By Jon Lawrence
During this engagingly written heritage of electioneering in Britain from the eighteenth century to the current, Jon Lawrence explores the altering dating among politicians and public. all through this era, he argues, British politics has been characterised by means of bruising public rituals meant to bestow legitimacy on politicians by way of obliging them to stand a frequently irreverent public on extensively equivalent phrases. Face-to-face interplay used to be critical either to the disorderly civic rituals of eighteenth-century politics, and to the Victorian and Edwardian election assembly. maybe strangely, it additionally survived in lovely impolite well-being among the wars, regardless of the emergence of the hot mass verbal exchange media of radio and cinema. however the related can't be stated of the post-war period and the increase of tv. at the present time such a lot politicians are content material purely to provide the illusion of significant engagement--walkabouts, canvassing and conferences are all designed to make sure that such a lot senior politicians come into touch basically with the smiling faces of that dwindling band, the "party faithful." Lloyd George and Churchill may need relished the tough and tumble of a tumultuous public assembly, yet their smooth opposite numbers are usually extra risk-averse (and no longer with out cause, on condition that the cameras are constantly current to trap their mishaps). yet this isn't one other nostalgic lament for a misplaced "golden age." to the contrary, Electing Our Masters argues that politicians usually nonetheless crave the kudos to be derived from bruising encounters with an irreverent public--hence Tony Blair's so-called "masochism process" within the 2005 election crusade, with its succession of gruelling periods earlier than reside studio audiences. As Lawrence issues out, the important query for at the present time is: will we convince our broadcasters that such encounters needs to shape a staple of contemporary, mediated politics?
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Extra resources for Electing Our Masters: The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair
The very fact that wealthy politicians and their supporters were prepared to connive in disorderly behaviour gave licence to ordinary electors and non-electors to become the authors of their own electoral mayhem. For the most part this took a less sinister form—drunken rowdyism, cat-calls, perhaps casual stone-throwing and ﬁst ﬁghts. But whilst the Victorian memoirist J. A. Bridges may have had a point when he described such scenes as the result of the poor’s ‘innate rowdyism, and a love of what they considered sport’, in the right context such disorder could become overtly political.
During an election vast sums would be spent distributing party favours such as ﬂags, ribbons, and neckties in the local colour of each party. Indeed, in many constituencies the party was the colour—that is to say voters’ primary loyalties appeared to be to the cause of the ‘Blues’ or the ‘Reds’ against their historic local enemies, rather than to national party factions at Westminster. When political symbolism was so highly charged, those keen to promote single-issue causes such as anti-slavery, factory reform, or the People’s Charter often struggled to construct a public idiom that could mobilize the customary visual language of politics without antagonizing the partisan passions of one side or another.
Where the established parties often combined the visual symbolism of nation and locality (enmeshing family crests and emblems with powerful symbols of nation such as the Union ﬂag), Radicals embraced a countericonography which valorized the symbols of honest labour and protest. Fergus O’Connor, controversial editor of the radical Northern Star and a leading Chartist, famously wore a rough fustian suit, while Richard Oastler was known to wear a torn coat—a battle honour from his struggles with the Leeds ‘Bainesites’ (signiﬁcantly both were ‘gentleman leaders’ seeking ways of symbolizing their commitment to the workers’ cause).