The Language of Imperialism in British Electoral Politics, 1880–1910

Blaxill, Luke (2017) The Language of Imperialism in British Electoral Politics, 1880–1910. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 45 (3). pp. 416-448. ISSN 1743-9329

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This article asks us to reconsider the impact of the issue of imperialism in electoral politics in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Using a corpus of around five million words of digitised campaign speeches from the years 1880– 1910, it examines the language of the nine General Elections held in this period through computerised textmining. This ‘big data’ analysis produces three conclusions, which in some cases nuance existing interpretations and in others directly challenge them. The first questions the prevailing consensus that elections in the high age of empire featured imperialism as a consistently central issue. The article argues that this interpretation relies too heavily on evidence from a minority of elections—especially the famous ‘khaki’ struggle of 1900—and that in the majority of campaigns in this period, imperialism was relatively unimportant as an election issue, including in the Unionist landslide of 1895. The second argument questions historians’ preoccupation with the ‘contested’ nature of discourses of imperialism and patriotism at elections, and contends that—insofar as the empire was an important campaign issue at all—the Conservatives were considerably more likely to champion it and connect it to politically charged and emotive appeals than were their Liberal opponents. Finally, the article maintains that the languages of imperialism and patriotism have often been unhelpfully conflated by historians, and argues that they could become politically synonymous only in the very specific circumstance of a ‘khaki’ election. In other contests, they could diverge, as is demonstrated by a case study of the campaign of 1906 when patriotism was reclaimed by the Liberals from a domestic, rather than imperial platform.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: imperial, party, language, empire, Conservative, Liberal, patriotism
Faculty: ARCHIVED Faculty of Arts, Law & Social Sciences (until September 2018)
Depositing User: Unnamed user with email
Date Deposited: 26 May 2017 09:29
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:58

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