The 1895 General Election and Political Change in Late Victorian Britain

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Since the 1960s, the politics of the period 1860 to 1906 have received much attention, particularly by historians of the Conservative party. On the whole, it has been argued that Conservative electoral success during this period was a 'negative' achievement. Through an examination of the election of 1895 this article questions this argument. It suggests that both the nature of the Unionists' appeal and the factors behind their performance in general elections in this period have to an extent been oversimplified since the pioneering quantitative work of James Cornford. A content analysis of Liberal and Unionist candidates' election addresses is presented in order to make sense of the issues of the campaign, full details of which can be found in the appendix to this article. The Liberal message is shown to be more coherent, and that of the Unionists more positive, than is usually assumed. Cornford's methodology is also challenged, and an alternative (and simpler) approach is suggested. It is argued that in 1895 there was in general no inverse correlation between Conservative vote and turnout, or between Conservative vote and changes to the electoral registers. And although party organization was very important to the Unionists' success there seems little evidence of any over-arching plan to keep both turnout and the number of registered electors down.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467 - 493
Number of pages27
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1999


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