MacDonald, E. A. Bagley, one of three Unionist working men who fought the election of 1910. Bagley was a moulder by trade, a trades unionist who stood particularly in the interests of Tariff Reform and recommended Protection to the working classes as a remedy for unemployment. It was said that he was supported by a fund of £6,000 raised by the Standard. (fn. 427)
The issues on which the election of 1910 was fought thwarted these tactics. The Lords' rejection of the budget put the issue in the stark form of 'the peers versus the people', consolidated the understanding of Liberals and Labour, and revived the crusading spirit of 1906. The moral forces which had won that election were once more let loose. Again the nonconformist pastors threw themselves into politics. One distinguished himself with a sermon on the text 'Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage', in which he appealed to his hearers 'to arise and let every man wield his sword in the sacred name of liberty' against the power of hereditary veto, the moneyed powers, and 'the most sinister of them all, the power represented by drink'. (fn. 428) The Free Churchmen as a body delivered a public protest against the action of the Lords. (fn. 429) MacDonald used hardly different language. This was 'a sacred cause', 'a fight of the old Cromwell kind'; (fn. 430) they would 'march in the hope, the consciousness, the faith in eternal righteousness, which makes weak men strong and downtrodden men mighty'. (fn. 431) The Liberal candidate did not make quite the same appeal. Thomasson, whom ill health and pressure of business had forced to stand down, (fn. 432) had been replaced by E. Crawshay Williams, a politician of a very different type from that customary to Leicester. He was a young man, not yet 30, educated at Eton and Oxford, who had left the university after speaking against the South African war, served in the army, and travelled widely, accompanying Lord Curzon to Persia. He now appeared as a protégé of Winston Churchill, whom he served as private secretary at the Colonial Office and the Board of Trade. (fn. 433) Although he claimed to be 'Radical to the core' and advocated women's suffrage and even the nationalization of communications, mines, and the land, (fn. 434) he rejected the pacifist tradition: he stood for a strong navy and army. (fn. 435) Although not as capable as MacDonald of moving the heart of nonconformity, he showed himself a competent speaker, (fn. 436) and he could also draw for support on the eloquence of Churchill, who came down to Leicester to denounce 'the swift increase of vulgar, joyless luxury' and point to the 'awful gap between rich and poor'. (fn. 437) With such talents and feelings engaged and with militant suffragettes to add a spice of novelty, the election was fought in the greatest excitement. 'Never', it was reported, 'was so much money spent on bill posting; never were the hoardings adorned with a greater variety of cartoons'. (fn. 438) Bagley, however, failed to divert the votes of Labour; and the Conservatives were again overwhelmed. (fn. 439)
The general election of December 1910 almost repeated that of January. The great issue was the reform of the House of Lords. Labour, however, had a greater stake in the result than before, since they must fight the Osborne judgement which threatened the political subscription of trades unions. (fn. 440) Otherwise the chief difference lay in the Conservatives' decision not to repeat the experiment of running two candidates. They found it difficult enough to bring forward one. For this election they adopted A. Myddelton Wilshere, a barrister and lecturer at Bristol University. His tactics consisted in diverting attention to Tariff Reform and Colonial Preference, dismissing the question of the House of Lords as not a genuine issue; (fn. 441) but, although this lacked the enthusiasm of the earlier election, he could not prevail against the forces which had succeeded then. Williams and MacDonald were returned with a large though slightly reduced majority. (fn. 442)
In the last years of peace, two important developments could be noticed. One was the reviving strength of Conservatism, the other the growing reluctance of Labour to maintain their unwritten understanding with the Liberals. Both became evident in the byelection of 1913, made necessary after Crawshay Williams had been cited in a divorce case and resigned his seat. (fn. 443) On behalf of the Conservatives, Wilshere made the Insurance Act the main point of attack, blaming the government for increasing the size of the bureaucracy and cost of living and for neglecting the interests of the friendly societies. This was closely followed by his attack on Home Rule and Welsh disestablishment. (fn. 444) The Liberals adopted a lawyer, Gordon Hewart, the future Lord Chief Justice. (fn. 445) His prospects were, however, put in doubt by his failure to satisfy the queries put to him about the Insurance Act by the Friendly Societies' Council, (fn. 446) and still more by the action of the local Labour party, who, as soon as the election had been announced, resolved to put up George Banton, their doyen. (fn. 447) Although the opposition of MacDonald and the decision 'on financial