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Popular Politics and Popular Culture in the Age of the Masses

Studies in Lancashire and the North West of England, 1880s to 1930s


Jeffrey Hill

The book is a selection of essays from the author’s work since the early 1980s. It presents an analysis of political and cultural trends based upon a series of case studies drawn from the North West of England, covering mainly the years between the Third Reform Act (1884) and the outbreak of the Second World War. The region was a heavily industrialized one, seen by many as in the vanguard of changes that gave rise to what is often referred to as ‘modern’ society. In politics the emergence in North West England of a new labour consciousness is plainly evident, but so too is the survival and adaptation of older political allegiances, notably popular Toryism. The region is also renowned in cultural terms for the emergence of modern sport, examined here in relation to both association football and cricket. Keenly aware of the general political, social and cultural developments in Britain and elsewhere during these years, the author is also alert to their impact in particular localities. The theme of locality has been a recurring one in the author’s research, and the composition of this book reflects his changing approaches to it and to other, related issues of identity.
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Chapter Three: Social Democracy and the Labour Movement: The Social-Democratic Federation in Lancashire


← 50 | 51 → CHAPTER THREE

Lancashire is recognised as having been a key area in the development of the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF). Though accurate details of the movement’s membership are hard to come by it seems reasonably certain that from about the early 1890s onwards a substantial proportion of the SDF’s branches and members was located in the North West of England. Indeed, Lancashire was probably the Federation’s most important provincial centre, often rivalling London in the extent and seriousness of its social-democratic activity.1 However, few labour historians have seen fit to examine the SDP’s development in this region. No doubt this is a reflection of the neglect from which the Federation has suffered nationally from historians, most of whom seem to feel that the organisation was a negligible force in working-class politics and contributed little or nothing to ‘mainstream’ developments.2 This view has some massively influential support behind it, of course, starting with Engels and coming through to ← 51 | 52 → Henry Collins.3 It also contains a good deal of truth. The SDF was a small movement and though many political activists passed through its ‘revolving doors’ it was never at any one time a leading influence in working-class life nationally (though in some districts of London and Lancashire it may have been). The question is: why was the SDF unable to establish a more prominent place in the labour movement? The orthodox answer hinges on the fact that it failed to grasp the complexities of Marxism. Under the...

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