Working-class politics in Birmingham and Sheffield, 1918-1931
Working-class politics in Birmingham and Sheffield contrasted sharply in the 1920s - Birmingham was a bastion of working-class Conservatism, Sheffield, a Labour stronghold. In the first half of the thesis, we explored this contrast by an examination of the economic, social and political conditions which underlay it. Sheffield's large-scale industry was found to reinforce working-class values and trades union traditions which facilitated Labour's political rise. Birmingham's diversified, often small-scale, economy impeded the development of working-class consciousness and eased inter-class relations. These differences were reflected in the towns' working-class cormtinities. The forms of Sheffield society consolidated the working-class loyalties of which Labour affiliations became one aspect. Birmingham society was more penetrable and possessed a powerful civic tradition of cross-class cooperation. In local government, Birmingham retained a confident, reforming middle-class leadership fulfilling the heritage of Joseph Chamberlain. Sheffield's middle-class politicians retreated into reactionary oppositionism which hastened Labour's advance. Contemporary events in the national economy and politics strengthened Labour's claim to be the real party of the working class. In the second half, we studied the content of working-class politics; examining, firstly, Labour's principles and practice. Ethical and constitutional values, combined with a corrrnitment to practical reform, were found dominant. A genuine party life of extra-political activities existed but its scope and ambitions were modest. Cooperation shared similar values, allied with an ambiguous attitude towards political action which strained relations with the wider Labour movement. The revolutionary Left was active but its aggressive style and far-reaching demands distanced it from the broader working class. In conclusion, we looked at working-class Conservatism - still influential and with several ideological and structural strains in workingclass culture perpetuating its appeal. We viewed it, particularly among the poorer strata, as one method of getting by in a life deemed fundamentally unalterable.