This chapter presents a broad overview of the place of Europe and European questions in British political history. It establishes a sense of the historiographical context, considering in turn the ‘new’ political history of recent decades, the histories of party politics, diplomacy and its culture, Europe as Britain’s comparator, British identity, post-war attitudes to European unity, and structural tensions. Reflecting on this contextual framework prompts questions about the chronological parameters we use to assess the last two centuries of interaction with the Continent, not least about the historiographical role of the two world wars, their origins, and their impact. It also raises the issue of the generational phases through which the British polity has passed in its complicated dance with its European neighbours.
Traditionally, fascism in Britain has been seen in fairly narrow terms as a phenomenon of the 1930s associated with Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF). This approach to the subject made it easy to account for the fortunes of fascism as a movement essentially marginal to British society and thus of limited significance. The Union Movement that Mosley founded in 1948 campaigned for imperial control of Africa, a united Europe, and an end to coloured immigration. But this did not amount to a full fascist programme; the movement found itself caught halfway between the conventional parties and the racist fringe. More extreme elements soon spawned a range of new groups including the National Party, the National Workers Movement, and Chesterton's League of Empire Loyalists, which proved to be influential as a training ground for a new generation of leaders of the far right.
This chapter examines the role of Great Britain in the Cold War. It describes the condition and experiences of Britain from 1945 to 1990 and explores how Britain managed to maintain its global influence during the Cold War, despite its decline. The chapter argues that although Britain was forced to operate within structure of the Cold War, the British state and its leaders were able to make their own political decisions. Examples of these include the war resolution against Argentina to recapture the Falklands Islands in 1982, the decision not to participate in the Schuman Plan negotiations of 1950, and the determination to develop a nuclear bomb shortly after the end of World War 2.
Joyce E. Chaplin
The phrase ‘British Atlantic’ brings together two terms that emerged rather belatedly (and perhaps unhelpfully) in the history of English colonisation. From the late seventeenth century onward, the English colonies underwent unprecedented population growth, which inspired new faith in colonists' ability to adapt to and dominate the New World. While other European empires may also have had either a degree of colonial autonomy or rapid population growth, only English-speaking colonists gained confidence from both characteristics. But this settler confidence was challenged, from the mid-eighteenth century onward, by the creation of a British empire with Atlantic dimensions. Because settlers in the English-speaking colonies had for a long time connected a non-British identity, meaning Englishness, to being an ocean away from England itself, the newly British and Atlantic empire was less inviting to them and the temptation to define Americans' political and natural interests as separate from Great Britain was eventually overwhelming. In Parliament and beyond, Britons and British Americans discussed the problems of slavery and openly contemplated how the slave trade and forced labour might not have an indefinite future.
Principally, Scottish historians have been concerned with three groups of questions. First, they have been exercised by the question of class: to what extent were popular politics, and radicalism in particular, a reflection of Scotland's experiences of industrialization and demographic expansion across this period; and how far do they provide a key to the exploration of class formation and inter-class relations? A second and related set of questions revolves around the issue of ‘stability’: was Scotland relatively more stable a society across this period, especially in comparison to England and Ireland; and, if so, what factors would explain this? A final set of questions runs throughout modern Scottish historiography: what do the politics of the period reveal about the relationship between England and Scotland, and the position of Scotland within the imperial state? This article examines the ‘Age of Reform’ along the line provided by the Napoleonic Wars and suggests what was distinctive about popular political developments in Scotland in each of these periods.
The existential challenge to the Union began with the election of a disciplined cadre of MPs from the Irish Party in 1880, and culminated with the election of a Scottish National Party majority government in 2011. The years from 1885 to 1921 have been described as the high age of primordial unionism. For a primordial unionist, the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, passed by an Act of Parliament in 1800 and taking effect in January 1801, was to be defended at all costs. Prime Minister William Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule in 1885 splintered the party systems throughout the British Isles, and in Scotland, created the Unionist Party, the dominant party until the 1950s. This article examines the challenges faced by the Union, focusing on efforts to kill the Home Rule during 1885–1924 and the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. It also discusses the Constitutional Convention, the Labour Party government and its policies, and the ‘West Lothian Question’ and ‘Barnett Formula’.
