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radical democrats and socialists “ as much as British radicals “ remained
enthusiastic supporters of both direct democracy and local self-government.
If the NLF struggled with the inevitable contradictions between the desire
to establish a national party organization, and the aspiration to strengthen
participation and the local dimension, in France both democrats and social-
ists found their attachment to direct democracy to constitute a major
˜practical and ideological™213 hindrance to the formation of a modern
party. The latter implied delegation of sovereignty and a certain degree of
centralization, both bureaucratic and political. Although the French too
were acquainted with forms of local electoral societies structurally similar to
the Birmingham ˜caucus™,214 their main problem was how to integrate
regional associations into a national political organization. This involved
subordinating the inclinations and practices of local, spontaneous political
sociability to the needs of electoral action.215 It was only in 1905, with the
foundation of the French Socialist party, that they developed a working
definition of the relationship between deputies in the National Assembly,
local clubs “ always extremely jealous of their autonomy “ and the party
leader. Both British radicals and French socialists were hesitant to accept
the full implications of the representative principle: namely, that the power
of the people should be parted with, and given over, for a limited period, to
an elected deputy. Obviously, in the case of the NLF the problem derived
not from any sans-culotte heritage, but from the old British emphasis on
participatory citizenship and community self-government, as well as a
reluctance to tolerate intermediaries between MPs and their constituents.
Thus, in a comparative perspective the NLF does not look much less
democratic “ or more oligarchic “ than other left-wing organizations in
contemporary continental Europe, let alone Ireland. In fact, as the
powers of the council were curtailed in 1895, delegates became more
aggressive and outspoken than they had ever been in the past. It was clear
that centralization could not be carried out without generating consid-
erable attrition with local associations. In particular, the reaction of the
rank and file became vocal at the 1897 council, when the Kingston
delegates demanded more power in policy making and the introduction
of a postal ballot for the election of the executive. The latter request aimed
at ensuring larger and more representative polls by maximizing members™
participation and by making the executive more accountable and more


213
R. Huard, ˜La genesi dei partiti democratici moderni in Francia™, in M. Brigaglia (ed.),
L™origine dei partiti nell™ Europa contemporanea, 1870“1915 (Bologna, 1985), 131.
214
P. Polivka, ˜L™elezione senatoriale di Fallieres nel 1906. Militanti e notabili radicali al
`
tempo del ˜˜Blocco delle sinistre™™™, in Brigaglia, L™origine dei partiti, 165“80.
215
Ibid.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 211

authoritative in its dealings with both the parliamentary party and the
allied pressure groups.216
At present some 200 people met at some place in the north or the south, and that
small body elected the Executive Committee, which had to control the destiny of
the Liberal party. The principle now suggested was . . . a sound democratic
principle. Let them not be humbugged, but stand to their principles and support
popular representation. Take control from the hands of the few and place it in the
hands of the many. Instead of putting power in the hands of 200 people, put the
power in the hands of the delegates of the associations . . . Their organization
needed to be much more decentralized than it was. They now had an opportunity
to make the Federation democratic, but if they would not do so, don™t let them go
about the country and talk about one man and one vote and popular representa-
tion, which their leaders, without consulting them, dropped into the
background.217

The proposal was supported by the delegates of several provincial asso-
ciations, including a working man, George Markam (East St Pancras),
who complained that ˜the Liberal party . . . had to some extent got out of
touch with the Labour party™218 (that is, with its labour supporters). By
contrast, among the main opponents were Herbert Samuel and
Professor Massie of the Oxford association,219 both arguably closer to
the London leaders than to provincial radicalism. They expressed a view
which was effectively summarized by Haldane, when he wrote that ˜[the]
future programme could not be fashioned by the officials of the National
Liberal Federation, but only by a statesman with an outlook which was
fresh and appreciative of this country as the centre of an Empire™.220
Eventually it was decided to appoint a committee to inquire into the
matter.221 This was little more than a procrastinating tactic, but, as a
concession to the NLF™s ˜democratic™ wing, it was agreed that at the
council ˜on the motion for the adoption of the Annual Report, there
may be ˜˜free discussion of any matter affecting the policy and principle
of the Liberal Party™™. This will afford an opportunity for the ventilation of
views upon subjects not dealt with in the Resolutions.™222 For the rest, it