grounds' of the national executive of the I.L.P. and the Labour party not to endorse him forced Banton to withdraw, the attempt had sufficed to raise the hopes of the militants. On hearing of Banton's withdrawal, the local branch of the British Socialist party met at midnight and adopted E. R. Hartley of Bradford as 'Socialist-Labour' candidate. Thwarted himself, Banton sent Hartley a message of support. The threat of this rival candidature might have had graver results if the Liberal officials had not obtained a message issued in the name of the executive committee of the Labour party which stigmatized this action as 'a grave violation of National Party discipline' and 'a graceless disregard of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald's position', and advised Labour voters not to support Hartley. (fn. 448) Although this instruction was later disavowed by the executive as unofficial, (fn. 449) it served its purpose and Hewart was elected, though by a relatively small majority. (fn. 450)
The outbreak of war in 1914 brought formal politics for the time being to an end. Nevertheless events during the next four years had a profound effect on the course of politics in Leicester. The local Labour party gravely compromised its future by the equivocal attitude that it adopted to the war and by the divisions that the war created in its ranks. The majority naturally followed the leadership of MacDonald: first, at the very beginning, they protested against the war 'in the name of the International Working Class Movement'; (fn. 451) then in the autumn of 1914 they accepted MacDonald's argument that they must resign themselves to it because they could not risk defeat, that they 'could only get out of it by going through with it'. (fn. 452) In 1917 the outbreak of the Russian Revolution and MacDonald's new change of course, his outright advocacy of pacification and negotiated peace, revived the critical spirit of 1914. The May Day celebrations of 1917 were devoted to welcoming the Russian achievement of democracy, to venting popular dislike of the hardships and restrictions that war imposed, and to demanding the restoration of civil and industrial liberties. (fn. 453) May Day 1918 was made the occasion for the expression of similar political criticism. (fn. 454) This was not a policy that would win the approval of all local leaders or their followers. In 1914 the Trades Council had been deeply divided (fn. 455) and as the war progressed the local Labour party found itself torn between loyalty to the war and loyalty to MacDonald and the I.L.P., a division which found expression in the formation of a rival political organization. This, which went under a number of names such as the British Workers' League and the National Democratic Labour party, was a national movement promoted particularly by members of the Social Democratic Federation, who began in 1917 to organize a branch in Leicester. Old campaigners like Joseph Burgess, the first Socialist to stand for the borough, came down to speak on their behalf, and J. F. Green, formerly a clergyman and more recently treasurer of the Social Democratic Federation, was adopted as their prospective parliamentary candidate. (fn. 456) Clashes between the rival parties served to break up the May Day meeting of 1918. (fn. 457) Thus, although the Labour party succeeded in reconstituting its unity, it came out of the war discredited by what many regarded as its unpatriotic conduct and with a rival party well established in the town.
The events of war-time also had their effect on the Liberals. It was not merely that the Russian Revolution and the problems of reconstruction at home introduced issues on which they could not maintain their unity. The war had also completed the breakdown of the local understanding with the Labour party on which their political achievement depended, and the national alliance with the Conservatives negotiated in the course of the war was confirmed when their member, Sir Gordon Hewart, accepted the office of Solicitor-General in the Coalition Government. More important, the conditions of a coalition, in conjunction with the new constituencies created by the Representation of the People Act (1918), (fn. 458) imposed upon the Liberal party a proportionate loss of influence at the next general election. This act affected their fortunes in three ways. By extending the parliamentary borough to include the whole of the municipal borough as it had been enlarged in 1891, it brought into it a number of suburban districts, like Stoneygate, that were regarded as generally Conservative in temper. By dividing the former two-member borough into three single-member constituencies, East, South, and West Leicester, it made more difficult the traditional tactics by which the Liberals had been able to keep moderates and Radicals within the same allegiance by supporting two candidates of different tendencies. (fn. 459) In addition it increased the total electorate to 114,230, of whom more than a third were women. (fn. 460) The disappearance during the war or in the years immediately following it of the local, independent Liberal press deprived the Liberal party of an important means of bringing this new electorate into their orbit.
