A neglected electoral system? Alternative electoral geographies of nineteenth-century Britain
thesisposted on 09.12.2009, 12:25 by Matthew Badcock
This thesis explores the electoral geography of nineteenth-century Britain. It is inspired by contemporary studies of the British electoral landscape since 1945 and the geography of campaign fund-raising and expenditure. Using the ideas and concepts developed in these studies this thesis applies these to nineteenth-century elections in a way that has never before been attempted using unique source materials. It is focused around three main themes: the geography of the electoral landscape of the nineteenth century, disproportionality and bias in the electoral system and the geographies of campaign expenditure. The findings of this thesis suggest that the notion of Britain as a democratising nation needs to be revisited, at least with respect to the operation of its electoral system. The dominant narrative in the political and electoral historiography of the democratisation of nineteenth-century Britain remains one which is focused around the importance of the extension of the franchise and the resultant growth of the electorate, the implementation of single-member constituencies and the redistribution of seats, and the introduction of anti-corruption measures such as the secret ballot. While these undoubtedly aided the development of a more democratic political system, this thesis demonstrates that the electoral system itself still produced outcomes that were disproportional, biased and beginning to be manipulated by the major political parties; the Liberal party especially was better rewarded by the process of translating votes into seats than they should have been, and were more effective in influencing the vote through geographically targeted campaigning. Ultimately, the thesis uses these different themes, arguments and methodologies to investigate how efficient the translation of votes into seats was in the nineteenth century, opening up new debates about the process of democratisation and political modernisation in Britain.