Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties - Vol. 1

By M. Ostrogorski; Frederick Clarke | Go to book overview

THIRD CHAPTER
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CAUCUS

I

THE Birmingham Radicals who regarded the minority clause of the Reform Bill of 1867 as antidemocratic, were very anxious to nullify its effect. Their idea was, that this might perhaps be accomplished by means of an electoral scheme adopted beforehand, but that a formidable organization would be necessary for the purpose. The old organization of the Liberal party seemed to them too lax, too feeble. The Registration Societies, the Reform or Liberal Associations which had sprung up since 1832, were groups of subscribers, of amateurs, and were in the hands of traditional leaders incapable of getting at the masses who had just been brought on the political stage by the extension of the franchise. Birmingham received 30,000 new electors. The opponents of the minority clause believed that to ensure the victory, the party organization ought to reach all these voters, to make them feel that they were about to fight pro aris et focis, that the Liberal party was their own party, the party of each one of them. To meet these views, one of the Radical leaders, Mr. W. Harris, architect, man of letters, and secretary of the Birmingham Liberal Association, proposed a plan of organization according to which all the Liberals of the locality were to meet in every ward, and elect representatives to manage the affairs of the party. Being nominated directly by the people and keeping in constant communication with the inhabitants of the wards, the delegates would be able to decide authoritatively on the general direction to be given to the party, as well as on all the important questions of the day, and especially on the choice of candidates for the elections. For this latter purpose in particular "a more popular body must be provided -- a body which should not only be a reflex of popular opinion, but

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