Although the results of the general election of 1918 were never in doubt, the very arrangements by which it was conducted reflected the weakened position of the Liberals. Of the three coalition candidates put up for Leicester, only one, Sir Gordon Hewart who stood for East Leicester, was a Liberal; the others were a Unionist, T. A. Blane for South, and for West, standing as a member of the Patriotic Labour Coalition, J. F. Green of the British Workers' League. The Liberals were to enjoy only one-third, not as before one-half of the representation. This coalition had to meet the opposition of Labour in each constituency, an opposition consisting of J. Ramsay MacDonald in West Leicester, and in East and South of two local men, George Banton and F. F. Riley, who had more or less consistently followed his lead during the war. (fn. 461) In these conditions, the election was inevitably fought on the war record of MacDonald and his associates. (fn. 462) The imputations laid against their patriotism lost them the support even of some Labour leaders and trades unionists of long standing like Chaplin and Salt; (fn. 463) and although the election was very quiet (fn. 464) and the poll moderate, the Labour candidates were severely defeated. (fn. 465) In the opinion of the Leicester Daily Post 'the cancer of pacifism is removed and Leicester stands vindicated to the world'. (fn. 466)
The stigma attached to the Labour party did not long survive the glow of military victory. With over 12,000 men on the dole and a total of 15,000 unemployed in 1921, Leicester experienced to the full the harsh economic conditions of the period and the Labour party gathered the consequent harvest of protest. (fn. 467) The extent of its recovery was strikingly demonstrated in the East Leicester by-election of 1922, made necessary by the appointment of Sir Gordon Hewart as Lord Chief Justice. (fn. 468) The difficulties and decline of the Liberals were revealed in equal measure. Although the coalition was still in being, a section of the Liberals had for some time resented the restrictions it imposed on them. As early as 1920 Asquith's Free Liberals and the League of Young Liberals had won a following in the executive of the local party, who had begun to criticize Hewart's participation in the government and threatened to nominate an independent candidate. (fn. 469) Now, on Hewart's retirement, they took their opportunity and put forward R. Wilberforce Allen as a Free Liberal. (fn. 470) But this assertion of independence could only be achieved at the cost of splitting their party. Already the supporters of Lloyd George, Sir Jonathan North among others, had formed a separate association of Liberal-Coalitionists and now they too put up a candidate in co-operation with the Conservatives. (fn. 471) This was E. A. Marlow, a boot manufacturer of Northampton. (fn. 472) While the Liberals were divided, George Banton, who was again the Labour candidate, received support from outside the traditionally Labour ranks, notably from a number of Free Churchmen. (fn. 473) He was also favoured by circumstances, not only by the bitterness of the unemployed who had recently vented their feelings in demonstrations and a riot outside the Poor Law office, (fn. 474) but by the general reduction of wages in the boot trade and the lockout of the engineers, all of which revived the militant spirit of his followers. (fn. 475) In an election which was particularly concerned about unemployment, with the issue lying between the methods of state interference advocated by Banton (fn. 476) and Marlow's defence of private enterprise and economy, (fn. 477) the Liberals found difficulty in elaborating a distinct programme. Allen's campaign in support of Free Trade, the League of Nations, and some degree of workers' control in industry (fn. 478) aroused little enthusiasm and he finished bottom of the poll. Banton, on the other hand, won an absolute majority over both his opponents. (fn. 479) In spite of the exceptional circumstances, this result laid down the pattern that local, like national, politics would take in the future. Labour had now taken over the part of the great alternative party and although the Liberals might still stand a chance in a straight fight, they would find that if they had to fight both a Labour and a Conservative candidate, their vote would be hopelessly split between Socialist and anti-Socialist.
