Locality, politics and culture : Poplar in the 1920s
The thesis begins with a discussion of the literature on local working-class politics, which includes the work of labour historians, political geographers and locality-study writers. The latter have been especially keen to acknowledge the unique causal powers of the social formations of specific localities and to explore the implications of these for local political behaviour. Nonetheless, locality studies share with other approaches to local politics an interest in class to exclusion of other bases of social action, and a structuralism which denies human agency. The history of Poplar in the 1920s denies such explanatory logic. The Labour Party came to power in the borough in 1919. Yet although the class and economic structure of Poplar was very similar to that of the rest of east London, Poplar Labour Party was unique in the degree of its militancy. In order to explain this radicalism, the thesis turns away from structural analysis and towards cultural interpretation, exploring Poplar's politics in terms of local culture and civil society, focussing on five themes: the politics of class and of gender, the discourses of citizenship, the morality of the neighbourhoods and the religious faiths. The influence of these cultural 'communal sensibilities' on Poplar Labour Party are traced in order to stress the complexity and contingency of the relationship between a locality and its politics. That contingency is further emphasised in the conclusion, which describes the shift in Poplar Labour Party away from a left-wing and participatory form of politics and towards a right-wing and elitist mode as the 1920s progressed. It is concluded that both types of politics were closely linked to Poplar's culture and that, although local culture in all its complexity is vital for the understanding of local politics, there is no necessary relationship between a culture and the form of political expression it may take.