Despite current concerns with good governance and policy delivery, little serious attention has been paid to the institution vital to both: the Civil Service. This chapter places present problems in historical context. Starting with the seminal 1854 Northcote–Trevelyan Report, it covers the ‘lost opportunity’ of the 1940s when the Civil Service failed to adapt to rapidly rising demands on the state, as advocated by Beveridge and Keynes. It then examines the belated attempts at modernization in the 1960s, the Service’s vilification in the 1970s, the final destruction of the ‘old order’ during the Thatcher administration, and the subsequent restructuring of the Service and the (highly flawed) embracing of the ‘new public management’ ethos.
Michael J. Braddick
This chapter reviews recent work on the English civil war and English Revolution, and related topics, including the Scottish Covenanters’ revolution, the Irish rising of 1641, Confederate Ireland, and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It sets the recent emphasis on the fluidity and dynamism of the politics in the context of the debate prompted by revisionist critiques of Marxist and Whig historiographies. It argues that close attention to fluidity has not been at the expense of consideration of the larger structures of political life and long-term transformations in them. Attempts to relate the crisis and its effects on constitutional development to social structural change and economic transformation have largely failed but, it is argued, the crisis had long-term effects on state formation, religious change, and political thought and culture in all Three Kingdoms, and on their mutual relationships in the nascent British state.
This chapter seeks to bring out the interrelated quality of twentieth century discussions of democracy, drawing especially on debates in the 1930s and 1970s. It locates these within the longer history of the British conversation about democracy, a conversation that was both influenced by discussions elsewhere and informed by comparisons with, and imaginings of, other polities. It starts with an examination of the history of debating democracy in Britain and then turns to the British way of doing democracy. It argues that the former is essential to making sense of the latter. It moves on to consider how the British have done democracy, drawing upon an emerging cultural history of democratic practices. The final section offers thoughts on the prospects for the historiography of democracy in Britain, and on what its development so far says about the state of modern British political history.
This chapter attempts to draw out comparisons and make sense of devolution as a UK-wide phenomenon. Devolution has taken a variety of forms at different times in different parts of the UK. A key aim of the chapter is to describe these varieties and explain why no common form of devolution emerged. Devolution may be a form of constitutional development but it has always been linked to wider socio-demographic and economic developments as much as to the sense of collective identities. Some interpretations emphasize the role of national identity in the demands for devolution in Scotland and Wales while others lay more emphasis on differences in political preferences that stimulated demands for self-government. No understanding of the politics of devolution is complete without an appreciation of the roles of identity, the party systems, political and public policy preferences, and how these changed over time.
This chapter falls into two unequal parts. The first charts, broadly chronologically, the shifting understandings, historical and historiographical, of the role of the state in economic life. The second focuses on debates about the performance of the economy, especially notions of ‘decline’ which have been central to those debates since the late nineteenth century. Variegated but overlapping senses of ‘decline’, originating in very specific historical circumstances, have overshadowed much writing on the modern British economy, with, it will be argued, often detrimental effects on our understanding. Such notions need to be historicized—placed firmly in the intellectual, ideological, and above all political contexts within which they arose.
This chapter evaluates the two principal methodologies adopted in studying elections over the past 200 years. The first prominently features ‘psephological’ analyses of aggregate voting data and social cleavages; the second is the revisionist ‘linguistic’ approach, which emphasizes the careful reconstruction and exploration of electoral languages and discourses, often in a specific locality. This chapter argues that, while both approaches have undoubtedly yielded considerable benefits, what was once a large field of scholarly endeavour has been split in two, with the empirical, quantitative tradition now associated with political science on one side and the now dominant cultural and linguistic approaches on the other. The chapter ends by exploring potential new directions and argues that the advent of the ‘digital turn’ and the vast proliferation of electronic sources in its wake now make possible an approach which could see the gap between electoral historians and political scientists begin to close.
David L. Smith
This chapter examines politics in England from the regicide of Charles I in 1649 to the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Its central theme is the persistent tension that existed between the army officers and the civilian politicians. This produced a troubled relationship between the army and successive parliaments, leading to a series of army interventions in politics—in 1648–9, 1653, 1654, and 1659—and a period of direct military rule by the Major-Generals in 1655–7. Over the Interregnum loomed the figure of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658, whose political dominance owed much to his unique ability to straddle the worlds of the army officers and the civilian politicians. After his death, the disparate elements of the republic soon fell apart, and ironically it was a final army intervention in 1660 that paved the way for the return of the Stuart monarchy.