These political conditions were well illustrated later in the year in the general election of November, caused by the Conservatives' decision to withdraw from the coalition. Although the followers of Lloyd George and those of Asquith still remained divided, calling themselves respectively National and Free Liberals, (fn. 480) their disunity did not materially affect the result, since they did not come into direct opposition. Nevertheless the Liberals' predicament remained and their voters were called upon to play quite different parts in the three divisions, each of which was contested by a Liberal candidate. In East Leicester Capt. H. A. Evans stood as a National Liberal, enjoying in the end Conservative support as the anti-Socialist opponent of Banton who was defending his seat: the Free Liberal Wilberforce Allen had now transferred himself to South Leicester and was fighting a straight contest as the 'progressive' candidate against the Conservative, W. G. Waterhouse Reynolds, a local man, adopted after Blane had decided to retire; and in West Leicester a Free Liberal, G. E. Spero, a local doctor, was opposing both the government candidate, J. F. Green, who stood again as a National Democrat, and Alfred Hill, a veteran of the local Labour party and the Boot and Shoe Union. (fn. 481) The issues at stake were mainly those of the by-election earlier in the year, issues of economic policy and unemployment. The Liberals found that where they were directly confronting either of their rivals they could either narrowly win, as Evans did in East Leicester, where he defeated Banton by 1,300 votes, or narrowly lose, like Allen who lost South Leicester to Reynolds by 109 votes; but in West Leicester where they fought on two fronts they came bottom of the poll. (fn. 482) The result on the whole brought little comfort to the Liberals, since before the year was out their only successful candidate, Evans, had joined the Conservatives. (fn. 483) Labour on the other hand had barely lost their seat in East Leicester and had now won West Leicester. But the most striking feature of the election was the failure of any single party to achieve an overwhelming dominance such as the Liberals had maintained in the past, and it was this fine balance, rather than their intrinsic voting power, that allowed the Liberal party to remain a significant political force.
The next two general elections, following closely on one another in 1923 and 1924, showed how fine this balance was and how sensitive it made the electorate to small changes of mood. In the first, unemployment was again the chief issue and the three Conservative candidates, Evans, Reynolds, and Alfred Instone, the shipping and airline proprietor, who stood respectively for East, South, and West Leicester, all solidly supported protection, the economic remedy to which Baldwin had committed his party. (fn. 484) In reply the local Labour party adopted with equal spirit the device of the capital levy, to which they had in effect committed themselves in adopting Pethick Lawrence, its chief exponent, as their candidate in West Leicester, Hill having retired. (fn. 485) Where Pethick Lawrence led, Banton followed in East Leicester. (fn. 486) In these conditions, a Liberal revival seemed possible, especially now that the adherents of Lloyd George and Asquith had reunited, for they would oppose the capital levy as readily as the Conservatives and the cause of Free Trade would revive the old battle-cry of their faith and appeal to a country that was not prepared for the innovation of protection. In this hope, they contested each seat, putting forward Allen again in South Leicester, J. Henderson Stewart in East Leicester, and in West Leicester no less a man than Winston Churchill. The campaign in West Leicester set the pace for the other divisions and held the interest not only of Leicester but of the whole country by the intensity with which it was conducted and the contrast between the two chief contestants, Churchill and Pethick Lawrence. Each in his way provided a model of speaking, Churchill dramatically eloquent and powerful, Pethick Lawrence cool, quiet, and academic. Pethick Lawrence's coolness was not shared by his supporters, who conducted a bitter personal attack upon Churchill and his career, condemning him as 'a public danger'. (fn. 487) Strong feelings were aroused on either side and the election as a whole was marked by bitterness and rowdyism. (fn. 488) It was not marked, however, by the Liberal revival that Churchill had hoped to lead. They won, admittedly, South Leicester, where Allen with the undivided support of all the opponents of protection ousted Reynolds by over 4,000 votes: but the two other seats were both won by Labour, because they succeeded in maintaining their support while the anti-Socialist vote was divided. (fn. 489) Although Churchill had not come bottom of the poll, the result bitterly disappointed him: according to another candidate, when the count was known there 'were tears rolling down his face and if ever a man's face showed black sorrow and despair it was his'. (fn. 490) It was his last contest as a Liberal.