216
Alderman W. Thompson (Kingston Division), in First Session of the Council,
Thursday, March 18th [1897], in NLFAR, 75“6. The problem of the ˜allied associa-
tions™ as factors of excessive ˜enthusiasm™ and ˜instability™ had already been raised at the
1896 council (Proceedings of the Annual Meeting, Portsmouth, 26 Mar. 1896, 88, in
NLFAR).
217
W. Thompson in First Session of the Council, 18 Mar. 1897, in NLFAR, 76“7.
218
Ibid.
219
H. Samuel (Hon. Secretary of the Home Counties Division of the National Liberal
Federation), ibid., 78 and J. Massie, ibid., 77.
220
R. B. Haldane, An Autobiography (1929), 100; he alluded to Rosebery.
221
NLFAR, 1897, 80. 222 Ibid., 36.
212 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

was argued that ˜[t]he real work must be done by the local organiza-
tions™,223 rather than by the council.
After twelve years of radical rhetoric and the Newcastle Programme, it
was difficult to reject the democratic dream of a ˜Liberal Parliament
outside the Imperial legislature™ without risking a split or defections.
Both leaders and delegates acknowledged the seriousness of the division
within the party. Speaking for the NLF executive, Sir James Woodhouse
said that
He did not share the view of his hon. colleague Sir James Kitson as to letting those
who differed from them go out from them and form another association. He did
not want anybody to go out of the Federation . . . He wanted the Federation to be
representative, as it always had been, not of one shade, but of all shades of opinion
in the party. The representatives of the various shades would assemble at the
annual conference, and would thrash out any points which might arise.224
His words were echoed, from the party left, by one delegate from a
Radical association, who stressed that internal differences ought to be
tolerated if the party was to survive as a democratic institution.225
The executive™s Report conceded the extent of internal controversy and
criticism, but at least tried to define the relationship between the NLF
and the party leaders. This came down to two basic principles, or rather
customs and traditions, which had never previously been recorded in any
clause of the constitution. First, the report denied that the party leaders
tried to influence or interfere with the operation and deliberations of the
NLF “ an implicit affirmation of the illegitimacy of such behaviour.
Second, it reasserted that ˜one object of the Federation must still be to
get its views and decisions adopted by the leaders of our Party™.226 It was
an emphatic restatement of the democratic view that the NLF ought to
be the sovereign policy-making institution within British Liberalism. When
the council began to discuss the new rules seriatim, the debate focused on
the role and importance of the MPs within the NLF. The feelings aired
suggest the extent to which the ˜mass party organization™ stood in the old
tradition of popular ˜anti-Parliament™ politics.227 Alderman Winfrey from
Lincolnshire, and Booth, the Eccles delegate, demanded that the execu-
tive be elected by the council rather than by the General Committee. To
Winfrey it was a question of participation and democratic control: he
argued that ˜[d]elegates were attracted to the annual meeting who did not

223
Sir J. Woodhouse, ibid., 72. 224 Ibid., 72.
225
George R. Thorne, President of the West Wolverhampton Liberal Association, ibid., 91.
226
Ibid., 36.
227
Parsinnen, ˜Association, convention and anti-Parliament™. For the persistence of
Chartist traditions and outlooks in the 1880s, cf. Davis, ˜Radical clubs™, 105.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 213

attend the meetings of the General Committee, and it would be an easy
matter to conduct the ballot between the two sessions of the annual
meeting™.228 Woodhouse answered that ˜[a]t the last meeting of the
General Committee there were 400 delegates present, so that the various
associations were fairly well represented™. However, he was promptly
contradicted by a delegate from Portsmouth, one Mr Morris, who said
that ˜he represented an association which always sent sixteen members to
the annual meeting and only one to the General Committee™. He con-
cluded by declaring that ˜[t]he Women™s Liberal Federation found no
difficulty in electing their executive at the annual meeting, and he could
not see why the men should not do it™.229 Morris was supported by the
delegates from Bermondsey and Cardiff. After further exchanges, the
amendment was withdrawn on the understanding that it ˜should be
brought up for consideration next year™230 in order to allow time for the
General Committee to consider its effects on other aspects of the
constitution.
The vehemence of the feelings generated by the constitutional debate
was further confirmed when C. P. Scott denounced as ˜perfectly mon-
strous™ the proposal ˜that the remaining rules be adopted as they stood™,
en bloc.231 Indeed many other clauses excited considerable discussion,
and most of them dealt with the issue of internal party democracy. For
example, George Cooper of the London County Council, a delegate from
Bermondsey, moved that ˜the suggestions received from the federated
associations should be discussed and decided upon by the General
Committee, and not by the Executive Committee™.232 Another amend-
ment aimed at depriving the Executive Committee of the power to co-opt
candidates for re-election, in addition to those nominated by the feder-
ated associations. Both amendments were lost, but they provided illus-
trations of how deep-seated was rank-and-file diffidence towards the
executive and central officials of the party.
The rule which explicitly excluded MPs from the Executive
Committee was unanimously endorsed, and the chairman emphasized
˜that they should be free from all thought of outside influence™.233 At the
1897 meeting R. Winfrey moved again that the Executive Commitee
˜should be elected by the annual assembly and not by the General

