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RETHINKING THE EDWARDIAN CRISIS OF CONSERVATISM

DAVID THACKERAY
The Historical Journal
Vol. 54, No. 1 (MARCH 2011), pp. 191-213
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23017287
Page Count: 23
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RETHINKING THE EDWARDIAN CRISIS OF CONSERVATISM
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Abstract

This article reconsiders the culture of popular Conservatism in Edwardian Britain, when it has often been claimed that the Unionist parties underwent a profound crisis. According to Ewen Green, for example, in the immediate years before the First World War, Conservative leaders failed to offer policies that could unite their party or enable it to develop an effective popular appeal. Consequently, the party appeared to be drifting towards potential disaster and disintegration. Whilst historians are correct to argue that deep divisions emerged within the Unionist ranks, inhibiting their electoral prospects, the vibrancy of rank-and-file Conservatism in Edwardian Britain nevertheless tends to be underestimated. By embracing a variety of populist causes in 1913—14, the Conservative party appeared to have found a way to overcome its electoral malaise. Moreover, by taking important steps to widen their social appeal, the Conservatives laid the foundations for post-war success during these years of supposed `crisis'.

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