Less than a year later in October 1924 a small change in political alignment produced a large change in the political representation of Leicester. Because this general election was brought about by the Liberals' decision to bring down the first Labour government, political alliances could be made which reversed the conditions of the previous year. On this occasion, in East and West Leicester, the Labour candidates, Banton and Pethick Lawrence, had to face a straight fight with a united opposition. The Conservatives and Liberals agreed to support joint candidates, (fn. 491) Capt. Loder the Conservative in East Leicester, (fn. 492) and in West Leicester the Liberal M. A. Gerothwohl, a leading authority on foreign affairs whom Lloyd George had recommended. (fn. 493) This pact did not satisfy the more Radical section of the Liberal party (fn. 494) and, although as a gesture of alliance, Loder's nomination papers were signed by prominent members of the Liberal executive, (fn. 495) the president of the Leicester Liberal Federation, S. Gimson, would do no more than advise members to vote according to conscience. (fn. 496) This understanding, such as it was, did not extend to South Leicester, where the Conservatives put up Capt. Charles Waterhouse of Bakewell (Derb.), to oppose Allen, the Liberal member. Here again the conditions of the last election were not repeated, for this division, which in 1923 had experienced the only straight contest, was now to be the only Leicester seat contested by all three parties. In reply to the Liberal pact (fn. 497) and for the first time since their heavy defeat in 1918, Labour decided to put up a candidate and nominated a young Cambridge graduate, a journalist and Fabian, H. B. Usher. (fn. 498) In this election, which turned on the record of the late Labour government, its handling of the Campbell prosecution and the Russian treaty, the Labour party stood mainly on the defensive against accusations that they had tampered with the course of justice in withdrawing Campbell's prosecution and in handing money to Russia were investing in a 'fraudulent bankrupt' and underwriting international Communism. (fn. 499) These charges were reinforced in the last week of the campaign when the Conservative government published the Zinoviev letter and speculations about the 'Red Plot' filled the front pages of the local and national newspapers. Although this scare, coming at the last minute, stiffened the tension of the election, which was already disturbed by outbreaks of rowdyism, (fn. 500) there is no evidence that it determined the result. In both East and West Leicester, the Labour candidates increased their vote by more than 2,000; in West Leicester it was enough to re-elect Pethick Lawrence with a majority of 737, but in East Leicester Banton was defeated by the even smaller margin of 421. In South Leicester Usher did so well that he effectively split the vote which had returned the Liberal candidate the year before, and Waterhouse the Conservative was comfortably elected. (fn. 501) In 1923 Leicester had been represented by two Labour and one Liberal members. In 1924 the change in Liberal tactics in East and West and Labour's response to them in South Leicester sufficed to produce the disproportionately drastic result by which the town was now represented by one Labour member and two Conservatives.
Of the events of the next five years only two require notice. One, the General Strike of 1926, created some discomfort and disorganization, but although 12,000 came out it led to no disturbances and seems to have left no lasting impression on the political life of the borough. (fn. 502) The Equal Franchise Act of 1928 (fn. 503) had more direct political significance since it increased the electorate by 36,193 and enabled women voters for the first time to outnumber men. (fn. 504) Neither event had much ascertainable significance on the general election of 1929 which was determined here as in the rest of the country by the failure of the Conservatives to discover an imaginative election programme and by the conditions of prosperity and optimism that made the experiment of a Labour government more acceptable. This time no pact was made between any parties and the three of them fought each constituency of the borough. In East Leicester, J. V. Loder defended his seat against two new candidates, E. F. Wise, a man of local origin and a member of the I.L.P., who stood for Labour, (fn. 505) and the Liberal F. Lawson, a boot manufacturer of Wellingborough. (fn. 506) In South Leicester Waterhouse and Usher opposed one another again and the Liberals put up H. G. Purchase, a London barrister. (fn. 507) Pethick Lawrence was opposed in West Leicester by P. V. Emrys Evans, the Conservative candidate, a stockbroker who had had administrative experience in South Africa and the Foreign Office, (fn. 508) and C. W. Hartshorn, a local baker, builder, and Liberal town councillor. (fn. 509) In spite of some noisy Conservative meetings, (fn. 510) the campaign was said to be the quietest known. (fn. 511) Only the Liberals, who had adopted Lloyd George's plans for curing unemployment, committed themselves to a really controversial programme, (fn. 512) and the election for the rest turned on the unexciting merits of the Derating and Safeguarding Acts: (fn. 513) the poll was high, nearly 80 per cent. of the electorate voting. (fn. 514) Labour won a striking success. It was not only that in East and West Leicester they obtained an absolute majority over the other parties, but even in South Leicester their candidate nearly doubled his vote, and Waterhouse the Conservative candidate was only re-elected by a majority of 2,145. (fn. 515)
