The General Election 2017

As the U.K. prepares itself to vote in the snap General Election, we thought it fitting to show some of the printed and archival material held here in Special Collections and Archives from the elections of the past.

Within our printed collection holdings, many pamphlets of the nineteenth century highlight the popular political topics of the day. Sydney Charles Buxton became an MP for the Liberal Party in the late nineteenth century, shortly after his publication of Electoral Purity and Economy (London: The London and Counties Liberal Union, 1882). The paper is written to suggest reforms in the electoral process to counteract bribery and expenses, which the reader is encouraged to undertake and promote themselves. The below referenced “crushed” Corrupt Practices Act finally came into fruition in 1883, formally known as the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act. This was the first act which required the expenses of candidates to be publicly published.

SPEC Y84.3.269 (9)

SPEC Y84.3.269 (9)

We also hold archival material relating to individuals who held both local and national political positions. Eleanor Rathbone sat as an Independent MP for the Combined English Universities, and as a local councilor for the Granby Ward from 1909 -1935. Eleanor was instrumental in the passing of a number of bills, including those with a focus upon benefiting the socio-economic position of women and children.

RP XIV.3.3

RP XIV.3.3

The Glasier papers provide us with an insight to the political movements of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) through politician John Bruce Glasier and his wife, Katharine Glasier. In 1900 John Bruce Glasier became the chair of the ILP, which he held for three years. In the campaign pamphlet shown below, Glasier was standing in Bordesley, Birmingham – a campaign which was unsuccessful.

GP/5/2/2 (6)

GP/5/2/2 (6)

Lastly, the David Owen Archive is abundant with material relating to his time as a member of both the Labour party and the Social Democrats. Below is campaign material from the 1974 parliamentary election, when Owen was successfully elected as MP for Plymouth Devonport, holding the seat for the Labour Party.

D709 2/2/4/3

D709 2/2/4/3

D709 2/2/4/3

D709 2/2/4/3

All of the items included within this post are available to view in our reading room. Please see our website for more information on booking an appointment.

You can read the Manuscripts and More post for the General Election in 2015 here.

Politics past and present

Nick Hobbs, Politics student, with Lord Owen

Nick Hobbs, Politics student: a selfie with Lord Owen

With the general election just a week away, the selfie-with-politician is everywhere, and politics is at the forefront of many people’s minds, not least the University’s politics students. A second year student who has been exploring the collections gives his view on discovering resources in SC&A below.Our display of election material continues in the showcases outside the Reading Room: Election fever


So after spending nearly two years studying International Politics at the University of Liverpool I finally got round to visiting the Special Collections and Archives. All I can say is WOW – what have I been missing!


I was prompted to visit SCA because it’s that time of year when second year students have to start thinking about dissertations. Not all students have to complete one but it’s mandatory on the course I have taken. I will be researching Lord David Owen, former Labour minister and Foreign Secretary and former Chancellor of the University between 1996-2009. He defected from the Labour party in 1981 and co-founded the Social Democrat Party and in 1992 he was made Life Baron of the City of Plymouth (my home city).


Lord Owen donated his papers to Special Collections and Archives and this now forms the Lord Owen Collection, including hundreds of newspapers articles, correspondence between officials ranging from the Archbishop of Canterbury, to academics, to foreign diplomats, House of Lords reports, books reviews, speech transcripts, UN presentations, and much more.


It was by pure chance that I discovered this collection, when – feeling like a change of scene – I was studying in Central Library, Liverpool City Centre, and I bumped into Dr Niall Carson, lecturer from the Irish Department here at the University of Liverpool. We got chatting and I was telling Niall about my dissertation and how I wanted to research something relating to the European Union. Niall informed me of Lord Owen’s generous donation to SCA and we both agreed this would be a great opportunity to carry out some primary research because Lord Owen was a senior politician around the time Britain was considering its membership with the EU. Furthermore, Lord Owen defected from the Labour party partly because of its anti-Europe views.