228
Winfrey, in NLFAR, 1897, 73. 229 Speech by Morris, ibid., 74.
230
Interventions by Percy Bunting and the chairman, ibid. 231 Ibid., 75.
232
Speech by G. Cooper, ibid., 76. The main argument against that seemed to be ˜the
difficulty and expense of annual meetings™ which would be compounded ˜by holding a
few months prior to such gatherings another meeting to consider the same resolutions as
were afterwards to be submitted to the annual meeting™ (Speech by Evans, ibid., 76).
233
Ibid., 77.
214 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

Committee™.234 The motion generated such strong feelings within the
Executive Committee that during the preliminary debate one of its mem-
bers resigned. Massie again opposed the change, claiming that the
committee was actually more representative than the council, which
˜although . . . larger, was less evenly representative of all parts of the
country™. He pointed out that the district in which the Federation hap-
pened to meet would be unduly favoured. ˜Norfolk was represented
to-day by a larger number of delegates than Lancashire; that was to say,
a population of 500,000 was represented by a larger number of delegates
than a population of three and a half millions. That was very nice for
Norfolk, but if next year™s meeting took place in Lancashire, where would
Norfolk be?™235 Obviously this problem would have been to a large extent
obviated if the Kingston amendment about the postal ballot had been
accepted, but Massie did not seem to realize that his position could be
perceived as inconsistent, or worse. In fact, when it came to a vote on the
motion to refer both resolutions to the Executive Committee, the council
was almost evenly split: 201 voted in favour, 173 against.
It is not surprising that the NLF claimed extensive powers, when
we consider the traditional Liberal emphasis on community self-
government. The paradox is that the intensity of this radical democratic
ideology was reinforced, rather than undermined, by the NLF™s weakness,
and particularly by its failure to dominate the party as a whole. Especially
from 1891 the incipient tripartition of power among NLF, MPs and
leader created a margin of uncertainty as to where ultimate authority did
actually lie. Like the constitution of the German Empire, the internal
structure of authority in the Liberal party seemed to be based on recip-
rocal irresponsibility. The party leader, like the German Chancellor, was
not responsible to the representative assembly, though the latter could
censure policies and MPs, thus embarrassing the leader and even jeo-
pardizing electoral prospects. Since the leader could exercise only limited
control over the deliberations of the council, this system encouraged
radicalism without responsibility within the NLF. Before 1894 a consti-
tutional impasse was avoided thanks to Gladstone™s charisma, to which
the NLF, like all other branches of popular liberalism, was very respon-
sive. As a result, even at the height of its power and prestige, the mass
organization remained the party leader™s ˜sounding board™, thus further
increasing his charisma.236 In this sense Gladstone™s rhetoric was neither

234
Alderman R. Winfrey, Spalding Division of the Lincolnshire Liberal Council, ibid., 79.
235
Massie, ibid., 79“80.
236
Barker, Gladstone and radicalism, 156. Cf. A. Cyr, Liberal party politics in Britain (1977),
158, 164.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 215

a development from, nor a counterbalance to, the ˜caucus™ system.237
Rather the NLF was an instrument of Gladstone™s style of political
communication, in which party discipline seemed to rely mainly on the
leader™s charisma.
It may seem strange that charismatic leadership was so important to
NLF Liberals, given, on the one hand, their reputation for bureaucratic
organization, and, on the other, their passion for decentralization and
liberty, and emphasis on rational discussion. Yet, the political space and
the need for a charismatic leader were created by their very hatred of
authoritarianism: charismatic authority “ that is, authority as an ˜excep-
tion™238 “ was more acceptable than an institutionalized, hierarchical
structure.
Such an attitude to charismatic leadership was facilitated by the fact
that ˜platform™ politics was part of both the liberal heritage and the
popular radical one.239 The ˜orator™, like the philosopher in the
Athenian ekklesia,240 was crucial to Mill™s idea of informed citizenship.
He hoped that ˜[m]odern democracies would have their occasional
Pericles™,241 and Gladstone could be perceived as one of them. Indeed
Mill himself, like the philosophers in the ekklesia, played the role of the
˜public moralist™ in the Westminster assembly in 1865“8.242 Far from
eschewing the challenges of mass politics, Mill could be an effective
orator both in and out of Parliament. After his defeat in November

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