'Mass' party frustrated? : the development of the Labour Party in Manchester, 1918-31
In 1918, the Labour leadership embarked on a plan of reorganisation that it hoped would transform the party from a trade union pressure group into an independent, national political party. It equipped the party with a comprehensive political programme and determined to create a national network of local branches based on a mass individual membership. In essence, the leadership sought to make Labour a modern 'mass' political party. This study assesses how the national leadership's plan of reconstruction fared at grass roots level, by examining Labour's development in Manchester between 1918 and 1931. In doing so, it examines the nature and outlook of local members, in particular Labour's active core, exploring their role in the party and assessing how far their political views matched those expressed by the national leadership. A final section on Labour's electoral progress in Manchester draws these elements together, in an effort to explain the party's record at the polls. The study argues that the reorganisation carried out after 1918 was not the total failure some have suggested. Nevertheless, it concludes that Manchester Labour was largely frustrated in its efforts to create a 'mass' party machine, and remained marginal to the lives of most members of the local community. Furthermore, despite making electoral progress in the city, it is shown that Labour struggled to attract support outside the working class. However, it is argued that these failings cannot simply be blamed on the party's relationship with the trade unions, as many have claimed. Rather, the study shows that Labour's failure to achieve its organisational goals, and the subsequent problems that created, owed to more complex and deep-rooted problems connected to the public's lack of interest in politics. In the process, it reveals much about the nature of Labour organisation, membership and electoral support in this and subsequent periods.