In voting so extensively for the Labour candidates in 1929, Leicester followed the trend of the country as a whole. Two years later it did so again in decisively rejecting them. The town responded to the economic crisis of 1931 and the formation of the National Government much as the country did at large. The two Labour members and the local Labour party refused to follow MacDonald (fn. 516) and prepared to fight the general election of October in all three divisions. For South Leicester they put up John Dugdale. (fn. 517) After some hesitation the Liberals decided to support the National Government and negotiated a pact with the Conservatives by which they agreed—and this revealed the measure of the Liberal decline—to run a common list of two Conservatives and one Liberal. (fn. 518) The Conservatives were Waterhouse again for South Leicester and for East Leicester A. M. Lyons, a barrister; (fn. 519) the Liberals chose E. H. Pickering; a local resident who had been formerly a professor of English in Japan and was now a Unitarian minister. (fn. 520) The issues appeared clear enough, whether the National Government was to be given a vote of confidence and the country to accept the cuts in unemployment benefits and wages and the abandonment of Free Trade. (fn. 521) In this respect there was nothing exceptional about the campaign in Leicester. Less common perhaps was the intervention here of J. Corah, a leading hosier, who, commenting publicly on the recent improvement in local trade, attributed it to confidence in the National Government and let it be known that if the government was confirmed his firm would consider large extensions to its factories. (fn. 522) Assisted also by a formidable propaganda which culminated on the eve of the election with a half-page advertisement in the local newspapers promising 'The Dawn of a New Era', (fn. 523) the National candidates swept the board. None of the Labour candidates polled as many as half the votes of their opponents. (fn. 524)
The conditions which had secured the success of the National candidates in the last election no longer obtained in the general election of 1935. The number of unemployed was falling, and was said to be the lowest for five years, (fn. 525) the economic crisis was receding, the Liberals had left the government, and the Labour party was reviving. Although unemployment, the means test, and tariffs still provided subjects of political controversy, interest had turned now from domestic to foreign affairs. Abyssinia had been invaded, the authority of the League of Nations was at stake and Baldwin had appealed to the country to support a policy of rearmament. Lyons and Waterhouse defended their seats in East and South Leicester as National candidates. (fn. 526) As Pickering, the retiring National Liberal member for West Leicester, had gone into opposition, (fn. 527) he was replaced by the Hon. Harold Nicolson, who stood, somewhat controversially, as a National Labour candidate, a description by his own account indicating that he represented the left wing of the government, not that he was a Socialist; (fn. 528) his nomination was proposed by a Conservative and seconded by a Liberal. (fn. 529) Labour contested all three divisions, with F. Gould, a national organizer to the Boot and Shoe Union, in East, H. L. Maddock, a London barrister, in South, and a journalist, J. Morgan, in West Leicester. (fn. 530) The Liberals also would have fought all three seats if negotiations for a candidate in South Leicester had not broken down at the last moment. (fn. 531) In the event they had to be satisfied with fighting East and West Leicester, putting forward respectively F. Lawson again and Major E. Crawford, an advertising consultant. (fn. 532) The debate lay in the main between the National candidates' advocacy and Labour's condemnation of rearmament. All parties expressed loyalty to the League of Nations: the difference between them lay in emphasis. The National candidates refused to stake everything on the League, wishing it, in the words of Harold Nicolson, to be a 'League of modesty' and not 'of violence', (fn. 533) and maintained that without rearmament the country was not strong enough to risk anything but collective action in its defence. (fn. 534) The Labour argument was that loyal adherence to the principles of the League would make rearmament unnecessary and that a bellicose policy, such as Morgan and Maddock attributed to Churchill, would lead to war with Germany, (fn. 535) whereas a 'right way' was to 'appeal to the German people, by reasonable treatment, by granting them access to raw materials and the markets of the world'. (fn. 536) It would seem that with regard to the League the one party lacked the faith but willed the means to make it effective, whereas the other had the faith but refused the means. Only the Liberal candidates, so far as can be judged from their speeches, were thoroughgoing in both respects; and they had little expectation of putting their views into effect. In this election the intervention or influence of other parties than the formal contestants was notable. All the candidates paid attention to the League of Nations Union, and the Peace Ballot which it had organized provided useful arguments against rearmament. (fn. 537) The I.L.P., (fn. 538) the Leicester Co-operative Society, (fn. 539) and the national executive of the Free Church Council (fn. 540) all gave their support to Labour. A less welcome intervention came from the local branch of the British Union of Fascists, who tried to disturb a few meetings; their members, however, were insignificant and their interruptions ineffective. (fn. 541)
