The rhetorical culture of the House of Commons after 1918
History: the journal of the Historical Association
The Historical Association and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The article analyses the rhetorical culture of the House of Commons in the era following the extension of the franchise in 1918, a period in which parliament saw a major influx of new Labour MPs, and also the entry for the first time of small number of women. The article discusses not only the norms and expectations surrounding parliamentary speech but also the ways in which some speaking styles and techniques became controversial. In particular, the Labour Party was accused by its opponents of practising ‘rowdyism’. This allegation was part of a wider effort to undermine the party's constitutional credentials and to present it as unfit to govern. Thus, arguments about styles of arguing went the heart of broader debates over political legitimacy. To a considerable degree, Labour MPs were co-opted over time into existing codes of behaviour. But although Conservative efforts to associate their own oratorical style with political virtue did have some success, partisan factors alone are not sufficient to explain the shifts in rhetorical culture, which changed, in part, for reasons external to the institution itself. As power moved from the legislature to the executive, and as politics became increasingly professionalized, the speaking culture of the House of Commons was affected by a longstanding evolution from a discursive to a programmatic view of statecraft. Styles and techniques of parliamentary argument were thus influenced both by the changing nature of the state and by the shifting bargain between voters and the political classes in the era of universal suffrage.
© 2014 The Author. History published by The Historical Association and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Vol. 99, Issue 335, pp. 270 - 298