Town patriotism and the rise of Labour : Northampton 1918-1939
The thesis seeks to determine the relationship between community feeling and political activity in one interwar town, Northampton. It is argued that localism continued to be an important dimension of social and political experience in this period for businessmen, employers and workers. The development of modern industrial relations and welfare policies in industry gave employers a renewed interest in their location of operations. Depression and decline in the private enterprise economy made municipal intervention important to both the lower middle class and the working class. At the same time central governments expanded the role of local authorities by giving them more mandatory responsibilities and greater funding. A public culture developed in Northampton which stressed service to the common interest and meritocratic leadership. In this context the Labour Party was able to gain some legitimate authority in the town community. Its leaders were accorded a grudging acceptance in the meritocracy. The ethos of public and political life was reflected in neighbourhood and workplace experience. Most Northamptonians defined their social identity in terms of citizenship rather than class. However, there were a number of social, economic and industrial factors which produced a crisis in the 1933 to 1935 period. That crisis increased Labour support and led to abstention by many non-Labour voters. A different approach to the study of society and politics in Britain from 1918 to 1939 is advocated on the basis of the Northampton evidence. It is noted that there already exists considerable material showing that there was a wide range of difference in local response to government social policy. It is also argued that the Labour Party's philosophy and electoral performance during these years may owe more to community influences than has previously been acknowledged.