This essay discusses a central theme of this volume—that the civil wars occurred both within and between three kingdoms with a single king. The Covenanters’ protest in Scotland followed an afforced redefinition of the relationship with Ireland, and the rise of the Confederates in Ireland was in part a Catholic attempt to achieve a similar confederal relationship with Protestant Britain. Presbyterian Scots and the Catholic Irish found that security for their devolved governments depended on outcomes in England that they therefore needed to shape. The essay examines these asymmetries, how differing national aspirations were reflected in the symbols of nationhood, and how conscious Stuart efforts to create interconnection between the aristocracies of all Three Kingdoms complicated the political and military struggle and processes of state formation. Finally, it considers how the wars between the kingdoms complicated the revolt in the English provinces that we call the English civil wars.
Lucy Bland and Lesley Hall
This article discusses the impact of eugenics in Britain. It discusses eugenics as a biological way of thinking about social, economic, political, and cultural change. It gives scientific credibility to prejudices, anxieties, and fears that are prevalent primarily among the middle and upper classes. It delineates the tensions between “classic” and “reform”, although this is only one modality along which to align the complex factors that polarized the society—some of them ideological, some of them about tactics, and some based on personalities. It gives a detailed description of the differentiation of societies' activities into study and practice. The social problem group; research into contraceptive methods; family allowances; race mixture; and immigration are discussed. The practices are divided into negative and positive. Finally, this article concludes that eugenicists see feeblemindedness as hereditary, emblematic of degeneracy, and contributes to numerous social problems, such as poverty and unemployment.
A focus on the national institutions of the British state and the men who populated them was the first means by which many understood ‘political history’. This ‘high politics’ remains a popular way to understand the subject. Yet, ‘high politics’ has also been criticized by radical advocates of ‘history from below’ for its methodological and political conservatism. This chapter assesses the merits of focusing on Westminster, Whitehall, and its denizens by employing insights from political science, notably the notion of structure and agency as well as the literature associated with new institutionalism. The chapter also assesses the contribution of the ‘Peterhouse School’—one long reviled by many high-political historians as well as by historians of popular social movements—as a way of bridging the gap between the two methods of conceiving the dynamics of Britain’s modern political history.
This chapter surveys scholarly writing about the intersection of religion and sport in the United States and Britain. It reviews the dominant historiography of works on religion and athletics, arguing that historians have focused primarily on clergy within Protestant traditions and the question of whether specific sports were considered licit or illicit in different places and times. This perspective occludes consideration of Catholic and other religions, the historical importance of bloodsport, and the informal nature of the interrelationship of religion and sport in daily life. The chapter also examines approaches to sport in scholarship from religious studies, highlighting the ways that scholars of religion have imagined sport as a form of religion (or “natural religion,” civil religion), often taking the perspective of the spectator and fan. The chapter concludes by exploring newer modes of analysis that explore the body as a site where religion and sport intersect.
Radicalism peaked in Scotland in the 1790s, and would continue to rumble into the 1820s, and beyond that, into Chartism and suffrage disputes. Coming out of the eighteenth century, the Scots found common cause as Britons facing down the upheavals of American independence, war with France, the United Irishmen's challenge to British rule, and union with Ireland. Tales of great men, especially military men, marked Scotland's impact in its Empire role. The regiments and the (often brutal) successes of the Scottish soldier were strong narratives at home. Similarly, accounts of Scottish overseas missionaries coupled firmly nation and Empire across the genders. These were identities of the Union state. In John M. Mackenzie's terms, the British Empire, for the Scots, reflected English institutions imbued with a Scottish ethos. This article explores identity within the Union state during the years 1800–1900, focusing on parliamentary reform and political identity, nationalism within the Union state, and the establishment of the Scottish Home Rule Association in 1886.
This chapter explores what its author sees as three of the most important, and closely related, recent historiographical themes relating to the articulation but also the impact of British political ideas since 1800: political realities, modernity, and moralities. The chapter analyses the close connections and interplay between these three initially seemingly uncomfortable bedfellows, and argues that collectively they have produced a contemporary historiography that, in crossing boundaries in its consideration of cultural, social, and intellectual history; ideas and action; popular and elite attitudes; high ideals; but also sometimes painful realities, is now richer in its understanding of all of these.
This chapter examines British external policy against the background of the expansion of the British empire up to the end of the First World War and its long and uneven demise thereafter. In exploring the political dimensions of this process of expansion and contraction the chapter aims to explore the complexities of the scholarships and chronologies involved. It evaluates how historians have approached key challenges and critical turning points, including the debates surrounding ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ empire, the impact of two world wars, the Suez crisis of 1956 and the decision to withdraw from positions ‘East of Suez’ in 1971.