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Party and Constituency in Victorian Britain


Cox, Gary Walter (1983) Party and Constituency in Victorian Britain. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/E9CE-G938.


The development in the British parliament, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, of highly cohesive legislative parties is a leading thread in the complex of events marking Britain's passage from an aristocratic to a democratic politics. Since the 1870s, journalists and scholars have attempted to account for the marked increase in the frequency with which MPs voted with their parties, and a number of plausible hypothesis have been advanced. There has not, however, been a systematic exposition of the kinds of factors which might, in theory, have been responsible for the change, nor much in the way of testing those ideas which have been suggested.

We argue that most of the explanations in the literature cannot explain the earliest increases in party cohesion -- in the 1860s and 1870s. Sometimes, this is simply because the factors to which the explanation refers are not operative until a later date. In other cases, we devise tests of the hypotheses and find them wanting. In particular, we find no support in the 1870s for the idea, associated with Mosei Ostrogonski, that the new local party associations which developed after the second Reform Act effectively pressured MPs to support their party's leadership.

Our theoretical discussion of the determinants of party cohesion leads us to investigate, as an alternative source of legislative change, the effect of electoral voting behavior (or, more properly, anticipations of such behavior) on legislative voting behavior. The bulk of the thesis is devoted to this task, and proceeds as follows: First, extensive use is made of a peculiarly detailed form of electoral documentation available in the double-member districts of pre-1885 Britain to study electoral behavior in the 1841-1880 period. This study reveals clear and marked changes in British electoral behavior in the 1860s and 1870s which have not hitherto been documented in the literature. An expected utility maximization model of the decision problem faced by electors in the double-member districts is developed and used to interpret these behavioral findings. We argue that voters became more party-oriented in the 1860s and 1870s, voting more on the basis of their preferences between the two great parties -- the Liberals and Conservatives -- and less on the basis of their attitudes toward the individual candidates. This shift in the basis of electoral choice, we argue, with electors becoming less responsive to the issue positions adopted by MPs, meant that the electoral benefits to an MP of dissent were smaller relative to the sanctions available to party leaders. Hence, we expect a decline in the influence of constituents over the voting behavior of their MPs (and a concomitant increase in party voting.) A number of approaches to the measurement of the influence of constituents over their MPs' voting behavior are taken, and the findings, on the whole, support the hypothesis.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:19th century British political history; cabinet government; political parties
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Social Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Kousser, J. Morgan
Thesis Committee:
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick (chair)
  • Cain, Bruce E.
  • Fiorina, Morris P.
  • Kousser, J. Morgan
Defense Date:7 September 1982
Funding AgencyGrant Number
John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes FellowshipUNSPECIFIED
Anna and James McDonnell Memorial ScholarshipUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-08212006-133159
Persistent URL:
Cox, Gary Walter0000-0002-9256-5193
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:3181
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:29 Aug 2006
Last Modified:21 Sep 2020 23:26

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