"The Transformation of Urban Liberalism" re-evaluates the dramatic and turbulent political decade following the 'Third Reform Act', and questions whether the Liberal Party's political heartlands - the urban boroughs - really were in decline. In contrast to some recent studies, it does not see electoral reform, the Irish Home Rule crisis and the challenge of socialism as representing a fundamental threat to the integrity of the party. Instead this book illustrates, using parallel case studies, how the party gradually began to transform into a social democratic organisation through a re-evaluation of its role and policy direction. This process was not one directed from the centre - despite the important personalities of Gladstone and Rosebery - but rather one heavily influenced by 'grass roots politics'. Consequently, it suggests that late Victorian politics was more democratic and open than sometimes thought, with leading urban politicians forced to respond to the demands of party activists. Changes in the structure of urban rule produced new policy outcomes and brought new collectivist forms of New Liberalism onto the political agenda. Thus, it is argued that without the political transformations of the decade 1885-1895, the radical liberal governments of the Edwardian era would not have been possible.
Contents: Introduction: The slow death of liberal England? Part I Reform and the Urban Radical Tradition: The rise of Manchester radicalism; Leicester liberalism: an uneasy alliance. Part II The Home Rule Crisis in the Towns: Manchester and the Home Rule crisis; Leicester: unionism marginalised?. Part III Municipal Government Transformed?: Municipal scandals and realignment; The 'politicisation' of the town hall. Part IV The Town and the Suburbs: Manchester's suburban radicalism; Incorporation - an agent of radicalism?. Part V The Challenge of Progressivism: Manchester and the rise of progressivism; The Labour challenge in Leicester. Conclusion: The road to New Liberalism. Appendices; Bibliography; Index.