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Title: The political structure of the Wolverhampton Borough Council since 1900
Author: Jones, George William
ISNI:       0000 0004 2742 6386
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1965
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(Chapters 1 and 2) In 1900 parties did not contest municipal elections in Wolverhampton nor compel their members on the Council to vote together as blocks. All candidates, save the few Labour representatives, called themselves Independents, despite their well-known loyalties to the major national parties. Parties were not involved in the Council's political process, because their purpose was to gain and sustain support for an M.P. and not to have the Council implement a distinctive party municipal policy. Conservatives and Liberals shared the Parliamentary representation of the town and therefore had no incentive to fight municipal elections to assist their General Election campaigns. Their Councillors were a fairly homogeneous group, not seriously divided by economic or social issues. The divisions which occurred in the Council did not produce a constantly recurring cleavage between the same two blocks. Over each controversy there was a fresh coalition of members. After 1900 parties impinged more and more on the Council. When it took over the responsibility for education in 1903, the partisan and sectarian strife which had split the School Board was transferred to the Council, and the alliances formed over this topic persisted for others. Then the sitting Conservative M.P. was ousted by the Labour candidate in 1906, the Conservatives began officially and systematically to contest municipal elections to aid their Parliamentary prospects. The local Labour Party evolved a municipal policy, end fought elections as a party and pressed its Councillors to act in concert to achieve its implementation. As the number of Labour members grew in the interwar years, the non-Labour members were forced to co-ordinate their tactics on the Council through an informal "caucus", which, after Labour had gained a majority in 1945, became more formal and committed to an alternative programme to Labour's. After 1948 the Conservatives urged that all non- Labour candidates should adopt the official Conservative label, and within 7 years all Independents had been eliminated from elections and the Council. In 1964 candidates at municipal elections are nominees of the major parties, and members of the Council are either Conservative or Labour. This involvement of parties in municipal affairs has increased the amount of public participation in local government. Because the franchise has been considerably widened, a higher proportion of the population are eligble to vote, and because more seats are contested, the electorate has more opportunities to use the vote. Growing party involvement has meant that even safe wards are fought to help the parties' Parliamentary chances. A far wider range of people become Councillors now than in 1900, for tht Labour Party has been the vehicle for bringing to the Council groups which had previously not been represented. (Chapter 3) In 1900 each ward had its own unique voting pattern. In 1964 the wards can be categorised into 3 types, each with a distinct socio-economic structure which correlates with its voting behaviour. Safe Conservstive wards have little industry and are inhabited by middle class people in private houses. Safe Labour wards are industrial, where the working class live in Council houses or pre-1914 rented property. Marginal wards are of mixed social composition. The swing in municipal elections is now remarkably similar over the whole town both in general direction and size, and the share of the vote gained by the parties is the same as in a General Election. In 1900 there was not such uniformity; local issues and candidates significantly affected the result; and voting did not correlate so closely with economic status; religion was also a determinant. Fewer Councillors now live end work in the wards they represent, and this is more true of Labour than Conservative members. Conservatives have nothing to correspond to Labour's Borough Party, responsible solely for municipal affairs and for drawing up a panel of approved candidates, to which Labour ward parties are restricted when selecting candidates. Conservative ward parties have more autonomy, and tend to select people from their own wards, while Labour ward parties, who have had the opportunity through the Borough Party of meeting people from other parts of the town tend not to select people from their own wards. Service to the party is the main criterion for selection as a Labour candidate, while Conservatives usually make their reputations in extra-party activities. These different selection processes have another significant consequence. Labour members are more devoted to their party than Conservatives to theirs, and they value more highly the involvement of party in municipal matters. In 1900 the conflict between wards produced many divisions on the Council; now the conflict has been subsumed by that between the parties. (Chapter 4) The polarisation of the Council into two parties reflects a polarisation of the occupational composition of the Council. In 1900 it comprised a fairly homogeneous group of manufacturers, professional men and shopkeepers. The latter have remained a constant element, but the first two have declined, replaced by working men, women and retired people, who are predominantly Labour, while the others are Conservative. (Chapter 5) These political and occupational groups occupy different social worlds too, for the members of each party belong to distinct sets of associations. There is less social intermingling of the Councillors than in 1900. (Chapter 6) Complaints that the calibre of the Councillors has declined are old and have not always blamed parties as is the case today. It is hard to find objective criteria by which to assess a Councillor's quality. Both good and bad are to be found in all occupations, age groups and types of educational experience. A personal assessment suggests that the number of first class Councillors has fallen, the usaless category has remained constant and the moderately competent has increased. The key factor determining whether a Councillor will be effective is the time he can devote to Council work. Generally, the more he can give, the more effective will he be. In 1964 more is demanded of a Councillor than in 1900, since the responsibilities of the Council have increased tremendously. A Councillor's work is harder now than in 1900. (Chapter 7) The Labour Party invented the Group, the meeting of members of the Council of the same party to concert their action in the Council. Before 1945 it was an informal meeting, but after the Labour Party gained a majority, it became a formal session before each full Council meeting. It is not so highly developed in Wolverhampton as in some other towns. It lives from Council agenda to Council agenda, devising its tactics for each Council meeting and determining the Group's attitude to policies drawn up elsewhere. It does not plot ahead, initiate or formulate policy. It arbitrates between committees, acts as an information centre for Councillors about the work of committees on which they do not sit, decides who will be Mayor, Aldermen and Chairmen and ensures that its members vote the same way. Attempts to transform it into a policy-making body failed because the Chairmen were reluctant to submit their committees' operations to the scrutiny of a strengthened Group. (Chapter 8) The Conservatives adopted the Group system as the only means to resist the Labour Group. It performs similar functions, but since it is an opposition Group, it has had less to do, and since its members are not Chairmen, it has been more eager to be forged into an instrument for making policy. Thus it is a more developed institution than the Labour Group.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Local government ; Great Britain