Later that day I returned to the Sydney Jones Library and met SCA staff. They explained how it all works and showed me the Reading Room. It’s a very tranquil and peaceful environment and a great place to relax and study. The SCA staff are very helpful and will assist you with anything. It is clear they enjoy working in the archives because they are very positive about what’s in there and they are friendly. If you use the service I would advise against what I did and request loads of documents at once because there’s only so much you can read in a day. Overall it was a positive experience and immensely beneficial to my research.

Election fever

With a general election fast approaching, we have identified some material from our collections which can help to show how elections in the past were, fought, won, and lost.

Special Collections and Archives contains collections relating to a number of political figures, some of whom served as members of parliament, including Eleanor Rathbone, Sir John T. Brunner, and Lord David Owen.

In some ways, the basic materials of an election campaign appear to have changed little over the last century. Leaflets explaining a candidate’s position, flyers advertising public meetings, and small cards on which the key slogans of a campaign are put across are all still used today. In Brunner’s papers, such material survives from his 1887 by-election victory over the Liberal Unionist Lord Grosvenor in Northwich, Cheshire.

Propaganda card from the Northwich by-election, 1887

Propaganda card from the Northwich by-election, 1887 [Brunner/3/2/14/4]

Eleanor Rathbone’s papers give us an insight into a long-gone quirk of the British electoral system: the existence of university seats. These were not physical constituencies, but electorates made up of university graduates, wherever they happened to be living.

Eleanor Rathbone represented the Combined English Universities, as one of two Members, from 1929 until her death in 1946. Although from a family largely aligned with Liberal politics, she sat as an Independent. This non-party approach clearly appealed to the electors of this seat, including Liverpool University graduates, who returned her four times.

An address to women voters of the Combined English Universites constituency [RPXIV/3/3(10)]

An address to women voters of the Combined English Universites constituency, 1929 [RPXIV/3/3(10)]

This year there is much talk of political realignment and the emergence of new parties. This in itself is nothing new. The Labour Party was once an insurgent political organisation battling for every vote against the main parties of the day. The early 20th century election material contained in the papers of Katharine and John Bruce Glasier, founder members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), reminds us of this.

Leaflet attacking the voting record of John Bruce Glasier's Conservative opponent, Bordesley, 1906 [GP/5/2/2(10)]

Leaflet attacking the voting record of John Bruce Glasier’s Conservative opponent, Bordesley, 1906 [GP/5/2/2(10)]

Almost a century later, David Owen’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) was heralded as bringing about a political realignment upon its split from Labour in 1981. Lord Owen’s papers contain material from the general elections and by-elections fought by the party in alliance with the Liberals throughout the 1980s. Despite some good results, by the late 1980s the Alliance began to split. In 1988, the Conservatives narrowly held Kensington from Labour, while separate Liberal Democrat and Social Democrat candidates came third and fourth.

Conservative Party window poster, Kensington by-election, 1988 [D709/3/5/2/10]

Conservative Party window poster, Kensington by-election, 1988 [D709/3/5/2/10]

As well as archival material, our collections contain various printed political pamphlets, some dating from before the political party system as we know it developed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, supporters of candidates would pen songs and rhymes set to popular tunes to extol their virtues. Tracts such as this one published by John Wilkes satirised the practice of corruption during a Hampshire election, but references to “freeholders” and “brave boys” are a reminder of how tightly the franchise was restricted to male members of the propertied classes.

Election tract published by John Wilkes, 1780 [SPEC Thomson 13(12)]

Election tract published by John Wilkes, 1780 [SPEC Thomson 13(12)]

These days, of course, things are very different. Gone are the university seats and the limited franchise. Over the last century political parties such as the ILP and SDP have risen and fallen. Nevertheless, some of the material here indicates that the bread and butter of electoral campaigning has perhaps not changed as much as we might think.

A selection of election material from SCA collections can currently be seen in our display cases in the Grove Wing of the Sydney Jones Library.


Edd Mustill

Graduate Library Assistant