The election took place in November. All three National candidates were returned but only Waterhouse in South Leicester had a comfortable victory. Lyons's majority was reduced to 2,910, and in West Leicester Nicolson beat his Labour opponent by no more than 87 votes. (fn. 542) Although the representation was unchanged, the Labour party had recovered much of the ground that it had lost in 1931: its organizers even maintained that but for the wet weather which reduced the poll to 70 per cent. they would have gained 1 seat if not 2. (fn. 543) The Liberals, on the other hand, continued to decline: one of their candidates suffered the loss of his deposit; the other just avoided it. (fn. 544)
This was the last election before war broke out in 1939 and for ten years Leicester continued to be represented by the National members elected in 1935. In 1945 the borough experienced in the fullest measure the revival that carried the Labour party into office. In the general election of that year Labour won all three seats and established a hold on the electorate that had not been substantially challenged by 1956. (fn. 545) The representation, however, was modified by the Representation of the People Act (1948), which enlarged the parliamentary borough, made it once more co-extensive with the county borough (extended in 1935), and divided it afresh into four divisions, NorthEast, South-East, South-West, and North-West. (fn. 546) In the general elections of 1950, 1951, and 1955 the Labour party won three of these divisions and the Conservatives won South-East Leicester. (fn. 547) These results in effect confirmed the election of 1945 and reflected more faithfully the proportionate electoral strength of the two great parties, since in that election the Labour candidate had won South Leicester by only a slender majority. These elections also confirmed the decline of the Liberal party. In 1950 all their candidates lost their deposits and in 1951 and 1955 they did not contest the election. In 1951 a little over a quarter of the Liberal votes seem to have been given to the Labour party and a little over two-thirds to the Conservatives. The election of 1950 was the first in which a Communist contested a Leicester seat.
The most obvious characteristic of local politics in the last century and a quarter was a fidelity worthy of the Semper Eadem of the civic arms. Except in the period of uncertainty between the First and Second World Wars Leicester gave its political allegiance predominantly to the left. Nevertheless this constancy must be allowed to obscure neither the changes associated with the decline of the Liberal party, the Conservative revival, and the rise of Labour which distinguished the period between 1885 and 1945 from the 50 years before; nor the moderation with which its allegiance was usually tempered. The politics of the town were marked throughout by a distaste for extremes. The attempt made in the time of John Biggs to win it entirely for Radicalism failed and was followed by over 40 years of compromise which divided the representation equally between moderate and advanced Liberals; and after the decline of the Liberals the representation remained on the whole divided, though unequally, between the Conservative and Labour parties. The Labour movement only began to make effective progress when it diluted the uncompromising Socialism that coloured its earlier electoral campaigns; and, later, neither Fascists nor Communists obtained an appreciable following. Although political life was generally intense, not complacent, it was rarely violent.
The contribution of Leicester to national politics was not negligible. It took an active and sometimes a leading part in the agitation for reform, in the Anti-Corn Law League, the Chartist movement, the activities of the Liberation Society. It was closely connected with the heart of the Labour movement during its formative years. There was hardly a 'progressive' movement that did not receive a welcome and support. On the other hand, Leicester was rarely distinguished by great political initiative or outstanding political talent. Only one important movement, the Liberation Society, can be said to have had its origin there. Those of its politicians who achieved a national reputation, Thomas Cooper, P. A. Taylor, Henry Broadhurst, Ramsay MacDonald, were not bred in the town, and MacDonald, who alone reached high political office, had been repudiated before he attained it. It may be that Leicester was too independent, its spirit too egalitarian, its resources too evenly distributed to produce or tolerate the counterpart of a Joseph Chamberlain. John Biggs was the only man who might have aspired to such a personal ascendancy and he was thwarted by financial failure and the jealousy of his compeers. Otherwise, with the exception perhaps of Sir John Rolleston's connexion with the Conservative party, political leadership was collective rather than personal. (fn. 548)