Protestant associational culture, sectarianism and political behaviour in Belfast and Liverpool, 1880-1921
The Conservative approach to sectarianism in Liverpool and Belfast provides two paradigms for analysing the response of political movements to collective violence. The response helps to determine the manifestation of volatile grassroots passion, whether through formal politics and organisation or violent direct-action in the street. Consequently, the two cities provide a framework for dissecting the complex interaction between political movements and collective violence through an understanding of the location and distribution of power and leadership within such relationships. Liverpool and Belfast highlight the complex interaction, in British society, between the local and national and how this interplay impacted upon local political imperatives. Liverpool Tory Democracy was a political movement that lost control over popular sectarianism being reliant for its local hegemony upon an expedient alliance with populist organisations and personalities as a bridge to the Protestant grassroots. This arrangement empowered popular Protestant organisations and personalities with the subsequent development of a dynamic grassroots force. This force was set on a collision course with the political establishment. It sought guidance from 'community' leaders and popular Protestant organisations who earned their legitimacy through direct-action at street level, generating sustained communal violence. In contrast Ulster Unionism was a political movement that contained and controlled popular sectarianism a force with a history of violent expression on Belfast's streets. With the national threat of Home Rule the movement intervened, drawing popular activity away from collective action in the street into 'representative' political and organisational structures. This was part of a co-ordinated strategy of resistance designed to harness and 'police' popular sectarianism and to emasculate alternative sources of power within the Protestant community. During the period, the British working class could be shaped by highly specific local factors with a dominant local culture engendering a wider sense of allegiance, whilst also providing expression for limited forms of class conflict including collective violence as a mode of 'social protest'.