book-reviews

Political Parties in Britain, 1783-1867

by Eric J. Evans

Rating: ★★★

I feel rather unfair giving this second Lancaster Pamphlets item only three stars. Like the previous publication on William Pitt the Younger, also by Evans, it is an excellent overview of its subject matter, balancing some light anecdote with solid coverage of the key events over a long period. The reason for the average rating is simply that the short length and summary style limit how interesting the book can get.

It was the biography mentioned above which inspired me to read up on this topic. The political reality of today -- that government is controlled by a party, which expects to pass any legislation it puts forward -- has not always been relied upon. Up until George III, who seems to have been the last politically strong monarch, the government was managed by a cabinet of ministers who could expect to have their proposals defeated on occasion. There was no opposition or governing party, and though of course cliques would form, these were always temporary arrangements.

This does not mean that the elections were more constitutionally ideal. The electorate was restricted to the richest landowners, as was the pool of MP candidates. Many seats were never contested, merely appointed by dominating local powers. As the power of the monarchy faded, political parties began to rise in import, and matters of their organisation became more important to retaining control of government. The original division over defending the monarch and reforming parliament would later transform into a largely religious political division between two evolving parties -- the Anglican Tories and the non-conforming Liberals.

A great read for anyone like me looking for an overview of how the current state of politics came to be, I'll be looking for more in this vein, using the references Evans provides.